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    Alternative architect profile: Nic Granleese ['Para-architect']

    Nicole Fichera
    Nov 28, '11 2:33 PM EST

    [all photos: Nic Granleese,]


    Through the magical medium of Twitter, I had the pleasure of virtually meeting Nic Granleese, an architectural photographer in Melbourne, Australia. He is a self-described 'registered, but non-practicing architect'--and after seeing that description, I knew I'd found the perfect candidate for my first profile of an architect doing something else.

    Nic is not simply an architect-turned-photographer. He takes beautiful pictures, sure, but he also "helps other architects 'tell their story'." Taking beautiful pictures is not enough: they need to get in front of the right people. In an increasingly online and interconnected world, that does not just mean print magazine editors anymore. Nic helps his clients combine photos with project data and information into a comprehensive media package, and then leverages his own network to get that focused bundle to the people that want to publish it. He makes content that can be spread, and then spreads it.

    Nic proposes a new term for architects doing other things: para-architect. Etymologically speaking, 'para-' means 'beside, near, alongside, beyond'. I like this concept of beside or beyond architecture, running next to it or pushing a certain aspect to the next level.

    I'll stop here, and let Nic's words speak for themselves. I'd like to call your attention to Nic's answer to Q4, where he talks about making the switch into photography for real: 'For me it was less about saying “now I am a photographer” and more about saying, “I’m not only an architect." I reached a point where i gave myself permission to do other things.'

    Thank you, Nic, for your insightful and forward thinking responses.


    [photo: Nic Granleese. RMIT Design Hub by architect Sean Godsell. ]


    Q1. On your website, you refer to yourself as "a registered, but non practicing architect." It's interesting that you say you're 'non-practicing'. I have met some others in alternative tracks [teachers, magazine editors] that label their new work as simply a different form of architectural 'practice'. What is your definition of architectural practice, and what constitutes a practicing architect? How does your mode of practice compare to, say, a firm principal that is focused on marketing, or a project manager focused on scheduling and coordination?

    Practice is indeed changing and what we do as architects is becoming increasingly blurred. But if I was to answer your question as succinctly as possible I would say: to practice is to build. Everything else is to influence, comment on, or record the built environment.

    For me personally, being an architect is ingrained in my identity. So I feel obliged to include it in my description, and to say this is where I have come from. But I also need to make sure everyone knows that I’m not currently open for business as an architect. So non-practicing seems like a reasonable term for the time being.

    Maybe a better term for us divergent architect types is para-architect. Just throwing that term out there, but it may be a way of freeing us from a strict definition of what it is to be an architect, and  allow us to create a new identity.

    As a sidenote, alternative methods of architectural practice is very topical in Australia. People like Christine Phillips (Find her on Twitter here: @x10phillips) and Tania Davage from openHAUS have been very active in this area, and in 2012 the Australian exhibition for the Venice Architecture Biennale is going to be all about alternative architectural practices.  


    Q2. Your photography and marketing strategy deals head-on with perception and a firm's ability to successfully publicize its work in a way that creates impact. It's a very extroverted model, especially where architecture studios often seem introverted. Do you feel more or less connected to the architectural community since your switch? What about impact: do you feel that you are able to have more impact on the way architecture is perceived [by the public, by other architects, by the media] in your current role?

    Architecture has been well publicised with a plethora of magazines for a long time now, so I don’t think that is new. What is new though is architectural media becoming more democratised because of the internet and social media. No longer is an editor of a magazine the gatekeeper of what particular architecture is publicised (or not publicised). This gives architects a huge opportunity to get out there, but it also means architects need to rethink the way architectural media works. They need to be active participants, and they need content that is able and ready to be shared. Having beautiful images sitting in your drawer and waiting for a journalist to knock on your door definitely is not how online media works.

    A good example of an architect doing well in this online world is Andrew Maynard. He has a small practice in Melbourne and a very active Twitter account (@AndrewMaynard). He manages to punch well above his weight and gain media attention from all around the world. Someone to look out for.     


    [photo: Nic Granleese. RMIT Design Hub by architect Sean Godsell. ]


    Q3. Talk about your process for choosing clients. Do people seek you out, or do you target firms that you think could benefit from your strategy and reach out to them directly? Is it both? With your network and reach, you can have a powerful impact on which projects get picked up in the media or not--do you ever turn down a potential client because you don't believe in the architecture?

    In making the transition to photography, I made the conscious decision that I wanted to photograph amazing places in the world. I didn’t want to be a gun for hire, and choosing a small number of special projects is an important aspect of what I do. This is also important for engaging with the social media world. People want to share really amazing photos. They want to show them to their friends, they want to save them as screen savers. Average photos just don’t seem to have the same affect, so I don’t do them.

    What I’m doing at the moment is building up a handful of really good clients. When I find someone who hits the mark I bring them into “the team.”  That team is a group of like minded architects who are all using social media and working together to talk about and promote their projects. In that respect my relationship with clients is less about singular connections and more about creating a network. This idea is very much in its inception stage, but definitely an example of the changing environment in architectural media.   


    [photo: Nic Granleese. Australian Centre for Contemporary Art by architect Wood Marsh. ]


    Q4. Was there a specific moment or series of events that led you to switch completely into photography?

    For me, it was less about saying, “Now I am a photographer,” and more about saying, “I’m not only an architect.” I reached a point where i gave myself permission to do other things, and realised that diversity was not just allowed, but highly essential to my creative well being.


    Q5. Did you always want to be an architect?

    I did want to be a pilot when I was 14, but now I prefer to be in the passenger seat of a helicopter taking photos.

    [photo: Nic Granleese. Aerial photo of Federation Square. ]


    Q6. Are there things you miss about practicing architecture in a traditional design role? Conversely, are there things you can control or access now that you couldn't before?

    I don’t miss traditional practice at all. That business structure is completely outdated, and as architects we’ve been a slave to it for too long. We need to redesign what we do and how we do it. One of the freedoms of stepping away from traditional practice is the chance to take a breath and say  “Why do we do it this way?” It frees you from the day-to-day pressures. It also frees you from the patterns of how architects work, which have been handed down from one generation to the next. I feel liberated to design new ways of doing things, and that excites me. 


    [photo: Nic Granleese. Webb Bridge by Denton Corker Marshall in conjunction with Robert Owen (artist). ]


    Q7. Your open licensing policy for the use of your images is very now, as is the way you provide a total media package--not just a set of photographs. You're leveraging the connective power of new media and giving your clients significant additional value by including your network as part of the package.  Was this something that was always part of your business model, or something you added in after you'd already gotten established? Do your rate structures reflect this additional value? If you do charge more, do you find that people are happy to pay because you're saving them so much legwork while expanding their reach? Or do they take some convincing?

    Using an open license is very much a response to technology. Digital photography is forcing us (or giving us the opportunity) as photographers to change the way we operate. There are lots of people who are resisting this change, but that is to be expected. People invested in an established way of doing things are not going to be particularly happy when the world changes around them.

    But the reality is that as soon as an image in on the web, it is available for everyone to copy. You can resist that, or you can embrace it. Even more important is the fact that digital media is becoming so dominant. Consider a magazine print run of 10,000 copies compared to a blog with 300,000 viewers. The audience difference is staggering and something that smart architects are recognizing.

    A key aspect of online media is that it’s all about flow. It’s about getting as many people as possible, even if they don’t pay for it, flowing past whatever it is that you want to display. But for this to work you need content that can be shared, and the old photography licensing structure doesn’t facilitate this. What you need instead is an open license. It doesn’t mean you give away everything, you can still restrict book publishing for example and require an approval process, but it means the bottlenecks currently restricting digital media flow are relaxed. 

    There is a great TED Talk by Larry Lessig on technology, copyright and change. Well worth a watch.


    [photo: Nic Granleese. Webb Bridge by Denton Corker Marshall in conjunction with Robert Owen (artist). ]


    Q8. What parts of your architectural training do you still use on a daily basis? What things do you never use at all?

    I definitely don’t use specification writing skills! And please may I never have to read or write another 1000 page document again.

    Seriously though, there are so many valuable skills that architects learn. All the visual skills are obviously very relevant to what I do now, but the most important skill is problem-solving and lateral thinking.


    • ariana

      Nic Granleese has some very good ideas and plans...many people today don't really sit down and think about how they can improve their career. Architecture seems to be restricting-but maybe it isn't.

      i like that you both are striving to find alternatives to your profession. i want to wish you luck.

      Nov 28, 11 3:58 pm  · 

      I totally LOVE this blog's topic. I myself have been working to become what Nic coined as a "para-architect" (I like to call myself an "architectologist": I study, teach, critique and theorize architecture). Kudos!!

      Dec 1, 11 12:05 am  · 

      I have used the job title of Internet Architect on my business cards for the past 15 years.   I stopped practising as an architect back about 1981, but since then I have applied the architectural  education I gained over 7 years at Universities of Sydney and Liverpool (UK) to help clients to analyse multi-dimensional problems in their businesses.  My training and work exprience in design, systems thinking, problem solving, project managment and visual communiction has been very useful in the broad range of paid and pro bono work I have done in the past 30 years.

      I remember that we used to joke as students that Sydney University School of Architecture was more famous for people who did things other than architecture once they finally qualified.  I found it quite difficult to make my first sideways step from practising as a conventional architect,  but 30 years later I am very grateful for the skills I aquired with my 2 degrees in architecture.   The term "Internet Architect" now descibes very accurately what I do, as almost 100% of my projects rely on the Internet for analysis, design and delivery of solutions to my clients problems.


      John Young
      Yindi Systems 




      Dec 1, 11 5:17 am  · 

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We live in uncertain times. Let's use the uncertainty to redefine the way we are valued and the way we measure ourselves, to create the context for the change we want to make.

Twitter: @NicoleFichera

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