B NIEUWS 05 7 JANUARY 2013
ARCHITECTURE COLETTE NIEMEIJER IS MORE THAN AN ARCHITECT. SHE IS ALSO A RESEARCHER, BUSINESS CONSULTANT, PROGRAMME MANAGER, AND AN ENTREPENEUR. JUST A FEW DAYS BEFORE HER PHD DEFENSE, SHE MET WITH US AT HER BRIGHTLY LIT OFFICE, TUCKED AWAY IN THE COZY TOWN OF BAARN. NIEMEIJER WALKED US THROUGH HER CAREER AND SHARED SOME OF HER THOUGHTS ON THE ARCHITECTURE PROFESSION. BY WING (YINJUN WENG) After your graduation from TU Delft, you worked as an architect for seven years. You then went into business consulting. What triggered this career switch? During my practice as an architect, I realized that our profession was not highly valued. It was also not uncommon to hear about people who were almost begging to work for prestigious architecture firms. At places like OMA, many young architects would bring their own computers, and were willing to work practically for free. It is worrying and absurd, that intelligent and well-educated people had to work seventy to eighty hours per week and got paid a pittance for it. I think exploiting young and talented architects in this manner devalues our profession. I wondered why we were not valued. I still remember working on a commission for the regional office of an insurance company. My team and the client spent a lot of time and effort discussing things such as the materialization and cost of the façade. As a consequence, at one point a three month delay seemed likely. On hearing this, the client told us that such a delay would cost the company more money in the core business than the entire investment in the building. Why had we then spent so much time discussing cost savings for the façade, a fraction of the total investment? It struck me how little connection we architects had with our client. We had not taken the business context of the commission into account, and instead had limited ourselves to a design role.
The added value of architecture for the quality of health care
Soon I realized that money is the only thing that counts. I realized that I needed to be able to manage look beyond just the building costs and budget. I needed to be able to understand the business rationale for a client’s decision to invest in a new building and to proactively create value for the client investing in it. With that thought, I decided to spend a few years in business consulting, for it was a field where I could learn about money, value, and business processes. Did you feel that you were going away from architecture?
Value creation model
It wasn’t an easy decision. I wanted to be an architect since I was eight years old, and I was taught that money is something you never talk about. However, the way the architecture profession is evolving is endangering its very existence. After all the years of study and practice, I concluded that the only way to really become an architect was to get away from it. What did you work on as a business consultant? I worked on various projects, including building a sales platform for the digital TV market in Europe, helping an airline with training programs, and advising insurance companies on harmonizing accounting standards across Europe.
The four steps in the 'method' level of the value creation model