Call it ’synchronicity ’, or just good timing, but 272 emails ago I received an invitation to contribute as principal architect in Sirkell & Mall Ltd’s updated vision for the future. After considerable discussion I agreed. Three aspects intrigued me.
The first is my role in developing the architectural team and taking the architecture to the ’next level’. Both in functionality and aesthetics. The aim is to win over important clients and to take on successively more diverse and interesting projects. I appreciate this as a suitable challenge for me, as I’ve had the experience of working for 5 years in one of Canada’s largest ’one-stop shopping’ global architectural and engineering firms. So I have an idea of what the ’animal’ looks like from within.
The second crucial aspect is SMA’s goal to increase it’s export of design and consultation services, mainly to the Nordic countries. This connects to my interest in industrial building methods – from element structures to modules – in which Estonia already plays a major role in Europe, especially in the wood construction sector. It’s important to add tall buildings too, as there’s been explosive growth in the hi-rise field these past years. This will only continue, because structural wood is ’the technology of the future’ due to environmental-friendliness, sustainability and low total life cycle costs. I’m bringing to Sirkel and Mall experience in designing Estonia’s first CLT (cross-laminated timber) apartment buildings.
Thirdly, I’m drawn to SMA’s ambitions and potential, including its long time use of BIM (Building Information Management) and its leading role in the Estonian Digital Building Cluster. A key attraction is a genial style of management – which I’m seeing for the first time, based on a notion of ’partnership’, which isn’t mere bright-eyed sloganeering. Rather, it’s backed up with solid theory and logic. And has evolved over 15 years of practice. This is not a business secret, its essence is in its fine-tuning.
The concept goes as follows: each member of the team is a self-deciding collaborator, a possibly autonomous yet responsible ’freelancer’. Management does not dictate, rather it is a ’support unit’. The client is considered a partner, who is brought into the process with maximum transparency. These aspects are tied together holistically, the whole being as strong as its weakest link. The goal is boosting productivity and quality, especially taking greater responsibility for the end product. After half a year with Sirkel & Mall, I can explain how these innovations work on a daily basis.
Firstly, teams are internally formed for each project. The team itself decides who the necessary team members are, how long the project will take, and at what cost. Team members are voluntary and are responsible to each other, because in the case of success the ’team profit’ is shared as bonuses. This is not a typical ’9 to 5’ approach, and does not entail successive long (unproductive) hours, either. Teams are ’self-regulating’, because colleagues decide together who is working with whom, and under which conditions, as opposed to the employer deciding this.
A second defining aspect is demonstrated by my own involvement. According to ongoing needs and commitments, I’m still running my own eponymous architectural practice in parallel with my growing responsibilities at SMA. This isn’t by accident. This is encoded into Sirkel & Mall’s ’DNA’. A characteristic feature is fostering various forms of cooperation, meant to accommodate a wide variety of individuals, groups and specific situations.
SMA is focussed on cultivating a futuristic workplace culture, which takes into account flex-hours and other fluid aspects of contemporary life. The goal is to engage and enable yet increasing numbers of responsible participants in joint ventures. So, while the business model is geared towards people, it’s also geared to growth. Comprised of both unique management and operating structures, it’s quite possibly a tectonic shift forward in thinking. Aspects of both architectural and engineering practices are being combined to avoid traditional encapsulations, creating instead a more interdisciplinary exchange of ideas. These innovations combined with SMA’s forward-thinking people, are building up a leading enterprise. This, I find intriguing!