Make Architects – Our EO Story
Make Architects is a team of 150 in London, Hong Kong and Sydney providing architecture, interior and urban design services. Founded in 2004 by Ken Shuttleworth, we’ve always been 100% employee-owned, and it’s still a big part of who we are. Employee ownership is a perfect fit with our culture, which values cooperation, not competition. Ideas, not egos.
At the heart of it all is the wellbeing of our people. We’ve always had benefits that go above and beyond, a generous profit share, a friendly studio environment, and a busy roster of social activities. When lockdown arrived last March, though, overnight our bustling studios closed their doors and Makers were sent home to set up shop at their kitchen tables and bedroom desks. By April we also had to furlough ten people.
Notwithstanding new digital hurdles, and without having any notion of how long we’d continue to work from home, we were determined not to let our strange new circumstances change the level of engagement and support we’ve always provided our people. Over the last 15 months, we’ve seen a tremendous effort from Make Social, our incredible and tireless social committee, and from our business support – or ‘Core’ as Ken calls them – teams to keep Make life as normal as it could possibly be.
From the get-go, Make Social began brainstorming ways to keep Makers connected, active and entertained. These initiatives included ‘Witness the Fitness’ which challenged people to a series of physical activities; lunchtime exercise classes; and ‘Sketch Week’ where participants competed in a daily sketch challenge.
Make Social also supported charity initiatives like the 2.6 Challenge, the British Red Cross Ride for Tomorrow, and the Stanhope Foundation’s Journey for Jobs, as well as hosting a series of ‘Baking Masterclasses’ to raise money for The Felix Project. And from baking bread to breaking bread, they resurrected the much-loved Make Social Breakfasts, which, pre-pandemic, involved up to 30 Makers meeting for breakfast in restaurants across London. For the lockdown edition, they arranged for kits from Dishoom and The Barge House to be delivered to people’s houses, so Makers could cook, eat and meet over Zoom.
Perhaps most astonishing, though, was the London Christmas party. Two weeks before the event, each Maker was sent a parcel full of festive treats and a personalised Lego ‘mini-fig’ of another Maker. Everyone’s task was to take pictures of their mini-fig for a photo competition with categories like ‘Best Travelled’ and ‘Most Accurate Depiction’. On the day of the party, things kicked off with a Christmas jumper competition, followed by Ken’s annual Christmas speech, cracker-pulling, the mini-figs competition, and a rowdy quiz. Hats off to Make Social!
We also have our mighty IT team to thank, whose technical wizardry has kept us humming along smoothly this whole time. They sprang into action and upgraded our systems and network capacity to cope with the extra load of high-end CAD and graphics applications, despite the constraints of peoples’ home connections, and have implemented automations and remote management to keep the studios running and to help users at home.
While IT handled network connections, the Comms team has kept people connected through internal communications and initiatives. They established regular ‘Dispatches’ to supplement our internal Monday newsletter, with people sharing ‘#fromthebunker’ stories and pictures, and arranged for Ken to give video ‘Bunker Bulletins’. To help brighten the winter lockdown, the team organised Makers Create 2.0, a virtual exhibition celebrating the creative projects Makers had been up to during lockdown, with entries ranging from ceramics to bicycle-building.
Graphics has played an important role over the past year in helping establish a professional visual representation of Make and Makers on video calls. They’ve produced extensive rebranded collateral, including Teams and Zoom-friendly pitch decks, which has made presenting easier for everyone. When the studio re-opened to a small number of people in July last year, they designed all the wayfinding elements for Covid-proofing the studio, along with a ‘Return to studio’ guide.
That project was in concert with the Studio Management team, who went back to working in the studio last summer. The fearsome team of two has been almost singlehandedly responsible for the smooth running of the physical studio, which has welcomed any Makers who wish to come in. They’ve put in place strict protocols to keep everyone safe and feeling welcome.
HR has also been actively promoting people’s wellbeing. They arranged a mental health first aid training course and put out conducted internal surveys to gauge how people were coping and feeling about working from home versus in the studio. The latest findings – which indicate broad interest in hybrid working – will lead Make to enhance its existing flexible work policy. Last year they led the formation of an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion group to explore how Make can inspire and enable people from all backgrounds to pursue a career in architecture.
And now here we are, over a year since the beginning of the pandemic, a social justice reckoning, and endless uncertainty. It’s challenged and changed us all. But we’re thankful to be able to say that not only have we survived, we’ve thrived. Makers across the board have pulled together and gotten each other – and the practice – to the other side with over ten new projects won and six planning permissions. Without our employee ownership-inspired culture, we wouldn’t be Make.