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CO-architecture is a web-based platform for Architects, Engineers and Consultants (AEC) to help people find work or talent – building a reliable network and community of on-demand talent, without geographical boundaries. The platform is the brainchild of Kevin Mitchem who came up with the idea in 2017 with co-founder Wade Smith, following unexpected events in his own career.
In 2016 Kevin was made redundant from the large architecture practice he had been working for when they saw a dip in projects.  “It was a wake-up call”, says Kevin. “The business of architecture is cyclical and can be brutal.  Downward turns in the economy are often felt quickly by the profession with large projects put on hold and staff being made redundant.  My personal experience became the driver.  I thought, how can I do things differently?”

Like many architects starting out, Kevin began doing small projects for family and friends, which reignited his passion for architecture.  When an opportunity arose to take on a project beyond his experience at that time, Kevin reached out to others for help.  He formed a team for the project, all working remotely across Australia.  “I thought why can’t it always be like this”, says Kevin.  “The idea of scaling up when you need to via a collaborative community”.  It was at this point that the idea for CO-architecture was born.

“We talked about building a platform in 2017 and had slowly developed a business case with market research over a couple of years, but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that we really changed gear”, says Kevin.  “Many of our colleagues and friends ‘over east’ (the eastern states of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria) and even locally in WA had lost their jobs, been stood down or had just graduated into a market that was coming to a complete halt.  We quickly realised that the platform was needed yesterday!”  The pair began developing their platform during 2019 amid the COVID-19 pandemic after receiving a grant from the Town of Victoria Park and have not looked back since.

Kevin is quick to point out that this idea of a networked studio is not a new one, that it happens informally across the industry.  But what Kevin realised is that no one was doing this in a formal way.  So, the idea was to scale the idea up and create a support network for AEC professionals across the country.  CO-architecture officially went live at the time of writing this story, on 21 April 2021.

Kevin and his colleagues have broad aspirations for CO-architecture.  Their aim is for it to be more than just a strategic resourcing tool for the industry.  “We recognise that practices have their own values and missions as creators and genuinely want to prioritise commitments to fulfilling them”, says Kevin.  “However, practices often don’t have the time or resourcing to dedicate to these initiatives.  CO- is uniquely placed as an industry monitor and pulse check to help support initiatives like equal opportunity, gender pay gaps, access to remote design, graduate programs and many more.  We are very interested to see what the industry could do if they had a way of visualising and communicating this data in a meaningful way.”

The CO-architecture team was a part of this year’s Curtin Accelerate 2021 program – which saw nine teams selected from over 50 applicants with projects ranging from pet bio-monitors to circular fashion and data encryption.  Of the 2021 cohort, CO-architecture has joined the ranks of some of WA’s most notable tech start-ups and will progress through their commercialisation strategy with mentoring from the likes of Olivia Humphreys (founder of Kanopy) and Marvin Liao (founder of VC fund Gamegroove Capital).  The Curtin Accelerate is a 10-week program sponsored by the Commercialisation team at Curtin who work with researchers, investors, and industry partners to take Curtin innovations, assess their commercial potential, and find the best method of bringing them to market.

On 21 April CO- held an industry demo night hosted by Curtin University, at the Old Perth Boys School.  Some of Perth’s leading practices, industry investors and researchers were in attendance to hear from the 2021 Accelerate cohort and their project teams.  “The demo night was a great opportunity to be able to raise awareness and get feedback about our start-up from so many different perspectives. For our whole team, it’s really fulfilling to hear from firms that they see value in our platform, and we love hearing their ideas on what we should focus on next.  I would highly recommend if there were any graduates or architects out there who have an idea or innovation, to get involved and apply for a program like this.  Take a chance and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how entrepreneurial our discipline can be.”

The conversations around talent retention, labour growth, industry wages, career paths and the like, have all been thrown into a whirlwind of re-evaluation due to COVID-19.  Kevin points to a recent study by recruitment firm Hays which revealed that 60% of Australians would take a 20% salary cut in order to continue working from home, and a further 22% would sacrifice 10% of their annual income in return for flexible working arrangements.  “Workers are expressing an increasing demand for autonomous and flexible work”, says Kevin. “This is particularly evident amongst youth, signalling a generational shift towards greater freedom and entrepreneurship.”

“CO- is a community-based platform, facilitating an open-source market to help professionals adapt and scale their project teams to better navigate the ad hoc nature of our industry, we are simply a networked studio but Australia wide”, says Kevin. “We are passionate about architectural practice and advocate for all firms by creating a safe environment for professionals to interact and work. We know a connected industry manifests in sustainable, efficient, and impactful working opportunities – leading to tangible business results for architectural practices.”

Sandy Anghie has 25 years’ experience across diverse fields, starting her career as a lawyer in 1997 before returning to UWA in 2006 to pursue her passion and become an architect. Alongside her residential architecture work, Sandy’s current roles include editor of The Architect magazine, Chapter Councillor of the Australian Institute of Architects WA, and Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Perth.