MERGE emerging architects – a ten year retrospective

First published in The Architect Journal – Autumn 2015 (pages 17-19)

There are few people who know the history of our local emerging architects’ network. If you have attended a ‘3 Over / 4 Under’ forum, a ‘Regi(fru)stration’ seminar, a ‘Talk on a Practice’, an ‘Emerging Architect Prize Talk’, a ‘Gold Medal Breakfast/Lunch’… well you have enjoyed the fruits of MERGE. So who exactly is MERGE and why does MERGE exist?

In 1998, the then Royal Australian Institute of Architects established a Western Australian Young Architects Committee (YAC) to provide a collective voice for young architects within the State Chapter. In 2006, the committee reformed under the banner of MERGE Emerging Architects. MERGE seeks to bridge the gap from study to practice and to provide an environment conducive to professional development, intellectual stimulation and the social growth of young and emerging people in Perth’s architectural scene. MERGE’s mission is to assist its members in establishing and developing their architectural career by providing opportunities to network with other professionals and familiarise themselves with the challenges and issues relating to architectural practice in Perth. (Extract from EmAGN newsletter December 2007).

Almost a decade on, the MERGE committee – a combination of young registered architects, graduates and Student Organised Network of Architecture (SONA) representatives – continues to deliver educational and social events. As industry trends and partnerships have evolved, MERGE has introduced new events in collaboration with other professional groups ranging from ‘Revit Tutorials’ to ‘Site Tours’; establishing bridges between future leaders of the built environment.

Since the formation of MERGE Emerging Architects in 2006, there have been six Chairs. They reflect on the decade that has been.

Paul Edwards MERGE Chair 2006-2008
As one of the original founding members of YAC in 1998, I was involved in assisting RAIA to address the perceived gap between student/ graduate and established professional membership. We were charged with the task of creating opportunities to aid the transition of students and graduates into the Perth architectural profession. Many students didn’t work in the profession prior to graduating and found they were competing for only a handful of jobs when they did graduate. Those who were engaged with the profession before graduating made valuable contacts which assisted them in the transition from student to graduate and gave them a distinct advantage in commencing their architectural career. Further networking opportunities run by MERGE enabled them to build on current, and establish new, working relationships which has produced many successful Perth practices we know today.

Todd Paterson MERGE Chair 2008-2009
I am proud to say that I was in the delivery room the day that MERGE was born. I joined the committee at a time when similar groups across the country were banding together to establish a national network under the umbrella of the Institute, and so EmAGN (Emerging Architects + Graduates Network) was born. At the same time YAC was renamed to MERGE. It was a great time for cross-fertilisation of ideas with the national body. During my time as Chair we introduced the ‘Small Bar Tour’ and ‘Architecture Film Night’, as well as built on the highly successful ‘3 Over / 4 Under’ forum, which continues to be a fantastic event during Architecture Week. We also nurtured connections with other professional industry bodies through the Young Professionals Network, which provided great networking opportunities with Engineering, Accounting, Law and Public Relations professionals, all of whom are critical to the success of an architectural practice. During my time as Chair I met a lot of very smart and interesting young architects across Australia who have emerged as award-winning architects and even a TV personality. I know they will ensure the architecture profession will be sustainable and profitable into the future.

Dean Adams MERGE Chair 2010-2011
By the time I became Chair and during my term, MERGE had established its reputation for delivering architectural discourse and networking events for young architects in Western Australia. Events such as ‘3 Over / 4 Under’ began to include international architects and the MERGE photographic competition debuted at Architecture Week. MERGE further supported young architects in Western Australia with the establishment of the Emerging Architects Prize. Through these events and other initiatives MERGE has provided an avenue for young architects to present, discuss and exhibit their architecture. I see this exposure for young architects as MERGE’s main ongoing contribution to the architectural community in Western Australia.

Yen Nee Goh MERGE Chair 2011-2012
The focus of my term as Chair was to strengthen the relevance of our events and interaction with peer groups. We saw an increase in our small team of volunteers, which boosted the level of enthusiasm tremendously. This enabled us to continue with our efforts and introduce ‘Regi(fru)stration’ nationally with the aim of providing face-to-face discussions and Q&A opportunities for graduates embarking on the Architectural Practice Examinations. As architectural practices evolved into multi-disciplinary practices encompassing planning and engineering, MERGE’s mission in providing opportunities to network with other professions became increasingly crucial. The inclusion of engineers and planners as speakers at our staple events such as ‘3 Over / 4 Under’ was a step towards encouraging a collaborative approach when discussing design amongst ourselves.

Elvin Chatergon MERGE Chair 2013-2014
After being actively involved with MERGE for the best part of three years, my main aim as Chair was to expand our professional network to include Young Quantity Surveyors, Young Engineers Western Australia, Young Builders Alliance and also Local Authorities such as Town of Cambridge. I also wanted to ensure MERGE remained a fun, vibrant and relevant committee to encourage even greater team growth and reach out to graduates and students. To fulfil these aims we started a number of new initiatives: the ‘Sandcastles Competition’ in collaboration with YEWA, held at City Beach; the ‘Site Tours’ series in collaboration with YBA, inaugurated at the Old Treasury Building; and the ‘Revit Tutorials’ series held at Curtin University and the University of Western Australia. These have helped arm students with skills required to gain employment in today’s increasingly technology-reliant and hyper-competitive construction industry, whilst gaining exposure to industry professionals in the classroom. We also evolved well-established events such as ‘3 Over / 4 Under’ to include guest speakers of international repute, namely John Wardle and Paul Pholeros, and enjoyed partnerships with new sponsors. Additionally, when the National Architecture Conference came to Perth last year, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to run fringe events to complement the official program. I believe that MERGE is one of the most relevant organisations in Perth within the field of architecture. It promotes the profession to the entire spectrum of architects and acts successfully as a gateway from studentship to the challenges of practice.

Mimi Cho MERGE Chair 2015—
At university, it was comforting to know that there existed a network of people who had once stood in my shoes and would be there to welcome me into professional practice. Both Dean and Yen Nee’s committees had a strong presence at my university – a credit to them and the SONA representatives. I joined the committee promptly after graduation and have since enjoyed watching ambitious concepts come to fruition. During Elvin’s productive term as Chair I had the role of coordinating MERGE’s marketing and communications, where I learned the importance of nurturing professional relationships – past, present and potential. This is why the committee is now introducing a dedicated MERGE Relationship Manager. As immediate past point of contact, it makes sense for Elvin to take on this role in order to strengthen MERGE’s relationships with sponsors and peer groups. It is not unusual for Chairs to remain on the committee after the end of their term. It is in fact extremely valuable, as Yen Nee was Finance Manager over the previous two years. In the coming two years, MERGE aims to build a dialogue between our architecture community and the wider public (challenge accepted David Weir). 2015 has already brought us some victories: the ‘Sandcastles Competition’ established with YEWA in 2013 has made it onto this year’s Town of Cambridge’s official summer family calendar, the ‘Site Tours’ series established with YBA in 2014 continues to promote interaction between architects and builders, and ‘Urban Screening’ returns to the Perth Cultural Centre to showcase a second year of architecture on video. Work in progress: with the closure of The Bakery (beloved home to ‘3 Over / 4 Under’ from 2011 to 2014) we are planning for a new venue that is more public and capable of expanding our audience demographic. If you have ideas or comments for any of the above, please get in touch (contact details below). We are always interested in meeting inspiring architects – young and not so young. Perth’s architectural climate may now seem more competitive than when MERGE arrived on the scene (pre-GFC) but the profession is as enthusiastic as ever to welcome the next generation of movers and shakers. Key events such as our annual ‘3 Over / 4 Under’ forum and ‘Talks on a Practice’ series that can take place at any time throughout the year, allow practices to “show off ” their office and their work so that they might just snag the interest of a promising young graduate or student. These events also stimulate professional discourse that may continue well beyond the event date, creating mutually beneficial opportunities for young and experienced architects to interact. On the cross-disciplinary front, MERGE has collaborated with a number of peer groups over the past decade. Some have disbanded while others have gained enthusiasm to collaborate, as reflected in MERGE’s newer initiatives. In a competitive environment, these activities and connections within and around our profession are invaluable.

The MERGE committee meets every second Tuesday of the month. To attend, email merge@architecture.com.au. Can’t make it to meetings? Email us to find out how else you can get involved. More information on events at wp.architecture.com.au/emagn/wa-merge/ and Facebook.

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