What you need to know
It may seem obvious that the job of an architect is to design, but in reality, many spend most of their time processing paperwork and communicating with clients. A Hong Kong startup is tackling the problem.
Archiparti, a Hong Kong-based tech startup, is making the job of interior designers more efficient and transparent with its online project management platform. By helping to set clear expectations with clients, standardizing paperwork and connecting with local construction companies, archiparti allows designers to focus on what they enjoy most — design.
On average, architects and interior designers spend 70 percent of their time dealing with logistics and only 30 percent on design, says Karbi Chan (陳悅) the 32-year-old founder of archiparti.
“Creativity should not be standardized, but if logistical procedures are standardized, you have more time for creative design,” Chan says.
Archiparti’s online platform matches freelance architects and interior designers with clients, and manages the logistics components in a construction project — from contracts and quotes to finding local construction companies.
“I started archiparti to make my own life easier. Who knew starting a business would be so tiring?” says Chan, who now leads a team of five.
The workflow on archiparti is divided into three parts — design, project management, and construction. A project “owner” first creates a project portfolio and supplies all the necessary documents on the website, the project is then announced to the relevant people in the membership database. Typically, an average of 13 choices of designer are listed to the project owner within two days.
Launched in 2015, archiparti has since attracted over 1,400 designers from 22 countries as members. Two-thirds are award-winning architects or interior designers, and more than half of them have more than 10 years of experience in the industry.
The platform, which receives hundreds of inquiries each month, makes money by charging a service fee from designers, the construction companies and project owners.
Archiparti has not received outside funding, but may look for funding in the future if it plans to scale up, says Chan.
How it all started
After obtaining a Master’s degree in architecture from Cornell University, Chan went on to work at international firms, such as Kengo Kuma and Associates, OMA and Barbican Center, before founding archiparti in August 2015. As an architect-turned-entrepreneur, Chan says she is well aware of the problems with industry practices.
“I wish there was archiparti 10 years ago,” Chan says, thinking back to when she was a fresh graduate — worrying about contract terms and unaligned client expectations.
A few years ago, she mentioned these inefficiencies to her boss at the time but his response was, “I don’t think the industry needs to change. I think it’s you people, the young generation [that needs to change],” Chan quotes from memory.
For many architects, long work hours are part of the job, and persistence and discipline are values rooted in the older generation.
“I’m not going to play this game,” Chan recalls thinking. She left her job to not only start her own company but also to change the industry’s working culture.
What the designers say
“I think the working patterns are great and the hours are flexible,” said Taiwanese interior designer Kei Lin (林雙慶), 39, referring to his first match on archiparti earlier this year. Since the expectations and fees are clearly listed, “it’s quite good for us designers.”
In comparison to his usual experience with Taiwanese clients, who tend to ask for changes in the design without paying a fee, archiparti’s clear contract terms help eliminate these gray areas.
But he worries that Taiwan’s market is not suitable for archiparti because the platform is “very much based on trust,” and from his experience working with Taiwanese clients, “they prefer to meet the designer in person, get to know you first before even seeing your portfolio.”
Lin founded his own design firm, Kei Design Studio, three years ago and most of his early clients were introduced by friends and relatives. “Taiwanese clients are less acceptive of online platforms because they often a wary of high commission fees and scammers.”
The designer's first project with archiparti was based in Hong Kong where he worked alongside two other interior designers, one from Hong Kong and the other from England. “It was a great [cultural] exchange experience,” and he is open to future projects based in China or Europe.
Going international and changing industry norms
The majority of archiparti’s projects have been based in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China. They are typically small-scale projects commissioned by people renovating their homes, offices and retail stores.
While there are advantages concentrating on the local market, Chan’s vision is for an international platform. She plans to develop more partnerships with construction companies outside of Hong Kong.
When asked about her proudest moment so far, Chan slowed from her fast talking manner, “I haven’t really thought about that,” she said.
She recalls a designer telling her that the freelance opportunity archiparti provides is something architects and designers wanted but never thought was possible.
“This is changing the industry, so even if it fails, at least you inspired a generation of people to think what the alternative can be, instead of just doing the same thing,” Chan said.
Editor: Edward White