Conversations with…Wayne Schomberg

Earlier this year we launched a new exclusive interview series featuring the ThomsonAdsett team. The ‘Conversations with….’ series highlights the incredible and collective knowledge of our people as well as their experience and diverse skills.

Our talented seniors living team are the first to be featured.

In parts one and two, we interviewed consulting partners David Lane and Chris Straw.

This week we interview Practice Director, Partner Wayne Schomberg about his career, architectural learnings, key projects and future predictions for the sector.

Wayne Schomberg – Practice Director, Partner

How many years have you been at ThomsonAdsett?

My 35th anniversary with the company is in July this year.

How many years as an architect?

Thirty years this July.

In your opinion, what is the role of an architect succeeding client expectations?

From a business point of view, every architect should be doing more than complying with a brief.  As an organisation with a deep knowledge of the industry we would hope our clients want to use this knowledge to add value to their projects. An architect needs to understand what the client considers to be value, and to work with them to create and add further value through design.

Can you explain some of the operational and pragmatic aspects of health and aged care?

Health care and aged care are different industries which are characterised by different drivers.  When conceived, aged care was long-term accommodation for elderly people who needed some levels of care but these people were not ill, they were just old.

Over time aged care operators have become more sophisticated and able to care for people with more acute or demanding conditions or behaviours, people have been able to remain in their “home” and receive care that was once only possible in a more institutional setting.

In a hospital, a person is in a bed and moved to the services they require while personnel are working to treat and return them to the home environment when safe to do so. Aged care focuses on creating a home environment where people can live comfortably in the longer term and services are largely delivered to them.

What is the key to designing environments that are cognisant to creating community?

There are several elements to this including a person’s expectations on what a seniors’ community should be and how it supports elements like independence, social interaction, lifestyle, connectedness, linkages, diversity and sustainability.

Physically, the space needs to be an enabling environment that addresses the physical, social, and emotional needs of a resident, and overtime evolves to address their future requirements. This is achieved through age-friendly design incorporating elements supporting access, wayfinding, flexibility, safety, security, communication, and a meaningful external environment.

Creating a recognisable place, and identity a person can form an emotional connection to, is important. This is focused on wants and needs and requires the built environment to be authentic and understandable.

Architecture that creates a positive emotional response in individuals and groups provides the fabric to build a community.

How do you design a project to encourage social interaction and independence as well as create a strong link between wellness and the natural environment?

I believe the focus on independence is about a focus on empowerment. There is a great deal of research that considers this question and generally the findings seem to suggest individuals do not want to be cared for. Too much care may institutionalise people. The secret to encouraging social interaction and independence is providing an empowering environment which supports people to care for themselves. This approach is based upon the idea that any level of independence is much better than being totally dependent.

Environments that encourage empowerment, focus on being understandable, have clear events and destinations, have a strong wayfinding methodology, are designed to be inclusive, are secure, provide a sense of security in an individual, and are free of physical and external hazards or barriers.

Wellness is a key element in keeping people active and healthy which reduces their reliance on care.  With the prevalence of dementia and depression increasing, mental wellness and activity is as important as the physical aspect. A social, physical activity like walking or gardening has the capacity to address both mental and physical wellness. Engagement in the natural environment has the added advantages and benefits of sunshine, fresh air and connecting people with day and night, seasons, plants and animals.

If you were to forecast, what would be some of the major disrupting issues you can see affecting the design delivery of architecture in the immediate future?

Clients valuing design, innovation and the capacity to deliver this. Most organisations state they value design and innovation and include this in their briefing. However, a number of these organisations also believe all architects deliver the same type of things and overwhelmingly our experience is that the selection of an architect is largely based on cost. The capacity to deliver meaningful design and innovation that is relevant to the project at hand and is valuable to ensure its short and long-term success is harder to acknowledge and measure.

The belief all architects deliver the same type of service combined with considering architects as simply a cost and not a valued partner limits that capacity on the industry to continue to deliver increased value.

What does your current work with ThomsonAdsett involve?

I have oversight of the quality management, environmental management, and work health and safety management systems. In addition to this, I have a background in strategic and master planning as well as delivering numerous seniors and smaller health care projects.

Did you always want to become an architect? What drew you to the profession?

I was raised by my grandparents in Maryborough and encouraged to take up a trade as all my family did. I worked as a labourer with a tiler but one of my uncles encouraged me to look at university. I was always interested in construction, drawing and was good at problem solving, so I selected a design course which led to architecture.

What have been the significant projects you have worked on and what has made them significant?

It has not been the projects that have motivated me, but the range of clients and number of projects delivered for a specific client that have been significant.

I have worked with several organisations to produce rollouts for numerous developments. The characteristics of this type of commission requires an architect to remain involved with a client for several years and in some cases for more than a decade. These types of commissions were delivered to Centres for Retirement where development was delivered across seven sites over 12 years, Canossa Care and development was delivered across two sites over 17 years, and the Salvation Army where development was delivered over three states and numerous sites within each state over 10 years.

The most rewarding buildings are those that contain the greatest deal of innovation. One project that is an example of this was the design for a village focused on the Chinese community. The vision was to deliver an integrated development that was a centre for excellence in all facets of seniors’ accommodation and care mixed into an intergenerational community standout. The first stage constructed was a residential aged care facility where the residents’ homes were based on the small house model – this development was the first of its kind in Queensland.

A more recent project was a masterplan for an integrated seniors living community in a rural setting in the Northern Territory. Although this development contained a range of accommodation and amenity specific to its location, the architecture had to work in a tropical climate. This was an important aspect of the design and the idea of identifying how a tropical small house model could be achieved was explored. This allowed the architecture to relate to its use and context in a meaningful way.

What do you consider the responsibility of an architect?

To listen, innovate and communicate. The unique skill an architect brings to a project is design and for design to be valued it must align with an organisation’s needs. Good verbal, written and graphic communication is essential in ensuring all involved understand how the design achieves the required goals.

How would you describe your time at ThomsonAdsett?

Rewarding and uncomfortable. While working at ThomsonAdsett I have always sort to embrace new roles and continue to develop my expertise. This has led to a focus on personal development and training in areas of interest like social architecture and seniors living as well as other areas associated with business. I was awarded an MBA from the USQ in 2019 which I did while working full-time.

How do you continue to innovate and avoid similar design?

Listening, knowledge, industry understanding, and most importantly understanding market expectations now and into the future. I believe your most important work is your next project and if you are using examples of constructed work that is new, you could be working in a space that is about half a decade old.

What are your future predictions for the seniors living sector?

Fundamental change in all aspects. The sector is a highly regulated industry where governments at all levels have funded and controlled the delivery of care. A great deal of regulation has been created which at most levels can be categorised as consumer protection. This has created an industry based on government funding where the industry drivers are focused on balancing the competing interests of complying with regulation, maximising the use of available funding and meeting a senior’s needs.

It is well understood that seniors are becoming more discerning as baby boomers are becoming an increasing cohort sector, however the decision to embrace a user pay model will ease the reliance on government funding over time although the legal framework is unlikely to be eased. This is leading to the creation of a market where competition and choice are now becoming a consumer expectation that requires significantly more focus than a carer meeting their basic needs.

While there remains a high degree of regulation there is also a greater demand for quality design and more importantly innovation. Where there is a market developing with the evolving drivers, significant demographic and cultural change and a demand for innovation in terms of both services being provided and built environment that supports this, there is opportunity to develop new and exciting integrated business and architectural solutions.