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Q&ADR: Nic Granleese and Ben Morgan of BowerBird.io


Every week, in our Q&ADR column, ADR will interview an architect, designer, object maker or industry person about who they are beyond the work – their life, inspiration, challenges and aspirations. This week we catch up with two guys who have ventured into the world of start-ups to make it easier for designers and architects to get their work published. Meet Ben Morgan and Nic Granleese of BowerBird

Can you tell us about your background and how you’ve both ended up working within the architecture and design industry?

Nic: I studied architecture at QUT in Brisbane and worked for several years as a registered architect on residential, government and remote Indigenous projects. In 2010, I took a career detour and fell in love with photography. I combined my two passions with architectural photography, which evolved into BowerBird.

Ben: My father is an architectural draughtsman and my parents built two houses when I was growing up, so I’ve been surrounded by architecture and design for most of my life. When it came to studying at uni, it was either three years in journalism or the hard slog of an architecture degree. I took the easier route, but never lost my interest in design.

After studies, I began work with an architecture and design publisher in Sydney, heading up their digital titles and I was finally able to combine my passions. I’ve never looked back.


You recently founded BowerBird – a startup that connects architects/designers with media outlets – can give us some insight into what it is, where the idea came from and how you got it off the ground?

Nic: BowerBird has taken almost four years to build into its current form, with many iterations, challenges and backstory, but basically BowerBird is an app that makes it easy for architects to get their work published. You upload a project, then submit it to your favourite design publications. (Want to submit a project to ADR? Check out our BowerBird page here.)

The idea came about when I became an architectural photographer and wanted to get my images published. I talked to different journalists and they explained to me how the process worked, but also why it was painful. The big insight was that journalists actually want you to send them your new project. They’re time poor and it’s difficult for them to know your project exists unless you tell them. What’s more, if you include a package of good content like professional photography and the ‘who, what, when, where, why’ of the project, you’ve just made their day. Instead of going back and forth with you for weeks, they can publish a story almost immediately. We took all of that insight and made it into an app.  

Ben: I teamed up with Nic in November of 2014. As a journalist, it was such an exciting idea to democratise architectural media by helping the little guys – smaller practices – connect with the world’s architecture journalists. It was a no-brainer for me; I had to be involved.

I think the most exciting thing about BowerBird is that journalists can uncover untold stories, from straightforward project features to larger stories around materials or themes. It has a powerful search tool that helps to find those hidden gems. It’s a meritocracy, rather than ‘who you know’.

What has been the steepest learning curve and most pleasant surprise since founding Bowerbird?

Nic: The technical challenges of getting BowerBird off the ground have been immense, but learning how to code has been hugely rewarding. At first, you want to bang your head against the wall, but in time it starts to makes sense, and eventually you end up with this set of powerful skills for creating new things. Coding may seem far away from architecture, but now I see all these opportunities for data and technology to change our built environment.  

Ben: The steepest learning curve from my point of view has been the sheer size of architecture and design media—despite being a part of it, I had little idea of how huge this particular niche is. I’m personally in contact with hundreds of my fellow journalists each week. Luckily we’re a collegiate bunch, and everyone has been very supportive and excited.

I think the most pleasant surprise for me has been watching new and emerging architects using BowerBird to get published for the first time. I didn’t really expect how much of a difference we could make to the lives of these passionate creatives. We’ve actually made some great friends along the way, and we’re growing an awesome little tribe.


What would you say has been the biggest achievement in your career?

Nic: Not sure if this is an achievement or just personal reflection, but I think letting go of my career as an architect stands out. Changing career paths wasn’t easy. Being an architect was (and maybe still is) so wound up in my identity, but I know that change led me to so many other amazing people, projects and a very different perspective of the world.

Ben: It might sound corny, but I’m really proud of my community. Nothing happens in isolation, and BowerBird is no exception. Our success is a direct result of the people around us. So I attribute all my achievements as a journalist and a founder to all the amazing creative people I meet, without whom I would have nothing to write.

What do you think characterises Australian design?

Nic: Residential architecture stands out in my mind. Two types in particular. The first is the Queenslander and what has transformed into the icon of Australia. Large landscapes and light materials. The second is what I affectionately call parasitical. It’s all the renovations of heritage buildings with modern extensions. The old building is neither demolished nor restored entirely, it’s like the new building is growing on top of it.

Ben: Australian design is bold. Our physical distance from the rest of the Western world gives us freedom to play with traditions, to appropriate and reinvent in ways that don’t come naturally to other cultures. The general public probably isn’t aware of how world-class our design is. That’s why it’s so important that architects and designers become better communicators and storytellers.     


The Hello house by OOF! Architecture is a new addition to an old Victorian shophouse. Photo by Nic Granleese.

Who/what/where do you look to for inspiration?

Nic: I look to other startup founders for inspiration. People who find a problem and seek a solution, even if they don’t know what that solution might be. What I find so inspiring is that they design with enthusiasm and a belief that anything is possible. When I find architects using startup principles… that’s double inspiration.

Ben: We get so many submissions on BowerBird, I really don’t need to look much further than our discover page for story inspiration, but obviously Instagram is a fantastic source of inspiration for me (if only they hadn’t changed their algorithm!), and it’s also a great place to make genuine connections.

What are the next steps for Bowerbird?

Nic: We’re growing really quickly, so 2017 is all about changing gears. We’re getting ready to go global and that means dealing with thousands of architects, journalists and projects. Super exciting, but also full of new challenges as we scale up.

Ben: BowerBird’s journalists and editors are located across the world, so 2017 will be about bringing them a lot more global content, in addition to the wealth of Australian projects we’re already sharing. For local practices, now is the time to jump on board as we push BowerBird out to a larger global audience.


How can ADR readers get involved or find out more?

It’s free to register on BowerBird. All you need to do is create an account, then start your first BowerKit here. Then if you want to proactively send your projects to journalists, there is a fee, but we’re extending an offer to ADR readers in which you can get your first two months free when subscribing using the coupon code ADR2017 before January 31.

If you’d like to be featured in Q&ADR, simply email adrteam@niche.com.au with a little introduction of yourself.

BowerBird Architecture App from BowerBird on Vimeo.


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