10 reasons Architects probably won’t fix it
1. Architects are not leaders
In fact, we wait to follow. Architecture is a service profession. Clients hire us to help implement their vision, if we’re lucky. Or, they hire us because of a legal obligation to have a licensed professional seal a set of drawings, when we aren’t lucky. We don’t define the needs of the community; in fact, we usually don’t even recognize them on our own. We need a patron to guide us. Until then, we wait, for instructions.
2. Architects are not relevant
We are losing (or have already lost) our position in the public conscience. Don’t believe me? Just ask a stranger what an Architect does. They’ll have no idea, or worse, they’ll think Architecture is for someone else; someone with more disposable income; someone with more elite taste; someone more urbane; someone with different priorities; someone else; but not them. We have systematically put ourselves and our profession into the margins of society.
3. We don’t need any more buildings
Think about the number of existing buildings in your town. How many empty factories? How many vacant schools?; How many s.f. of empty offices? How many houses for sale? How much of our existing building fabric could we re-purpose to meet our current needs? Maybe your phone hasn’t been ringing for a few years because we simply over built. Maybe we’ve been living beyond our means for years. After the recession, we were all forced to focus on what we REALLY needed. We simplified our lives. And, some of us realized we could do without Architecture (at least for a while). Has our profession become a luxury and an extravagance?
4. Architects are not in charge.
Architects are just a small part of the team required to realize a complex building. The Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) field has been divided into an array of ever more specialized professionals. Each with their own set of expertise to bring to the table; and, each with their own agenda. Architects hold onto the belief that we are the “master builder” in this relationship. We organize the team and lead to effort and set the tone for the project. We’re in charge, right? Sure we are. But, take a minute and look at the fees on a job. The Architectural fee is less than the water and sewer tap fees on most projects. If the client has to pay more money to the city to connect the building to the infrastructure than they’re paying the Architect, how can the Architect REALLY expect to be in charge?
5. Architects Value Design
Architects value design above everything else. We are trained to visualize a world that doesn’t exist yet. We are creative. We are talented. We are artist. Design is always the solution. Architects believe we can design our way out of anything. But, this can be perceived as arrogance by everyone else (particularly our clients). They hear us preaching about what they SHOULD be doing. They feel like we’re pressuring them to accept OUR ideas. They feel like we talk, but don’t listen. Just when we get excited about a creative revelation we’ve had on the project, they start to roll their eyes and look at their watch.
6. Architecture is not a business
We create beauty and purity. But, we have no idea how to run a company. We do not analyze the market to find out what’s popular; what will “sell”; what’s most marketable; what the community wants; what gets people excited; what touches a nerve; what we can do to help; how can we serve a need. Is it any wonder our profession is floundering? We might need a new business model.
7. Architects want to be different
We are obsessed with the newest, most creative, most innovative and far-flung version of awesomeness the latest firm du jour is building somewhere overseas. We stare at the magazines, and refresh the browser on ArchDaily.com until something catches our eye and our jaws drop. But, what we consider to be a “wow” moment tends to confuse most people. Architects have begun to compete for a primary position in irrelevance.
8. Architects are behind
At a conference last week, the keynote speaker showed a graph of innovation in American business. Almost across the board, every industry has become more efficient. Systems have been refined and perfected. Manufacturing has be mechanized. The time and expense of production has been minimized. And, almost across the board, businesses have become more and more profitable. Almost across the board, with one glaring exception; the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industry has become less and less efficient. We design and build in almost the same way we have for 50 years. The result is excessive waste. In other words, we’re wasting our client’s money and losing their respect in the process.
9. Architects haven’t told our story
Architects are almost universally admired. But, this admiration has almost nothing to do with our efforts. We have allowed our profession to be defined by others. Sure, we have a good reputation, but is it accurate? And, more importantly, is it personal. Spend 5 minutes looking at Architectural websites, can you really tell them apart? Every firm is “design oriented” every firm is “creative”. Every firm is “innovative”. We all have “expertise” in every building type. In other words, we all have a lot of experience making buildings with rooms in them. How can our clients decide who to choose for a project if we all blend together in a mass of black sweaters and angst? Is there a difference between us? Are we individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses and passions? How long can we coast on our popular image? Architects better start telling our own story soon, or we’ll become a commodity, instead of creative and inspirational individuals.
10. Architects don’t believe we can fix it
It’s been over 2 years since the economic crash of 2009 and Architects have done almost nothing to effect change. We watch the billing index from the American Institute of Architects, and we pat ourselves on the back when it goes up 1.5%. Whew, maybe the recession will be over soon. We should just wait over here until things get better.
and, can I borrow a dollar?
photos are from andrewpaulcarr’s photostream on Flickr (used under creative commons license)
Written as a follow-up to “10 Reasons Architects can fix it“