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?

Original article at Coffee With an Architect

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photos are from andrewpaulcarr’s photostream on Flickr (used under creative commons license)

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Written as a follow-up to “10 Reasons Architects can fix it

Cite: Brown, Jody. "10 reasons Architects probably won’t fix it" 05 Oct 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 02 Oct 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=174185>
  • http://www.ronestudio.wordpress.com Jeremiah

    Brilliant and spot on. There is a small fringe of architects out there with a clear vision of real service and education to their clients to begin affecting real change in our profession. But then, just like government, there are a lot of others in charge of a majority that simply want to continue kicking the can down the road.
    Great work Jody!

    • James

      Your obligation isn’t to your clients, it’s to the people who have to inhabit your building(s).

      Telling the world you build for your clients is just a marketing scheme to get work.

      You don’t have a clear moral concept of the people you’re actually building for, which means you don’t really know what an architect is – which means you really don’t know who you are.

      • bLogHouse

        The obligation of the architect, dear Sir, is to whoever pays for the service. And this is usually written in a signed contract. Are you suggesting that the architect should disregard a contract?

        Besides, in many, many cases a client and an inhabitant are one and the same person, organization, firm, etc. Don’t you know that?!

  • Blake

    Well we can all thank the swanky/trendy/elite schooling method…we are taught that we are these great ‘world changers’ with a high level of intellect and responsibility…when in reality we don’t change very much we spend our time trying to redefine the status quo for no other reason than to just change things for shock value more than anything…Architects dont represent the average folks we represent a tiny fraction of society. Sad but true.

    • http://www.derfoto.com Fred Castillo

      Exactly…I went to SCI Arc..the land of huge egos. I am still bitter about that experience. No preparation for the real world and sculpture as Architecture. The whole profession needs to be redefined and adapt to a new world.

      • James

        I think you just never understood what you were getting into at Sci-Arc.

        Students who go there want a certain type of education. Most know what they’re buying.

        There are a lot of good tech schools and other schools more focused on building technology for you to choose from.

        You bought a Porsche when what you wanted was a Chevy van.

        You can’t blame the car dealership for that.

      • Moth

        I am 100% with James… it seems like you dont know who you are, its not all about the contract… Give the same contract to different architects and they will give you different buildings using the same laws? thats creativity and thats architecture.. and Yes We are leaders… why cant Civil engineers do anything without an architect onsite to show them what things mean? go onto job websites and you will find that most planning and cost control engineers are preferred if they are architects…

        this is the first article ive ever read that talks about architects this way..

  • http://www.derfoto.com Fred Castillo

    Finally……..someone said it. BRAVA!

  • Abe

    Architecture is NOT a service profession.

    We do NOT design & build in almost the same way we have for 50 years.

    “Economic crash of 2009″?

    Too shallow. Sorry.

  • Sofia

    This is a good way to touch the point.
    I feel this in the my country for a few years. And no ones are moving to change that, everyone is looking for herself and waiting for bad times goes away.

  • Cody

    While there are some salient points in this article, there is a fine line between architectural efficiency and social homogenization, especially when it comes to dwelling. Corbu’s experimentation into “machines for living” were efficient, but produced horrible living environments. While I believe that the construction industry need to be modernized, I think that it would be a mistake to marginalize the architecture profession in leu of a industrialized version of the built environment (ie off the shelf IKEA houses). This would shift even more influence of commercial and advertising interests over our everyday lives. Architects need to step and show their value in creating positive social and environmental change, but they are not solely to blame in the degradation of architecture.

  • steve

    Article is well done.

  • http://jasonpjacksondesign.org Jason

    WOW This Article sounds extremely bitter.

    I am seeing this more and more especially as the economy remains stagnant. Problem is most of what we are taught in schools more often then not is not actually translated into the profession. If architects were generally achieving the wow factor this article speaks of then there would be no problem with relevance. People would believe in Architecture. Instead they constantly see architects produce the mundane to turn a buck and then wonder what the heck they needed an architect for and honestly I couldn’t agree more.

    I think the Architecture profession as a whole could stand a little more hardship. Really wipe out most of the untalented shysters that have soured the profession and allow for architecture to come out of the rubble reinvented.

    • http://www.coffeewithanarchitect.com Jody Brown

      YES! “for architecture to come out of the rubble reinvented.” should be our mantra!
      All together now

    • Method & Madness

      Lets get shaking off that dust! Blimey – there´s clouds of it ………

  • James

    Wrong on every point in my opinion, which is pretty incredible given there’s 10 of them. I sense a lot of resentment and feelings of impotence, which is a very common (if extremely misplaced) feeling in this economy, especially amongst white Americans who feel the balance of power shifting under their feet.

    Comparatively speaking, all Americans have the power to do so much, even American architects, they just don’t appreciate it or value it. These days they even deny it in order to justify inaction.

    #1 starts off with the worst misconception about architects there is.

    Architects don’t exist to serve their clients. They exist to serve the people who must inhabit the buildings clients pay to build. They exist to serve the context within which the building is built, including the natural one. Claiming you serve the client first and foremost is a marketing scheme, it’s not architecture. It’s also a pretty flimsy marketing scheme to be honest, and I think clients can see through it like a toothpaste commercial. You have to stand for more than that, believe in more than that, or nobody else will.

    Architects with no sense of this concept are inevitably going to misunderstand the profession and feel alienated and without value – and that’s going to lead to the negativity we’re seeing in this blog article.

    • http://www.ronestudio.wordpress.com Jeremiah

      James, you’re starting to get to the heart of the matter. And you seem to be a consummate optimist when it comes to the profession. I’m guessing you’re NOT a practicing architect. Either that or you have a very strong constitution to have maintained such an idyllic view of architecture.
      The TRUTH is, architects ARE marginalized and often times seen as unnecessary mostly by our own doing. We’ve spent YEARS shifting responsibility onto other professions and other trades till the point where the only way for us to continue to justify our existence is through legislation that REQUIRES our service which only further marginalizes our profession.
      Now, if architects were to TAKE BACK the responsibility of being the master builder, things would be much different. And that is the heart of this article. This article is pointing out the injustice and the failure of the profession in such a way that anyone who knows anything about the author would take from it a call to arms for architects to begin again to take charge of their projects. To be leaders in the profession of building and to rebuild the respect and admiration that we have lost over the years.

      • James

        No, I’m a practicing architect with 3 buildings on the boards at the moment.

        We’re not theorists. Building is crucial to our practice.

      • James

        I think the negativity in architecture is occurring not because of some endemic problem with architecture. Architects can be a little bit self-absorbed sometimes.

        The problem is a sociopolitical problem all workers in the US share right now. Nobody appreciates lower standards of living to pay for the elderly and compete globally while simultaneously bailing out the trust fund babies on Wall Street in order to prevent a Depression.

        And unfortunately Americans are a bit brainwashed against the idea of unionizing in response to these problems – often problems created by very large corporations that individuals can’t do much about unless they group together politically or privately somehow.

    • Jürgen

      Agreed, Jason.
      Many of architects, say 70-80 years ago, designed more humble buildings… humble but still high quality!
      Today those buildings have been replaced by humble and low quality – the profession has lost a lot of its craft… its pride and sense of quality.

      One could try to put some of the blame on the industrialization and standardization of many parts of the building process… but in the end, I’m with you – architects need to shape up! Drop the pessimism and start doing a better job!

    • bLogHouse

      “Architects don’t exist to serve their clients. They exist to serve the people who must inhabit the buildings clients pay to build. They exist to serve the context within which the building is built, including the natural one.”
      This sounds like a manifesto. And as every manifesto it’s profoundly unrealistic and therefore useless. Even more – this ‘idyllic’ (quote) and idealistic view of Architecture has become part of the problem.
      It also implies that architects know what people they never met want, what the context wants, etc. – i.e. they are the “know-it-all” type, the type which falls more and more out of relevance. Which brings us to item # 2..
      The article is right on! Your dislike of the message does not make it wrong. And it’s not about America and white(?!) Americans, if you can handle this disrespect.

  • John

    Architecture – it’s the worst most wonderful thing I’ve ever been apart of

  • nishchal

    amazing article man….agreed on pretty much everything. When I try to explain design to people, i feel they r just sooo dumb.
    and yah pay is very less..

    LETS ALL DECIDE AMONGST US TO INCREASE THE FEES, AND SPREAD THE NEWS FAR AND WIDE. ;)

    P.S congrats on the article.

  • isla

    Archdaily team, it would be nice if you could write all this articles about architecture panorama in spanish, mabye in plataformaarquitectura?

    thanks

  • Will

    11. Architects spend a lot of time complaining about their plight

    It’s not that difficult to write an article discussing the challenges of the profession; almost any professional could complain about the difficulties of their chosen field. It would be much more productive to read about how the author is addressing these issues in his own practice or his proposals for improving the profession in each of these areas.

    In my view, this is a vastly oversimplified summation of where the profession stands. There are many types of firms doing different types of work, plenty are providing a great deal of leadership and breaking ground with the use of BIM, CAD/ CAM technology, etc.

  • Wendy Daniel

    I have watched every programme of Grand Designs (BBC) and without ever knowing an architect I know what architects do. A good architect delivers a clean, beautiful, functional building to brief, offering her clients more than they thought possible, that will last and give pleasure for generations.
    There are also a million ways that building design has moved ahead.
    We create as we speak.
    We create as we speak. We

  • Jim Beam

    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.

    THE ECONOMY CRASH was in October 2008…maybe “architects” cannot fix it because they are very uninformed as you are…this article blows….who belives in a writer that cannot even date the latest excuse for his own article…..lameeeeeeeeee!

    • http://www.coffeewithanarchitect.com Jody Brown

      So mean…
      Oddly enough, I date the recession to Jan 15, 2009. Maybe because that’s the day I was laid off

      • James

        That’s awfully self-centered.

        Are you a Republican or a Tea Party member?

        I’d be surprised to see such a person writing blog articles on a website like this, but your misunderstanding of when the recession began is confusing.

        The recession began in 2008, with warnings of it even before the fall when Lehman’s crashed.

  • ethan

    i havent been the biggest fan of jody’s articles, but this one makes some pretty good points. thanks jody.

  • tim

    if you think this and you’re an architect – get out of the profession, you either don’t have a clue what architecture is, or you’re not meant to be an architect.

    make it better for the few of us that should be.

  • Edmar Ferreira Jr

    Yes! And last but last but not least, 10. We (the real architects) those who believes that building and construction is our business (or as someone else says above “is crucial to our practice”) will be there and here to rebuild everything again and again and again when the “thinkers” will be to busy in conversations of this kind. You know, I can hear Mies saying: “They ask for a door and I built that door and the
    result was Mondrian…”

  • John

    Sadly, i think this is true. Now that you have this challenge, the question is: What are you going to do? My suggestion is to take care of most of the problems of design AND the construction itself, but little by little. Another suggestion is to collect less money so that other people will be willing to hire architects. Last suggestion is to design the buildings for the people -not for the client, not to be recognised by other architects, but for the people that will be using the building. Maybe some of you are already doing this, but it is better to hear a helpful (i hope that this is one)suggestion twice than not hearing it at all.

    If you are wondering who i am, I am nobody famous(for the moment… only time will tell if this will change). I am studying architecture, and i am not going to stop studying because of this situation. I will figure out a way, and if it works, i will come here and tell you. And if it doesnt work, well, i will think of another way.
    Last words and i am going to bed: You will find a way. After all, we are doing this to help people in a creative way (and we get paid for it), not because you wanted to do something “nice” only to be on a magazine. Am I right?
    I lied, these are the last words: Good night everybody, good luck too.
    (sorry if my english is too bad, it is not my first language)

  • James

    I posit that the problem with the profession has more to do with the problem in America.

    Let’s not get distracted by being myopic.

    Workers in the US are getting reamed. Workers of all types, and yes white collars as well.

    Americans dealt with this once before, when the rich had too much power. They unionized. And they supported politicians who supported unionization.

    If architects want more money and more power, there’s only one realistic avenue for individuals to take in order to get it.

    We can debate all day long about how to adapt ourselves and our profession to a country that’s hostile to workers so that individually we might get ahead of the other desperate unfortunates.

    But it’s missing the forest for the trees, and quite frankly none of us has time for that.

    In my opinion this is always ultimately really a political discussion, and I know which side of the line on in my support of labor rights. The discussion about our profession can even be destructive, because it confuses us into believing that if we adapt our work/business model, everything will work out.

    We have to think bigger picture to address the problems architects are having.

  • Righo

    And we say we care but we don’t, so we all lie…
    Just after read your topic, this was the quote that pop-up in my mind. Hi! cheers from Tijuana, Mexico where the Architect is a “Necessary bad thing”, where the Architect with cheapest budget get the building, not matter how awful quality will be.

    Then we all complain about how hard to get a job is, when we think more into the incoming we would get, into the building itself and the prestige we could earn, but never into the person who will step/never step into the building.

    Sorry about my spelling I tried to do my best.
    Love the fact that most people here knows something is wrong out there, now we could reach the next step and start doing something =]

    Rigoberto Avalos
    [Less like Square, More like cirlce]