Practice 2.0: Championing the young architect’s career, a lesson from technology startups

ICON's 20 Young Architects, photo via anarchitecture

By David Fano and Steve Sanderson, edited by Julie Quon

A well-known and often cited truism of architecture notes that forty (as in years) is considered young for an architect and most don’t start hitting their stride until they’re seventy. This may partially explain why well-known architects seem to live forever… they’re simply too busy to die. What is often omitted from this narrative is how the architects spent the first twenty (or so) years of their careers as freshly minted graduates prior to being recognized by their peers in the profession as “making it”.

If you approach any architect about their early-career experience in the profession you will get slightly different versions of the same story. They are all, in essence, about paying your dues.

  1. Taking a low-paying position for an A or B-list architect, where the compensation for long hours is the privilege of anonymous design on important projects, and in return a few hours are spent outside of the studio (usually with a group of similarly indebted classmates) on open design competitions that pay trifle stipends.
  2. Taking a low-paying adjunct teaching position, ideally in a design studio, where compensation for long hours is the privilege of working on your design interests with students in order to become a part of the elite tastemakers and to one day be shortlisted for an exclusive cultural competition.
  3. Taking a slightly better paying position with a corporate firm and spending your hours outside of work designing kitchens and bathrooms for wealthy friends and family with hopes that their social reach is broad enough to lead to additional commissions that will one day be substantial enough to make a living.
  4. Taking a slightly better paying position with a corporate firm and slogging through the incredibly tedious intern development and professional registration process in order to move up the corporate hierarchy. The goal is to eventually become a principal or partner with an established firm or even break off on your own with some of the established firm’s clients.

In each of these scenarios, the only path to a significant commission is to spend the few hours outside of these paying jobs in the pursuit of establishing credibility and reputation through exposure in architectural publications. In any case, it seems that around the age of forty is when all of this hard work finally begins to pay off with consistent commissions. For the vast majority that never succeed by following these models, there is usually a ‘pivot’ (in startup terms, a change in approach) that leads to a stable corporate position, a full-time teaching post, or an exit from the profession altogether (we did the latter, see Fed’s post). The difficulty of ‘being’ an architect is branded about in schools (oftentimes by people with little to no actual experience in the field) as a source of pride, a perverse hazing ritual intended to weed out all but the most dedicated adherents to the ideals of architecture as a pure form of expression, a rationale which further reinforces architecture as an intellectual pursuit for the privileged (that topic is for another post).

Mark Zuckerberg, Person of the Year 2010

Contrast this with the technology startup community, which has almost the opposite arrangement. It’s rare to hear about a successful mainstream startup whose founders are older than 25. Two graduate students started Google, Facebook by a college sophomore, Groupon by a graduate school dropout and the list goes on. While these success stories only represent a tiny fraction of the much broader startup scene (most of which never see the light of day), the drive, work ethic, naiveté and lack of external commitments (financial, social, etc…) of these young founders has led many venture capitalists (who invest in startups for living) to shy away from startups founded by people over 30.

The costs and accessibility to the technology needed to start one of these companies are being lowered each day through the creation of development frameworks and tools, like Ruby on Rails, Apache, mySQL, etc. Tools like these enable a group of founders with a good idea, some solid technical and design skills, and the ability to shamelessly self-promote and endure repeated rejection and setbacks, to launch a product with little to no more investment beyond their sweat.

Techstars, a NY-based incubator

These conditions have led to an explosion in the tech startup world of incubators/accelerators. Companies usually made up of experienced entrepreneurs and VCs that go beyond the role of simply investing in a promising young startup will now provide a physical space, access to experienced entrepreneurs and technologists, constant feedback and assessment, exposure to media and network of advisors, and at times a token financial investment in order to get the startup off of the ground. At the end of this incubation process most startups leave with a solid product and business model, but most importantly they leave with an impressive set of connections and the blessing of some of the most influential people in the startup world. You can imagine the success rate for companies like this is much higher than your standard, off the street startups and in some ways benefit from one of more of these factors, just not within a formal incubator.

Now, taking this model and applying it to the architectural profession may not be as big of a stretch as it might initially sound. The profession already has a model for this incubation process under the Intern Development Program (IDP), where a recent architecture graduate is expected to document and submit hours indicating that they have performed a broad range of tasks in a professional office under the direct supervision of a seasoned architect, or mentor. As any young architect will tell you, this system is irrevocably flawed. You leave school without many of the practical skills necessary to work on many aspects required by the IDP and many firms are managed in a way that makes it difficult for a young architect to work on multiple stages of a project. Typically, young architects are assigned to one particular phase (either design or documentation) and they will remain there as long as they are willing to tolerate it. In the best scenarios this process is expected to take three years to complete and requires substantial fees to maintain and submit. It is a huge barrier and disincentive to becoming a licensed professional and we haven’t even approached the subject of registration exams. Truth be told, you’re lucky if you’re licensed to practice architecture seven years after completing your five (or six, or seven) year professional degree.

The major problem with this process (in addition to the issues described above) is that it does not give young architects the tools and experience needed to run their own practices, mainly because it’s managed by someone that needs your labor – not additional competition in the marketplace. The other fundamental flaw of this process is that it continues the misplaced emphasis from school on individual development, instead of looking at the practice of architecture as it truly is: a complex collection of many individuals with distinct strengths and interests, each with its own importance and value to the profession.

So, what if NCARB, and by extension the AIA, focused on encouraging the development of young architects through a structured incubation process that would provide an alternative way for young architects to meet their professional requirements, while at the same time giving them the skills and exposure needed to get their practices off the ground. This process could provide a solution to the “architect’s career beginning at forty” problem as described above. Most importantly, it would provide a clear way to combat the mass exodus from the profession that is happening as a result of the recession and will continue to happen, due to revelations like the much discussed Georgetown University study (here and here).

Here’s how it could work:

  • Reallocate funding supporting ideas competitions, prizes and fellowships for single recipients and a portion of the funds for professional development for young architects, toward an incubator fund.
  • Distribute these funds to local AIA chapters based on market demand to seed new architectural practices. These funds will be used to provide startup capital and salaries for the first six months of operation while in the incubator program.
  • Potential applicants are screened based on a competitive process that requires young practices (no single practitioners) to apply based on a project that they have won or an RFQ that they intend to pursue that will lead to a real commission.
  • Selected firms will be chosen through the submission of a business plan and a portfolio that demonstrates a balance between design, technical, management, leadership and communication skills.
  • The incubator will provide a shared workspace for selected firms, potentially leased from or donated by a sponsoring firm. This would include desks, a conference/meeting room and access to printers and the web. A major vendor (we’re looking at you, Autodesk) could provide the software.
  • The local chapter will provide access to mentors from established firms (fulfilling a portion of their public service requirements) that provide critical advice and recommendations on various aspects of establishing and managing an architectural practice.
  • Mentors may assume greater responsibility within promising new practices in order to help them win or deliver more complex projects, in exchange for equity.
  • Incubated firms and their projects are given access to an amazing network of collaborators and their work would be featured prominently in press and publications.

We would be willing to invest our time in a program like this by volunteering at the AIA New York chapter. Would you or the principals of your firm contribute? How do you think we can pull this off?  Please post your thoughts or questions in the comments, and let’s see how far we can take this.

Cite: CASE, CASE. "Practice 2.0: Championing the young architect’s career, a lesson from technology startups" 30 Jan 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 18 Apr 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=203841>

50 comments

  1. Thumb up Thumb down +3

    …while others seem to just burst onto the scene; no dues paid, with energy and overt-confidence carrying them through life. So it seems, there are indeed other options than 1, 2, 3 or 4.

    We are living in a boundless world, where established hierarchy has never been so questioned. Shoot for the stars, and fulfill your dreams.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +2

      LOL. Oh my, someone drank the kool-aid while obsessing over motivational posters. While its commendable to dream and have that confidence and inner fire, dealing with the reality of the situation is much more important. Architects and the field in general has been stuck in quick sand for some time, and its only getting worse. Its time to get real, understand the fundamental problems, and make incremental changes to swing the field back into a positive industry.

      1 in a million architects are even close to this dreamy other option you speak of. And of those, its rarely because they have certain qualities that make them special compared to their 999,999 other peers. The majority of the time its because of a complex, vast, uncontrollable, and partially lucky set of circumstances beyond the person’s grasp that sets the stage for such things to happen.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      I agree with you fully here. I feel that we are reaching an age where product and skill will speak louder than established hierarchy. People are finally beginning to realize that its not an issue of who you are but rather of what you are capable of.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down -2

    “In any case, it seems that around the age of forty is when all of this hard work finally begins to pay off with consistent commissions.”

    LOL…Love that. Almost every Architect/ Designer I know is unemployed, working as Security Guards or has gotten out of the profession. As a “Design Professional” we are the first to be hit during a recession. The cost of an Architectural education is out of control. When I attended SCI Arc is was $7000 a semester (1990′s) now it is $14000 not including any expenses or housing! Oh and one other thing school doesn’t tell you is that you will be making about $24000 a year if you’re lucky….#bittermuch?

  3. Thumb up Thumb down +3

    From across the pond I really enjoyed this article, I think it is also timely, for young architects all over the world it is a time of alot of doom and gloom, especially if you are looking for a job at the moment. It is sometimes hard to pick yourself up and find the drive. But what have you really got to lose? In the UK the process to accreditation is much the same as the AIA process, there seems little room for young architects wish to enter the market place straight from University, and often have this idea beaten out of them early on. I have tried to remain positive and on embarking on my part 2 I find it hard to imagine myself setting up my own practice in the early years, mainly because I would suffer from a lack of guidance and would probably make mistakes. There needs to be better teaching, forced onto the schools by our professional bodies in order to prepare us for an even more competitive marketplace when the economies on both side of the atlantic begin competing with the asian and middle eastern markets.

    ben from architecture as urban catalyst

    http://architectureasurbancatalyst.blogspot.com/

  4. Thumb up Thumb down +4

    Great article. Glad someone is addressing a profession that is outdated with its practices. It is a profession that is deteriorating because of how young interns are treated, taken advantage of through poor wages, long hours, and with little upward advancement. The idea that a fresh graduate must be a slave to his master because it is part of the process is naive and outdated. Some suggest to even volunteer to work for an A or B listed firm because the experience would greatly outweigh the monetary reward?!? It is ideas like this that are leading to interns abandoning ship and pursuing other careers. Unless leaders like the AIA and NCARB change their way of thinking soon, the architectural profession will have a gapping wound that will not heal for quite some time.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down +3

    Great article and I wish this idea would advance further. Many architecture students have great ideas once they graduate and by mimicking the “tech startup model” you could develop your own project and find clients very early on through the incubation process.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +1

      Nothing at all. I actually think technology is making that more and more of a viable option.

      • Thumb up Thumb down 0

        So why “Potential applicants are screened based on a competitive process that requires young practices (no single practitioners) to apply based on a project that they have won or an RFQ that they intend to pursue that will lead to a real commission.”?

      • Thumb up Thumb down +2

        Fair point… I guess we figured sole practitioners have it figured out ;) Joking aside, hiring people and managing a firm is a difficult task that I think this type of mentor network could address. I would see that as a key objective of a program like this, so that would rule out anyone that intended to run a practice alone. So… Not a criticism of being a sole practitioner, just not the audience we were targeting when we wrote this. Hope that makes sense :)

  6. Thumb up Thumb down +3

    This is a great analysis of the current state of the architecture field and young architects trying to find their place in it. And I think there are many lessons that can be learned from the tech start up world, so the proposed changes are an interesting interpretation of how to apply those lessons. There is, however, one glaring flaw.

    The start-up world and especially the Angels, VCs, and incubators are driven chiefly by the promise of making a lot of money off of the start-ups they invest in / accelerate. They do not expect that every investment will have a large ROI, but they do what they do in order to hunt for that 30x-40x return start-up. And they do this because tech, esp of the online software kind, is the industry making more than a substantial amount of money.

    Unfortunately, architecture firms of any size, do not make a lot of money. Between (1) the way the field is yoked in with developers, insurance companies, contractors, and government authorities, (2) the time and effort it takes to see a project through, and (3) the level of compensation accepted for our services in a market that is very much client controlled to the point we’re cannibalizing ourselves, where is there a financially sound reason for any of the proposed changes? Why would any company, investor, and/or professional organization (AIA) contribute their resources to such a program when the return, if there is ANY, will be so small? We can’t just expect an egalitarian fervor to sweep the industry especially in the current conditions, ie Survival mode.

    I think it would be absolutely fantastic if there were incubator style programs for young architects/firms, but before that can come about, or perhaps in parallel, sweeping changes need to occur to the established industry to make that dream viable and persistent. And that is a much more difficult challenge.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +1

      Thanks John!, I’d argue the AIA’s return should not be financial. It’s aiding in the development of the Architecture ecosystem and the profession as a whole. So if they can contribute to helping build sustainable practices, then I would argue that is the 30x ROI. Another approach I have thought about is a strategic investment from larger AE firms with the potential to acquire the talent (Acquihire) or run it like a Skunk Works. Either way i agree, a proper Y-Combinator-esque / Tech Stars model does not directly apply.

      • Thumb up Thumb down -1

        I certainly think the AIA and NCARB have the necessary infrastructure existing to take on the role as you describe it after some major functional changes. I like the idea as well with them playing the manager / mentor role for the start-up architecture firms, facilitating the day in & out operations of such a scheme. Since their role now and in this potential scheme is still as a professional organization aimed at improving the industry their return would be implicit in strengthening the industry as a whole and gaining more members who are succeeding moreso than before. Their financial return at minimum would at most be to cover the costs of this new role plus a little more. Your Skunk Works reference is an interesting one and bears more thought.

        But that still doesn’t deal with the very real and very practical matter of where does the initial seed funding come from. The resources needed to grow beginning arch firms into profitable and sustainable practices will be very large. Value needs to be found somewhere and returned to those putting it in or else this whole scheme is DOA. How does the equity play out in the arch industry? Any valuation of an architecture firm is going to be laughably low simply because the profit potential in the industry is one of the lowest of any sector, especially for new to mid age firms.

        bigbubba and Ed’s comments both reveal important and crucial issues that need to be addressed. Bottom line, the architecture field needs to figure out a way to take the reigns back and start making money befitting the time, risk, and expertise put in….without cannibalizing itself on the bottom, where all the new architects reside. Once or while that is happening, the potential for newer firms to be more profitable will rise and then it will be easier to convince those with the money to actually fund them at an appropriate amount.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    JohnS says it well-the comparison between a tech start up and an architecture firm is simply not possible to do, one has the promise of making enormous profit (and that is after all usually its sole reason to be) the latter makes pennies in comparison to virtually any other start up.
    The profession is flawed. There are many factors-not the least of which is the looting of any aspect of design not nailed down (and nailed down) by dozens of competing “design professionals”, especially in residential design-where most start ups begin. A client can have a contractor provide plans if uner a certain size, hire an interior designer to help with details, a kitchen designer for the kitchen and an interior decorator for materials, and on and on. The profession we should be looking at for lessons is the legal one: they have drawn themselves so deeply into the social contract that if lawyers were architects, you couldnt change a light bulb without calling the AIA. We have allowed ourselves to be superfluous, and an un-needed luxury.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      Well, yes you cannot compare some most successful tech start-ups with the architectural ones, but not all the successful tech start-ups are making money like facebook or groupon etc. That is not really the point – there is not outside investor capital needed needed for that.
      Coming back to the question of who is making how much – there is an vast amount of opportunities for architectural firms to become way more profitable than what they are at this point – as long as they make that first step towards the rethinking these old skool “well established” ways of running an arch office (at least to embrace certain existing technologies that make arch processes/firms so much leaner and more effective and efficient). Just like in majorities of other industries there is a bunch of new “niches” that constantly open up, therefore potential for new significant profits. It’s just the matter of being able to see opportunities beyond “traditional” architectural practice model.

  8. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    I think another additional way to get AIA and NCARB interested would be that eventually some/most of these young start-ups would become profitable, so the initial investment by the “officials” has to be reinvested by a profitable start-up into their local chapter that took care of them in the beginnings, so this way potentially it would be more difficult to drain the “incubator fund”. Interesting, so this way the best young up-and-coming architects would be forced to support the best selection/most proactive out of the pool of architectural students.
    We need fresh blood in AIA and NCARB, those that see what kind of hole this industry gradually has gotten into.

  9. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    I completely see the value in what is being suggested. I feel regulating bodies like NCARB and the AIA fail to recognize the entrepreneurial spirit of the times and do not do enough to support the innovative spirit of young professionals.

  10. Thumb up Thumb down +3

    This article is dead on. I signed up for IDP a few years ago, and its clearly intentionally flawed to prolong the process of licensing, anyone will tell you that. But the problem is that the young architects do not have a voice in the AIA. Also shouldn’t the big name architects hurt the profession as a whole by offering low salaries, because they can find anyone they want to work for their name. In turn they can offer cheaper fees that are more competitive, but the value of architecture as a service is diminished. The architecture community needs to organize around something other than the AIA (which seems to protect only the interests of corporate firms.)

    • Thumb up Thumb down +1

      Why do you think that is? Is it an issue with AIAs? Maybe there could be free membership until you get licensed to keep the relationship after your schooling? I’ll keep thinking about this :)

  11. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    One fact about this idea is problematic. Tech startups are not held to the higher standard of overseeing the public health, safety, and welfare of the built environment. They can make up their own rules and operate under their parameters. You should try convincing your local architectural licensing examiners board the validity of this idea and see how far you can sell it.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      The idea is to help young firm learn to deal with just that problem. Tech startups need to learn to make money… Architecture firms need to learn how to deliver buildings. I think you are taking the reference to literally.

  12. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    oh dear. tech start ups… or internet companies… are vastly different from architectural practices. primarily, the tech field deals with limitless resources at a fixed, almost inexpensive cost. beams and bolts cost much more than bandwidth. secondly investment is readily available, particularly because websites potentially make money, most buildings do not. thirldy successful architecture takes time and rarely can be altered. internet start ups can explode quickly and collapse quicker, ie. “the internet bubble”, which thankfully practices do rarely. ideas cannot supplant business fundamentals.

  13. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    *zoinks we were just discussing this in our very outdated Professional Practices class. Our latest version if the AIA business model chart doesn’t even consider the not for profit model -was it page 98? Why are they teaching (from the AIA book- ) clearly failed business models? Looking for the positive in it, I think your suggestions are great places to begin the discussion.

  14. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I think the one thing this article glosses over is the difficulty in gettting your first comissions. People don’t just let you design they $10million dolar whatever becasue you went to design school. They want to see a portfolio of built work as proof you have the wherewithall to get it done and well. THis would need some form of mechanism to get work. Most arochitects ‘burst’ onto the scene when they are 40 becasue they spent the 1st 10-15 years of their carreer getting the experience, making connections and building their portfolio of built work so they could start their own firm with enough background that clients can approach them with confidence.

    What new modes of practice really need is the find a way for young architects to finance their own work and become make work happen that they can design.

  15. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    This is a great issue to raise, and well-raised! I agree with the other posts above that the lack of large upside for any small architecture firm does limit the amount anybody outside the profession would be willing to invest. This is also what holds down architects’ salaries, I think; it is not a speculative practice, generally (or, not in a way with major upside!).

    I totally agree that the AIA (or a separate organization) should be addressing the issue of young architect drudgery, with the goal of pushing the quality of design higher across the board. Older architects suffer too, when they have so completely captured the system that they no longer receive provocation and inspiration from the younger generation (mind you there is still provocative work out there, of course). The notion of ‘incubator’ sounds good, but its exact form would need a lot of development. I must also admit that I don’t understand everything the AIA offers at the moment. Here’s their “about us” page for the curious:
    http://aia.org/about/index.htm

    It has always disappointed me that the AIA has no coherent (or, at least, apparent to me) strategy on disseminating and critiquing technology in architecture. I think this is an area where we can learn a TON from tech startups: sharing tools and methodologies can make everyone’s practice stronger. We should be open-sourcing whatever we can, especially as young professionals whose work is frequently client-free. Of course many young architects are very protective of their design ideas – there’s a cultural shift needed there also. Ideally, the AIA would have a small software team who put out open-source tools that are useful to the profession. Or, at least, they could host a site and sponsor the development and sharing of such tools.

    Last thing: I actually think IDP isn’t so bad. I learned a lot in my first three years in a firm, and actually covered all the IDP bases. The one I was weakest on (cost estimating) worries me, because that’s a useful skill I should know. So in my case, IDP matched my real experience reasonably closely, and felt reasonably appropriate. Meeting an architect, young or old, who has these general skills completely down is always inspiring to me – it reminds me that the profession includes a lot of real knowledge beyond representation, geometric modeling skills, and capital-C “Creativity”. Somebody with these skills immediately offers value to a client. More of this should be introduced in school, but in the end a practical period of training is appropriate — schools would be overburdened with technical requirements if they took on too much of IDP. Good firms (I believe) support their interns well. Why don’t we name and shame the firms that don’t?

    So: some kind of incubator for excellent and independent-minded young designers would be great. For those who are trying to do IDP, perhaps some kind of structured series of get-togethers with their peers would be helpful, to let them compare notes and fill in blanks in their practical educations. This must already exist?

  16. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    There seems to be a valid topic that no one has brought up. The profession of Architect is to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of the public. This is achieved through the registration process and continuing education required by all states. How do you propose these start-ups would get around this requirement of registration, both as an individual and as a company through the state for which they serve. From a legal standpoint, I highly doubt a mentor would stamp drawings produced by a start-up company, therefore assuming any liability for that project.

  17. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    (Preface; long and full of oft-repeated arguments we’ve all heard before..apologies for that.)

    Love it! For the sole purpose that it is a real attempt at addressing a real issue. (…and obviously because I too am stuck behind this professional firewall). In my opinion the larger problem is more about the lack of entry-level opportunities in a normal economy, which is only exasperated today in this economic climate that feeds the ’40 is the beginning’. I see that number only increasing, if one is passionate and/or stubborn enough to stick it out. 45, 50..wait whats the official retirement age for non-architects?

    The ‘experience catch-22’ is prevalent today; “entry-level” positions require 2-3yrs architecture office experience only. Ok, well so how do we get that? IDP may have multiple paths and positions it will accept, but the industry still overwhelmingly only ‘counts’ experience in a true architecture office. The current quagmire is a direct result of an antiquated system meant to train young architects.

    While many Architects acknowledge the issue, most ::shrug:: and provide no serious idea out of the mess. Too busy trying to survive themselves, they put their time in and have no incentive to turn around and pay it forward (even though that is exactly how ‘they’ set the profession up). But with nothing to encourage them to do so, aside from their own moral obligations/guilt, the resulting process is an abnormally long career path. On the firm/professional’s side; IDP = time = money. Time and money too few have.

    8,000 new graduates a year = 8,000 new jobs/internships? Ha! Not in a million years and certainly not in the last three. That is a real number, Id be interested to know what the real available internships are..before and after the worst economic disaster in fifty+ years. That’d open some eyes.

    However, set say even half of those loose..free them of the shackles of mind-numbing internship/slavery and you get thousands of passionate (before it gets erased by the realities of a broken industry), highly educated/creative/problem-solving (assuming Arch schools have done at least that much correctly..) and technologically inclined youngsters ready to change the world.

    Whew, ok now I’m drinking too much of the Kool Aid. I also clearly over-punctuate. Ha!

    If there is any industry that has gotten it (mostly) right over the last 20 years it is Silicon Valley. They have literally exploded onto the scene and vastly changed our modern world. They too, ironically, have the exact same attributes as Architects.

    With numbers and qualities like those, it’s hard to believe something good and yes even profitable would not come out of it. Will they all succeed? Of course not. Will it create more opportunities than the current medieval apprenticeship system? How could it not? This is the modern, Capitalistic world after all. How exactly is a ‘selfless’, knowledge/experience-based apprenticeship supposed to work today? Oh right..it doesn’t. Barely anyway, and certainly not for all the students the for-profit schools are spitting out. (ArchEdu is an entire horse of a different color, but equally in need of a good thrashing)

    Perhaps create an open, free and virtual ‘continuing education’ or knowledge base-network where interns and professionals are on equal footing. Well..more equal footing. Heck, throw that bone to young Arch start-ups!? They certainly have the time, enthusiasm and skills to implement such a thing. Pair it with a new and mandatory mentorship program (maybe 5-1), make it an adjunct to IDP and the profession might just have a shot of recovering. Both sides have tons to offer the other, there just needs to be incentive. Double or triple the AIA required amount of CE credits to maintain licensure, no one can possibly know everything. It is physically impossible actually. Learning never ceases. How many professionals could use a lesson on energy modeling vital to implementing sustainable theories, but no real time/money to learn it? Likewise who only has the ‘special and privileged’ insider knowledge of how an architecture office works?

    Why exactly, in our age of a ‘free’, limitless internet and constant communication/connectivity, can an emerging professional only learn about the practice side of architecture in a physical architecture office? What exactly is the benefit of sitting face-to-face with your mentor, licensed architect or supervisor? In reality, you get 5-10 mins a day of facetime (if you’re lucky) and I personally know for a fact more sign off on uncompleted/misunderstood credit hours than anyone on either side would ever admit. How does that system create good professionals? So then is the purpose to be working through all the phases, details and everyday problems that arise on real projects..many, many times over years of practice? What is the big secret?

    After reading this article yesterday, a few established mid-level Architects on Twitter had these two basic arguments (paraphrasing); “why would firms support potential future competition?” and “you can’t fast-track experience, experience requires time”. Well again, how are young architects to get the architecture-only experience when there are no internships for them? Just wait it out or give up? Those are the only two options? More pay your dues and “that’s what I had to do, therefore that’s how it works” attitudes that only feed the broken system. But it does not work. Maybe in the boom 90s when they got ‘in’ the wheels were a little greasier and therefore they do not ‘see’ the problems today. They see it. You would have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to. What is needed is a new, fresh and workable solution that benefits the profession (and society) on the whole not just more of the same broken system, catering to an elite (or increasingly just the lucky) few.

    This is a workable solution.

  18. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    Wonderful post David,
    Architecture is a profession that persists by feeding on its young and, like seniors bullying freshman, those that rise from youth to leadership have a nasty habit of forgetting where they came from. While you guys at CASE are attacking the IDP/NCARB power structure, we are working on an idea to create a new model for practice modeled around a collaborative studio of entrepreneurial free-lancers and professional “anchor tenants”. We hope to help create an alternative career path in which young designers can remain focused on their interests and build a portfolio of built-work, without being pigeon-holed by a single office with a singular, economic agenda. Whether the old guard likes it or not, architects are going to have to adapt their stale business models to compete in a world that is being driven increasingly by those with talent and ambition, and less by those fortunate few that rose to the top through seniority and circumstance.
    Cheers,
    GOAT (@noherd)

  19. Thumb up Thumb down -2

    Wow there are alot of un/under-employed Architects that seem to have time to write essays philosophising about why they think the profession is in a good/bad position. If we spent less time indulging in ourselves, and more time working with people the state of the profession would be in a much healthier place.

    • Thumb up Thumb down -2

      Not sure who you are addressing? The Authors, commenters? I’d say we tend to jump in and do work (often for free) with out thinking (in the form of writing) about the profession as a whole…

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      Have a few questions to you Tony:
      -Where exactly do you see “indulging in ourselves” taking place in this post?
      -How exactly did you figure out who is “un/under-employed”?
      -Also, what do you mean by “working with people”???

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    Great write up David. The profession can really use a new platform and learn from the tech/start up world. Seeing my peers in other industries quickly gain recognition, higher compensation, and management roles within their first 10 years of their careers is unsettling. Meanwhile, we’re still technically not allowed to call ourselves an Architect despite the hours of education, practice, and hopefully for some still, passion.
    It really is time the industry focuses on talented young designers. Those designers who are driven and have the resources (the incubator)are capable of changing how the world will interact with both the built world and the collaborative process of designing it.

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    I’m all for supporting the entrepreneurial spirit within the architecture community, but there is a fundamental flaw in applying the incubator model to the architectural profession: architecture is a service-based industry. Though one may try to argue that architects also create “products”, architects have no financial stake in the development process and do not reap any financial benefits once the building is complete. Startups, on the other hand, make profit and revenue off their product.

    The buzzword within tech is “disrupt”, and I think rather than trying to restructure what’s already broken (AIA & NCARB), we would as a profession benefit greatly by coming up with innovative ways of rethinking practice. There have been some great startups in other disciplines (e.g. LegalZoom, ZocDoc), and I think architecture needs some of those.

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      Telecommuting, virtual offices, etc.. More than 90% of Architecture done today is digital. (see last half of my comment below) What exactly is the big secret of what goes on in an architecture practice that it can only be done or taught in-person?
      What exactly is the benefit of sitting face-to-face with your mentor, licensed architect or supervisor? In reality, you get 5-10 mins a day of face-time (if you’re lucky) and actually learn more from those other non-licensed professionals in the office. And I personally know for a fact more sign off on uncompleted/misunderstood credit hours than anyone on either side would ever admit. How does that system create good professionals?

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    “Tech-startups” seem like a good place to look but to me you described a teaching hospital. Residency in the medical profession is a model to look at as a post-graduate prerequisite to licensing. Learn a variety of skills, hands-on, in an established infrastructure? Must have been how IDP was envisioned.

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      Absolutely, as I understand it there are programs set up for most medical professions that actually place new graduates in their next stage of career development(1 yr internship &/or residency). Mandatory for all involved. All they have to do is sign up…
      Unheard of in Architecture where its graduates are thrown to the wolves after receiving that long, grueling and required professional degree. Maybe if we’re lucky enough to come from a ‘good’ school there’s an active career counseling office and professional network to lean on. But, despite what NAAB claims..not all Arch schools are created equally.

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    Love it. For the sole purpose that it is a real attempt at addressing a real issue, that is exactly what the profession needs; new ideas. Not new design ideas, but a new professional structure and business models. 8,000 new graduates a year = 8,000 new jobs/internships? Ha! Not in a million years and certainly not in the last three.
    However, set say even half of those loose..free them of the shackles of mind-numbing internship/slavery and you get thousands of passionate/eager, highly educated/creative/problem-solving (assuming Arch schools have done at least that much correctly..) and technologically inclined youngsters ready to change the world.
    Whew, ok now I’m drinking too much of the Kool Aid. I also clearly over-punctuate. Ha!
    With numbers and qualities like those, it’s hard to believe something good and yes even profitable would not come out of it. Will they all succeed? Of course not. Will it create more opportunities than the current medieval apprenticeship system? How could it not? This is the modern, Capitalistic world after all. How exactly is a ‘selfless’, knowledge/experience-based apprenticeship supposed to work today? Oh right..it doesn’t. Barely anyway, and certainly not for all the students the for-profit schools are spitting out. (ArchEdu is an entire horse of a different color, but equally in need of a good thrashing)
    Maybe create an open, free and virtual ‘continuing education’ or knowledge base-network where interns and professionals are on equal footing. Well..more equal footing. Heck, throw that bone to young Arch start-ups!? They would certainly have the time, enthusiasm and skills to implement such a thing. Pair it with a new and mandatory mentorship program (maybe 5-1), make it an adjunct to IDP and the profession might just have a shot of recovering. Both sides have tons to offer the other, there just needs to be incentive. Double or triple the AIA required amount of CE credits to maintain licensure, no one can possibly know everything. Learning never ceases.

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    Archi-techs. Love it. For the sole purpose that it is a real attempt at addressing a real issue, that is exactly what the profession needs; new ideas. Not new design ideas, but a new professional structure and business models. 8,000 new graduates a year = 8,000 new jobs/internships? Ha! Not in a million years and certainly not in the last three.
    However, set say even half of those loose..free them of the shackles of mind-numbing internship/slavery and you get thousands of passionate/eager, highly educated/creative/problem-solving (assuming Arch schools have done at least that much correctly..) and technologically inclined youngsters ready to change the world.
    Whew, ok now I’m drinking too much of the Kool Aid. I also clearly over-punctuate. Ha!
    With numbers and qualities like those, it’s hard to believe something good and yes even profitable would not come out of it. Will they all succeed? Of course not. Will it create more opportunities than the current medieval apprenticeship system? How could it not? This is the modern, Capitalistic world after all. How exactly is a ‘selfless’, knowledge/experience-based apprenticeship supposed to work today? Oh right..it doesn’t. Barely anyway, and certainly not for all the students the for-profit schools are spitting out. (ArchEdu is an entire horse of a different color, but equally in need of a good thrashing)
    Maybe create an open, free and virtual ‘continuing education’ or knowledge base-network where interns and professionals are on equal footing. Well..more equal footing. Heck, throw that bone to young Arch start-ups!? They would certainly have the time, enthusiasm and skills to implement such a thing. Pair it with a new and mandatory mentorship program (maybe 5-1), make it an adjunct to IDP and the profession might just have a shot of recovering. Both sides have tons to offer the other, there just needs to be incentive. Double or triple the AIA required amount of CE credits to maintain licensure, no one can possibly know everything. Learning never ceases. Especially in Architecture.

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    hey david and steve – great article. i write a blog on professional development for archinect and you guys inspired a reply that would probably exceed the space available here. i’d like to invite you all to take a look (i’ve got to push traffic to paul (shoulders shrugging)-http://archinect.com/blog/article/36933626/re-start-me-up-a-reply

    overall, i think we all would agree there’s a tremendous need for architects to think more like entrepreneurs. i’m personally not convinced that importing models from silicon valley are the right answer but, as i’ve been laying out in a series of recent posts, there’s no reason we can’t create a similar culture, attuned to the differences between each model.

    at any rate, again, enjoyed it. cheers -

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    I’m excited to see some discussion around how to address the problems with architecture as a profession and develop strategies for sustainable practices. The proposed system is an interesting approach.

    There’s a lot of potential in the selection/vetting process. Since participating firms don’t get a commission when they win a slot (unlike some competitions) the firms will still have to compete for commissions with more established architects. It could be hoped that the proposed system’s vetting process and business mentorship program would give the participating firms credibility to land commissions, and a stream of steady work is, as you point out, probably the most crucial part of getting a small firm going. And if the program is well-publicized, the exposure alone could help dramatically. These are good things, so long as the program continues to balance design skills with other operational skills, and doesn’t become a mill for pedestrian (but profitable) work.

    I also like the idea of the incubator environment, with firms all working together.

    As others have pointed out, funding could be a key constraint. However, the more I think about it, it seems to me that the capital investment in the firms is an unnecessary, and potentially harmful, part of the program.

    In the tech startup world, the only thing standing between a good idea and a viable business is cash, which is needed to pay for engineering talent (often the founders’ own) and EC2 cycles. There’s lots of room for new ideas and business models to grow–incubator companies are each an experiment in testing out new models. Give them cash and mentorship and you may well have the next Pinterest on your hands.

    In architecture, this is not the case. Young architects have no shortage of great ideas, but giving them cash will not allow them to build them. Realizing an architecture project is not the same as standing up a new internet or mobile application. It requires property and a construction budget. What young firms need are commissions, and capital, software, and salaries are a poor substitute.

    Some small amount of money is appropriate–enough, say, to allow the firm to work on competition entries to get new business–but the commission, not the incubator program, should fund the firm’s operation during its involvement to buy software, rent desk space in the incubator offices, etc. After all, if the design fees aren’t enough to cover operating expenses, in other words, architectural practice is fundamentally unprofitable, then we’re all doomed anyway. (This may very well be the case.)

    What’s worse, with funding, there’s a chance that the money provided will be used by the architect to reduce his fee–essentially a discount, subsidized by the program, in exchange for the risk of hiring an inexperienced firm–which presents the risk of further reducing the perceived value of architectural services.

    So those are my thoughts. I’ll end with some questions. What if the program used the money to fund commissions, rather than pay salaries and operating expenses? PS1 is the obvious model here. What else could the program do to support participating firms’ credibility and make hiring young firms less risky? How can the program help make new business for architects, and not put young firms in competition with established firms for the same ever-shrinking pool of work? What if it focused on creating new business models, rather than supporting traditional design services? Could it pair architects with developers to actually build stuff? Could its goal be to turn out companies like Case?

    Hopefully these will provoke more discussion.

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    I also agree with Mr. D opinion but in some case this need to be done become example or test project

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