Is the Field of Architecture Experiencing a “Meltdown” or is it just Evolving?

Butaro Hospital © MASS Design Group

Many of you may have probably noticed Scott Timberg’s article “The Architecture Meltdown” (Salon, February 4, 2012) circling the internet. The gloomy article discusses the unknowing future and possible demise of the architectural profession – the “glamour profession of the creative class”. Timberg describes struggling professionals that are either unemployed or working full-time at intern wages within a profession that is largely focused on the 1 percent.

There is no doubt that many architects and recent graduates are struggling. Architecture succeeded with the and crashed with it as well. With statistics revealing the highest unemployment rates among those with bachelor’s degrees in architecture and articles flooding the internet with titles “Want a Job? Go to College, and Don’t Major in Architecture” (New York Times, January 5th, 2012), there is not doubt that people are scared and unsure of where the profession is heading. Meanwhile, the (AIA) is cheering for a “2.1 percent rise in spending this year for non-residential construction projects”, a bit of optimism many are grasping onto for hope. However, we are headed somewhere. As Timberg states, “People will always need houses, cities and nations will always need schools and libraries and civic buildings, and trendy restaurants will need redesigns. Architecture will never die completely.”

Please continue reading to see Thomas Fisher’s response to Scott Timberg.

Today, Thomas Fisher, University of Minnesota’s Dean at the College of Design, published his response to Timberg in an article titled, “Architecture for the Other 99%” (MetropolisMag, February 8, 2012). He acknowledges Timberg’s ultimate question, “Where does architecture go from here?” and offers his answer, believing Timberg only covers a fraction of the story.

Fisher optimistically states, “Non-traditional job opportunities for architects have never been better”, believing the shift from architecture’s focus on the 1% to the other 99% has led to the rise of “public-interest design”. A new form of non-profit practice is evolving, forming partnerships with NGOs, universities, foundations, or government agencies, such as Project H Design, Architecture for Humanity and MASS Design Group. The emergence of public-heath architecture has caused Mayo Clinic, the Allina Hospitals and Clinics, and other medical systems to hire architecture graduates to design “not their facilities, but their services.”

Fisher adds, “For-profit design-thinking firms have also thrived throughout the recession by focusing on strategy and innovation, rather than on delivering a pre-ordained product, like a building. IDEO epitomizes that trend.” He believes there is a large demand for “design-thinking” within a non-traditional area of opportunity for architects that has hardly been tapped into.

Creativity is a valued skill and essential for innovation. He believes an education in architecture and design is the best way to acquire these skills. In conclusion, Fisher states, “There remains so much work for architects to do in the world that we should see the decline of traditional jobs not as a “meltdown” of architecture, but as the beginning of its rebirth.”

Please share your thoughts with us on these two interesting perspectives. Click on the links above to view the complete articles.

Reference: Salon, MetropolisMag

*Check out the article featuring the Butaro Hospital by MASS Design Group, seen in the image above.

Cite: Rosenfield, Karissa. "Is the Field of Architecture Experiencing a “Meltdown” or is it just Evolving?" 08 Feb 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 25 May 2015. <>
  • Maiko

    Give a break to me…. Architects to design services!? Lol. Yes and how about cooking chefs designing production lines and optimization processes.

  • Nemo

    I’m quite over this sort of articles. The profession has been reinventing itself since human race decided to call it architecture, same as any other profession. The market and technical knowledge are ruling the world and we are the first and last generation of architects that’s being affected by this?!
    What would be the title for the next article?: “what is the role of architecture in a post apocalyptic society where after a virus pandemy 75% of the population has turned into zombies and the 35% left are genetically designed to live only in english style old villas.”
    Do we have to expand our field to justify our existence in this adverse economic panorama? wow that’s very new! reminds me of some ideas that some guys worked out back in the renaissance.

    • kondao

      It’s funny that the total population sums up to 110%. I wonder…

  • gjf

    MASS design group maybe not an amazing example of this despite their press as they can barely pay themselves and can rarely pay their employees… If by evolving you mean “trending (back) towards a philanthropic hobby of the rich, than perhaps”

  • Daniel Raznick

    As a student of Tom Fisher, I share his optimism about the potential of the field.

    @Maiko: A chef prepares a meal based on an order. An architect takes an order and envisions its future. Consider the skills of an architect based on these two aspects: the ability to foresee environments that do not currently exist, and the process of designing reviewing and repeating. Now think about the numerous current systems that are failing. (ie healthcare, food production/distribution). I believe these ideas could use a design review before implementation.

    @Nemo: You’re right. I urge you to stop being so brash, and as an ArchDaily visitor, promote the idea that the field is built and proven to adapt.

    • Maiko

      Daniel – i just think the skills that you attribute to an architect are simply called Imagination (and hopefully the power to implement some of it). That may be found in many fields, so to suddenly call it the realm of the architect I thought was a little far fetched. I’m not an architect (or even close), i appreciate architecture and design with a critical eye (now perhaps i will too easily be faulted for having an ignorant one). As for the original article – at least the one i posted to, it’s just funny how we all need to write and comment about what was written and commented on, at infinitum :) to generate mountains of mountains of mountains of data about relatively nothing…. yes i know, there is the mixing of ideas and all that…. no harm intended.

  • Amy Ennen

    I agree, this isn’t the first time we have had to adapt or go with the flow of market and technology shifts.

    I think we need to simultaneously simmer down and look for places to intervene, be it via traditional “architecture” or a system operating at a larger scale, like Dan mentioned.

    There are a lot of places where we can do good, we may just have to think outside the box and perhaps adjust our attitude. I am happy to be part of the University of Minnesota graduate family and to be reminded by my peers and professors that there are many places where we can situate ourselves.

    • Reality Check

      So where did you situate yourself? Are you employed?

  • kitetraveler

    Architecture shall always keep its central part in our civilization. From thousands of years The Architects are the building blocks in the development of our world. Their Minds creates our environment. This will continue as long as there is humans and as long as we need new environment. The design is everything.

  • Keep on.

    Architecture has been and always will be a reflection of the times and the people living through them, their perspectives and their hopes. The world is changing right now, and so will architecture. The excesses of the last decades will fade and surely come back later on, and architecture will in stride continually fluctuate. Hopefully for the better. There is never a meltdown, just a different circumstance and a different response