7 Reasons Architecture (As We Know It) Is Over

  • 24 Apr 2013
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  • Articles Editor's Choice
Image of ”concept city” via shutterstock.com

Steve Mouzon, a principal of Studio Sky and Mouzon Design, is an architect, urbanist, author, and photographer from Miami. He founded the New Urban Guild, which hosts Project:SmartDwelling and helped foster the Katrina Cottages movement; its non-profit affiliate is the Guild Foundation, which hosts the Original Green initiative

Architecture has changed irreparably in the past decade, but those who know how to adapt just might find themselves in a far better place in a few years. It has now been 8 years since construction peaked in 2005, nearly 6 years since the subprime meltdown, and close to 5 years since the big meltdown that really kicked off the Great Recession.

Today, it appears that construction is finally beginning to pick back up, but it’s too late for architecture as we knew it. Here are seven reasons why…

The End of Experienced Employees 

More than half of the people working in architectural offices in 2005 aren’t there anymore. Some are still unemployed, some have gone in business for themselves, but many have left the profession. And when people leave architecture, they rarely come back for three reasons: an architecture degree prepares you to do so many other things, it’s such a stressful profession, and the pay is usually significantly lower than other professions like law and medicine. So if you’re a firm owner, your former employees are likely either gone for good, or have started their own firms and are competing with you for work. So you can’t simply gear back up with the same experienced people you once had.

The End of Trusting Clients

During the past 8 years that we’ve essentially been out of business, our clients have changed in several ways. A decade ago, clients were much more likely to accept the expert opinion of an architect. Now, they’ve all learned to Google. Just ask doctors about their experience with patients who know WebMD for a look at what a web-searching clientele means to another profession.

The New Frugality

Your one-time clients have become much more frugal over the past 8 years, and because the construction crash has now lasted twice as long as it takes to get a college degree, this new frugality is likely to stick. Just look at how the Great Depression transformed a generation of Americans almost a century ago, forever imprinting them with high frugality. When they do spend money, frugal people are more likely to buy products than services. They buy store-bought clothes rather than patronizing a tailor, for example. Frugal homeowners-to-be are more likely to buy a stock house plan than commission a custom design. Today, if you have only services to sell, you may want to start thinking about packaging useful things you’ve done into products.

Smaller & Smarter

When those homeowners-to-be build, they’re facing a banking industry that has changed dramatically. Many banks have sworn off real estate lending entirely, whereas those who are still making mortgage loans are much more conservative. This means that your clients have a much better chance of getting a smaller project financed… so long as you design it to be smart enough that your client prefers it over a larger, less intelligent design.

Younger & Greener

Your clients have also gotten younger. A decade ago, most custom design clients were Baby Boomers, but they are now beginning to move out of the home-building market as they age, and are being replaced with GenX and GenY. These generations are much more concerned with building and living sustainably. As a matter of fact, if you’re a Boomer architect, you may well be viewed as part of the sustainability problem because Boomers have consumed more than any generation in human history, not only because we were so large, but because we were so hungry as well.

Patience, Generosity, and Connectedness

Those changes would be enough to rock any profession, but there’s more. Business is currently undergoing a change that I believe will prove to be as great as the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago. For that quarter-millennium, the prime virtues of business have been better-faster-cheaper, or quality, speed, and economy, if you prefer. I believe that the new age that is now dawning may come to be known as the Age of the Idea, and it appears that the three prime virtues of this time we are now entering may become patience, generosity, and connectedness. So this isn’t just about remaking our marketing… it’s about remaking ourselves.

The New Tools

Most marketing methods architects have used for decades don’t work so well anymore for two reasons: First, the market is leaner, and the old methods worked best when there were lots of jobs to go around. Second, and less obvious, is the fact that we’ve all been vaccinated by spam against wanting to hear anything about your business. We turn a deaf ear to sales pitches just as quickly as we hit the delete key on a spammy email. The good news is that new tools are emerging that work much better, and again, for two reasons: First, you can reach far more people with tools like blogging, tweeting, online communities, video, etc. than you can by playing a round of golf. And these tools reach the places that are heavily populated by your younger potential clients.

I firmly believe that even though the Great Recession has been architecture’s bleakest epoch of my lifetime, it also has the potential to be a great transformational event that can change the profession for the better. At least for those who adapt and transform themselves. What do you think?

This article originally appeared as “The End of Architecture as We Knew It” on Original GreenSteve Mouzon, a principal of Studio Sky and Mouzon Design, is an architect, urbanist, author, and photographer from Miami. He founded the New Urban Guild, which hosts Project:SmartDwelling and helped foster the Katrina Cottages movement. The Guild’s non-profit affiliate is the Guild Foundation, which hosts the Original Green initiative

Image of ”concept city” via shutterstock.com 

Cite: Steve Mouzon. "7 Reasons Architecture (As We Know It) Is Over" 24 Apr 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 22 Oct 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=363748>
  • archilocus

    I haven’t read the article, but i won’t.
    I simply wanted to react to such low-cost titles, just made to attract a lot of readers and boost page views…

    And is there anything surprising that someone who’s selling typical floorplans on his website write such a thing ?

    This is not the end of architecture, it is the end of good authors.

    • Valod

      ^ lol…especially at the “who is selling typical floorplans on his website”

    • apallo

      I agree with you on the title whole heartily, but don’t you think you are being just as short minded as the author in saying that you wont even read the article before judging it. He makes some valid points, at least be considerate and read it before you judge.

      • archilocus

        Dont’ worry Apallo, i’ve read the text :)

        I didn’t want to, but if you push me i’m forced to get into the article itself… if you can call it so… because building up a whole text on self-evidences and vague observations, with no sources or documented facts, no definitions of the key words you are using, to end up saying that architecture changes because things around us do change (the last sentence starting with “I firmly believe” almost made me laugh)… it’s a bar-room talk more than an essay !
        So, of course, the author makes valid points as you said, but which points exactly ? what is he really saying ?
        I’m always cagey when I can take the same observations and come to the inverse conclusion…

        Do not misunderstand me, it is fine to have such talks between friends or colleagues, but is this an “article” ?

    • Claire

      archilocus should be doing some reading. try Reshaping Metropolitan America by Arthur C. Nelson.

  • Yeronimo

    Excellent article! I see many architects in my direct environment that are struggling with these issues and are having a hard time to change. They are mainly a product of the baby boom generation and change is sometimes not possible anymore. Hopefully the new generation has already adopted their views on architecture and hopefully they can continue to develop their profession and be ready for the future.

  • Sergio444

    Archilocus,

    If you had taken the time to read past the title, you would see that the content is not about the end of architecture in general, it’s about the end of a way of thinking. And it’s true that in today’s society and the future society the profession will have to be constructed in specific ways to be successful. The article highlights some useful points in this respect. You have to evolve or risk becoming obsolete.

    • Nicolas

      I think @archilocus does have a point. Although the article is very interesting, the title IS kind of misleading and overly dramatic…
      Something like “The times they are a-changin’”, maybe?

  • SBH

    In south africa, we have finally been blessed with new building code, which in my mind, re-instates the role of the architect (if you adapt)!! Thought provoking article.

    • narchtecken

      the article is beside only to US, thought is addressing some issues in these country ” Botswana”. big-ups to our neighbors they have their own THING to architects.

  • JimmyJ

    what a load of tripe.

    architecture as who knows it?

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  • Patrick BH

    He is talking about the USA. And Americans have a tendency to see the USA as the world, in case you haven’t noticed.

    Architecture appears to be humming along in Asia… a 21st century thing.

    • Cristian

      It seems his right about Europe too. I see the same patterns here.

  • Andrew

    This seems little more than recycled sensationalism…

  • Gen Y

    architecture is slowly entering into a new epoch, sustainability.. in the next 10-15 years, design principles will drastically change to reach carbon neutral in the built environment.. innovated solutions will be required not only for designing new buildings but to retrofit existing buildings.. i’m predicting architecture will be in high demand especially when the Gen X’s & Y’s, who are environmentally conscious, start running this country.. i think it’s time these debt-inducing, natural-resource-wasting Baby Boomers step aside.. architecture is not over, a new era is just beginning

  • Scott Smith

    I couldn’t disagree more with “Patience, Generosity, and Connectedness”. The future of architecture is design-build, where the client is a contractor and things are being designed almost congruent with construction.

  • Alex Rozko

    I agree the headline is a bit dramatic. But the direction of Architecture and Design has hit a low (North America). America is not as it should be. The state of the economy, it’s consumption, it’s acceptance of waste, and it’s lack of integrity in the global environment has little to be desired. Architecture and Design is as much a part of the community as doctors and lawyers. It’s where we live, how we live, how we interact with our environment, and the spaces we inhabit. To trivialize this and treat the professionals as the expendable commodity that our conditions force the firm owners into is the root of the devastation. How about we invest in the next generation of designers? Let’s teach them how to create CONSCIOUS and QUALITY design, lets be progressive in our approach to coach them in business and let us take risks in controlling the direction/fabric of our future.

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  • redeyedfly

    What else does an architecture prepare you to do??
    Also, how on Earth can you compare an architect to a doctor? Maybe a lawyer. But a doctor? No.

    I think the real problem is the overinflated egos of architects, most of whom can’t figure out the very basic concept of load paths (just ask ANY structural engineer or competent architect).

    You’re not equal to a doctor.

    This recession was excellent for the architecture profession in that in cleared out a lot of the underbrush and left those with actual talent standing.

    • David Austin

      Unfortunately, i find that the recession did the opposite. It reduced what is expected from an architect (and architectural fees) to the lowest common denominator and talent is going elsewhere

    • Appalled

      You sir or madam are brutally arrogant….and mis-informed!
      The great recession has ruined unlucky architects hard earned careers and wrecked people’s financial lives.

      Your underbrush people are the ones who survived. They were younger and cheaper.!

  • oldfleury

    If the architecture is created by man .. then it MUST respond to the questions and needs of man (mental and physical). Can not ignore the anthropological context, can not be self-celebration of the architect.

  • ROBERT I. SCHWARTZ AIA

    This article is an excellent example of “whistling in the dark”. At least in the USA, most new graduate architects will be living in trailers, if they can afford them.

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  • Leo

    Come to Asia =)

  • primestudio

    the topic is totally disturbing as with the emerging technology available for younger generations they can easily cut and paste that the baby boomers developed, the construction technique obtained through experienced are neglected.

  • http://www.michaelbanakarchitect.com.au Michael Banak

    Great article! Patience, generosity and connectedness. That’s a common theme in what I have experienced in my work in the Philippines. Building real relationships and trust with the clients is paramount to a successful working life. And fun too!

  • Anthony Architect

    Ho-hum, same article, written every 30-40 years or so….

  • Jeffrey

    I have been a working architect for 20 years. I call this period the “Cusp”. All has been turned upside down. Principals unwilling to understand the digital environment we are working in, still throwing bodies at a project, inexpensive disposable bodies and not embracing the inherent value of streamlining a “real” digital environment can provide. The digital divide and lack of adaptation has been at the base of the demise of the architecture profession. I remain positive and alert despite the languishing old ideas. They will eventually die and new life and new vigor will replace the calcified skeleton of the past with new shoots of imagination and productivity.

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  • eye to the future

    I’m a young architecture intern excited about the future of architecture. As seen by the comments, this article is great for invoking conversation! However, I think it shows just how divided and wide-ranging the opinions are regarding where architecture will be in the future. In my opinion, it might be more important to think less about WHERE we think we’ll be and more important to get concrete evidence as to what people/society actually NEED from us. So far, most of the opinions expressed in the article and comments seem valid…but, as an aspiring architect (or something else), I would love to make a positive difference for the profession and society. So, can anyone express insight on how to figure out which thoughts are real needs/future ideas and which ones are just architectural egos/desires?

  • TxReg

    This article is right on target. All senior licensed architects need to read “End of Average” – technology is rendering the profession both more efficient and at the same time irrelevant. Neophytes and wannabees have the financial and leisure time to adjust to the new economy but most likely the next recession will move the professional architect into the category of specialized but not necessary consultant for most commercial and residential projects like our landscape architect and interior designer cousins. In the vacuum I foresee the role of project management gravitating towards P.E.s or professional C.M.s as the recession has wiped out the AIA’s ability to lobby for regulatory laws beneficial to Architects in favor of engineers, non-licensed designers and D.I.Y.s. Take one look at billings for the last 20 years coupled with professional liability costs and OHP comparisons and I think you will come to the same conclusion.

  • Michel Pariseau

    It is usually under duress we find who we are. Of course the strong survive and others fall by the wayside. The profession and the business is getting more complex and tougher; to survive and flourish you need to be better, more inventive, more flexible and smarter. There are lots of opportunities for those willing to adapt to these new realities.