Every year thousands of young hopefuls attend architecture school, entering with the expectation that, after their years of struggle and long hours in studio, they’ll come out the other end as legitimate architects doing legitimate architecture.
How quickly they must abandon that unreasonable idea.
From CAD monkeys to baristas, most architecture grads are not doing what they thought they would when they submitted their first tuition checks. And, to add insult to injury, those tuition checks only multiplied, leaving our grads in thousands of dollars of debt.
Surely there must be another way. PAVE, a kind of Kickstarter that connects individuals to investors, offers—if not a solution—then a very intriguing alternative.
According to their website, PAVE is “a funding community that connects talented young Americans with like-minded investors who provide money and non-financial support. In return prospects pay them a percentage of their earnings down the road.”
All kinds of people use PAVE for all kinds of projects—from starting ecological fashion brands to getting the first Kenyan to the top of Mount Everest. But of course, the architects using the platform caught our eye.
Daniel Toole, a young architect who will be starting his M.Architecture in Urban Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design this fall, is hoping that PAVE will not only allow him to finance his education, but also immediately begin shaping his career around what he’s genuinely interested in. Since PAVE investors receive an amount proportional to one’s income—whatever it may be—for ten years, Toole has more freedom to take enriching jobs within the architecture industry (where big names all too often correspond with lousy paychecks).
As Toole told me in an interview: “if I take some low-paying jobs in the front end of that first decade after graduation that are rich career-wise i.e. an associate professorship, or a lower paying position in the employment of a renowned architect that might not pay so well, my payments back will be lower than a standard federal payback that would just adjust to my income and be spread out longer. The fact that [PAVE] investors understand this and the fact that they value your professional development is a positive plus.”
Of course, as a recent New York Times article, “Program Links Loans to Future Earnings,” pointed out, there are some who have interpreted the PAVE contract as a type of indentured servitude. Yet, for Toole, “loans are indenturing too.” And, for PAVErs, the idea of giving your money (“indenturing” oneself) to investors who are also mentors, as opposed to an anonymous bank, is what makes the program far more appealing than a traditional loan.
Shane Gring used PAVE to successfully back his business BOULD, an organization that simultaneously gives architects LEED building experience and provides affordable green housing. He told me that it’s inspiring for him: his money is “not going to line banker’s pockets, but instead a cool individual who cares about what I do.”
And the best part of PAVE, according to Gring (who spoke to us right before his campaign closed)? “I’m a few days away from having 15,000 dollars in my bank account, to getting rid of my debt and moving forward. It will allow me to rid myself of burdens, to free up my income to have a better lifestyle.”
While PAVE not be the way for all young architects to begin financing their education or endeavors, it does offer an interesting alternative, especially as it could potentially raise public awareness of architecture. As Toole points out, it could become a kind of “Kickstarter for architectural ideas...to be taken part in by the general public.”
However, perhaps more importantly, PAVE exposes how impractically expensive architecture education has become (and how completely inappropriate in comparison to the standard architecture income) while offering a potential way to reform it.
On the financing side, a proportional payment scheme would seem to make sense for the relatively low fees that architects tend to earn for the first decade(s) of their careers. For example, despite the many other issues architecture education in the UK may have, UK graduates have paid back their undergraduate tuition fees in a manner proportionate to their income since fees were first instated in 1998. The state of Oregon has also recently approved a pilot program that would have its graduates do the same.
On the other hand, the sheer pressure of student debt has forced many aspiring architects out of the discipline itself. As Gring told me: “Architecture is a very lateral major, the skills - being able to take criticism, present ideas clearly and refine them over time - are very transferrable. [...] It’s super sad: a lot of talented friends are no longer in the field, there’ve been a lot of casualties. There have to be more innovative ideas for it to be reasonable for people to go to school.” Perhaps an industry-wide reformation is needed - unfortunately, though, that doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon.
But perhaps, instead, architecture education should embrace this change and turn these “casualties” into possibilities. If architecture, already a complex, cross-disciplinary area of study, embraced its inherent transferability and prepared students to potentially work outside the field of architecture—and into better paying positions—the issue of financing would cease to be as relevant.
In the meantime, PAVE offers an innovative alternative: a way of working around the vast limitations that the current system has placed upon our students. At the very least, PAVE is sparking an important conversation.