Marketing for architects

Last week I read this tweet by our friend @fedenegro from CASE:

Why do architects always base their marketing strategies based on their peers instead of potential clients? I blame it on studio

I couldn´t agree more with it.

What do you think?

Cite: Basulto, David. "Marketing for architects" 15 Mar 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 28 May 2015. <>
  • rupertKensington

    I most certainly agree. If you’re talking about the studio at a university, we’re talking about competition at every level between your peers, the only ‘focus group’ being your studio-mates. This is certainly becoming an important aspect of upper level studio courses, and criticized/worked on just the same as the drawings for the project in some cases. Also, in this age, graphics/diagrams are publicized as much as renderings and photographs in presenting a project(BIG/OMA/etc..)The information age is at hand, and the architecture of graphics themselves is now crucial in rationalizing/conveying architectural strategies, unfortunately mostly to each other it seems!

  • Andrew

    The reason is because most architects don’t feel like they want to position themselves purely as a service-provider, and I feel like that’s a position that’s not undesirable. Architecture encompasses the design of buildings in multiple contexts. There are those who are concerned with the art of building and constructing buildings. Others are concerned with engaging in the creation of beautiful objects. Others are concerned socially or environmentally. And some are concerned with only engaging a philosophical dialog through which architecture is the mediating material.

    But concerning marketing more specifically, it’s tough because we don’t deliver finished products to then be marketed and sold to the public, but rather we set off on creative endeavors that incorporate client/patron input from the outset. When it comes to basic aesthetics we don’t benefit from the position of objective expertise that say a doctor or lawyer would. As a result, we have to negotiate a thin line between client involvement and desires and our own aesthetic values.

    In that respect, that’s why I don’t think we can base marketing purely on the desires of a client. I think a lot of us as designers wouldn’t evaluate our success solely on the happiness of the client.

  • Paul Lee

    This is so true. The time has come for architects to “get real” If architecture fails to engage people then it fails as architecture. The public are no longer intimidated by architecture as something they could not possibly understand or appreciate. Having said this, the pendulum has swung so far that unfortunately clients often don’t respect the huge work it takes to create something of value. Still, architects need to work hard to regain a healthy respect for their profession. (I’m an architect by the way..)

  • Thiefsie

    We don’t market only to peers… (well at least my company doesn’t) – we just don’t widely publicise to our peers that we don’t! haha

    Fear of being labeled as ‘selling-out’ stops this, but often peers don’t drive the money… That is the fine line we walk!

  • afRe

    Its hard to say why… questions like this evidence how little our profesion has changed through time. In the last decades the development of media based technologies and disciplines has redifined processes in areas specially related to creative businesses, but us… we keep doing things the same way. Architectural practice still remains under the most classic and essential designers-under-commision relation, and now more than ever it is clear how it is an absolete and self supressing model.

  • Federico Negro

    This is turning into a great discussion.

    I think maybe we will begin to see a divide amongst architects who define architecture as something precious, a phenomenon that occurs only with the ‘right’ mixture of many inputs, both internal and external, and see everything else as just ‘buildings’. While on the other side we will find those that see EVERYTHING in the built environment as architecture and are more concerned with finding where the line lies between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ architecture…

    The reason i bring this up is because based on this separation, we have many many architects ignoring the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of buildings that go up every year worldwide without the involvement of an architect, or a peer-approved one, anyway. Our industry is not small, we make it so, by constantly fighting to gain inroads into a tiny elite at the top of the client pyramid…

    I guess this question is not complete without also asking where does running a financially viable design office, ranks in importance to a designer. Marketing, in its many forms, is not self reflection, but instead a projection that should allow non-architects (potential clients?) insight into your thought process, your persona, your design aesthetic, your social stance, etc… I believe that those who are interested in running offices that are both good working environments for designers (i.e. well paid, life outside of work isn’t frowned upon, etc…) and are producing good work, are already taking a serious look beyond their peers.

    It is true that we do not evaluate our success purely on the happiness of the client, but the approval of our peers should not get in the way of the service we provide. Barring a few select lucky ones, the majority of architects, whether they like it or not, are subject to the business model of a service provider, and NOT that of an artist. We, for one, have professional liability.

  • Shab_B.ARCH, LEED AP

    I don’t know that our marketing strategies are based on our peers, but I do believe that we tend to judge the value of our architecture in comparison to the work of our peers. Architectural education is set up that way, so we come to believe that “regular” people simply don’t understand good architecture, and to accurately access the value of our work it must be compared to the work of other architects who “get it.” In some cases, it’s true that clients don’t understand all the jargon we use and what matters to us in design, but that’s why they hire us. In that sense, it can be seen how we do provide some type of service, and that is the knowledge we have about designing buildings, our personal aesthetic, and what makes notable architecture. The misconception though is that our worth is not based on client (or people’s) approval of the final product but by approval from other architects. In the end, buildings are made for people to inhabit, use, and enjoy… So there needs to be some kind of balance between the two realms.

  • Danny

    I think when more architects wake up, realize, and accept that they’re not going to be the next big STARchitect, their marketing strategy will change. Once you make that leap, which many of us are just not willing to do, why would you market yourself to your peers? Why be concerned with getting published and getting awards? Why keep trying to impress OTHER architects? Why not focus on clients who for the most part don’t care about the foo-foo discussions we have amongst ourselves? Why not try to help clients create buildings that work for them, and at the same time allow you to practice your craft?

    Ah, but what if? Right? What if I design the next Building of the year? What if I get published in this magazine or that? What if I get asked to be a guest professor? What if I win the Pritzker?

    You market yourself, and your firm, based on what you see yourself or your firm AS. And since more architects see themselves as potential heavyweights, that’s why see the marketing you do.

    At the end of the day this is about vanity and ego. Too many architects are chock full of both. Those who have moved on from this low level of thinking are the lucky ones in my mind.

    Lastly, I’m not advocating settling with self-mediocrity. I’m advocating being honest with yourself, your talent, and your capacity. Be real to yourself and who you are. Your practice will flourish!! I promise.

    • Shab_B.ARCH, LEED AP

      Wow, well said Danny. Harsh, but true…

  • Jeffry Burchard

    From The AIA Website:

    “Whether you’re dreaming of a new home or planning a complex commercial development, the key to ensuring that your vision becomes reality is the same: Involve an architect early.”

    This is how our professional organization markets us… (and in turn their own viability) as those that can “ensure that the client’s vision becomes a reality.” Not the architect’s vision, not the project’s vision, but the CLIENT’S VISION. Architect’s are being marketed as facilitators. And Danny, whether intentional or not, agreed with this position when he said “Why not try to help clients create buildings that work for them” as if the client is driving the boat and we are either rowing or swabbing the deck. Of course we give them a building that works for them, the use of the term “helping” is where your legitimacy begins to tank. If we are to think of ourselves as a ‘service industry’ then indeed a facilitator is an appropriate title, but the polemic to this does not need to be a ‘served industry’. (For those of you posing as altruistic.)

    So here it is, Peer criticism and review is an opportunity for improving the quality of architecture as it is continually being challenged by over-zealous clients who think they know something about design because they watch TLC on the weekend. Yes it is also a dogfight for awards. And I will win.

    • Danny

      I think this is a very good point and I think I see where you are coming from. I don’t want to misunderstand you though, so my question to you is: are you saying we are NOT a service industry? If not, then what are we? We certainly are not artists in the sense that we are not up in an attic creating wonderful works for those who wish to enjoy them.

      Without clients, we have no work…no real work that is. Sure, we can write papers, build models and create pretty drawings. But that doesn’t make you an architect does it? Architects at some point should actually contribute to building something right? And how are we to do that without a client?

      I think your tone smacks of the “client is beneath us” attitude that I see all too often in architecture. I see this all the time, “we need to EDUCATE the uneducated client.” I don’t agree with that attitude.

      I start from the premise of, the client knows something I don’t, and I know something he or she doesn’t. TOGETHER, we create something out of nothing. I don’t feel threatened by the fact that at the end of the day, I am an employee providing a service to my client, because deep down inside we all know we’re more than that. Once again, be confident in who you are and what you are not.

      • c-dub

        The notion that we don’t need to educate our clients is not only preposterous, it’s harmful. It is the role of every professional to educate. I wouldn’t have any use for my doctor, attorney, accountant or mechanic if they didn’t educate me. It’s why I pay them, and it should be why you’re paid. And I’ll agree that architecture is a “service industry,” but I suspect we strongly disagree on the exact nature of that service. I’d maintain that if your services don’t challenge your client to learn something about architecture, then you’re doing them – and your environment, and your profession – a very serious disservice.

        Getting back to the point of the (very interesting) post: yes, some architects certainly market to other architects, but that can be a very valid strategy. Most awards, even local ones, are awarded by other architects – and the notice of other architects often raises the public profile of one’s work (no Pritzkers required). More often, though, I don’t think it’s an intentional marketing strategy: we architects tend to market using the language we know best, and one that is therefore most easily understood by other architects. It’s not always effective or even appropriate, but it is entirely natural.

  • Jeffry Burchard

    You know, when I’m at “Per Se” in NYC and Thomas Keller prepares the most delicious dish I’ve ever had I don’t care to be educated by him as to how he created it, his philosophy, or the way that his peer’s have critiqued him. Those attributes may have caused me to stop by but in that moment I just want to enjoy the food.

    Client’s don’t pay to be educated, they pay for buildings. They don’t pay for architecture theory, but without it they would have NO buildings. They don’t pay for your awards but without them, good luck getting good clients who will pay for buildings. In the U.S. a licensed architect is a legal requirement. That’s how you HELP your client… you fulfill a required role.

    And if you think that a building is the only ‘real’ work of architecture then your building’s will reflect that. The client knows nothing except that they have a problem. A problem that they can ever only weakly define. An architect has the responsibility to tell the client what their problem is (this is the only education necessary) and then discover a solution.

    On the website for “Per Se”, Keller says “When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear; to make people happy. That’s what cooking is all about.” If everybody KNEW what made them happy then everybody would spend the money to eat Keller’s food for every meal. Is this is Keller’s ‘deep down inside moment” lain bare for all the un-educated to see?

    • c-dub

      You and I eat very differently, Jeffry. When I sit down at a restaurant, I do want to be educated: I want to know at least something about the origins of the ingredients, whether or not they were sustainably produced, how they were prepared – even whether or not the kitchen staff is being paid a living wage. I do want to know these things. I have increasingly little interest in uneducated consumerism.

      I won’t pretend, though, that I don’t ever enjoy a delicious dinner without concern for those details, because I do. Given the relatively small cost and implications of a single meal, that’s an affordable indulgence. But the same cannot be said about buildings: the costs are far too high, the resources consumed too voluminous, and the social implications too pervasive. Building is an act with civic and, increasingly, global implications. The onus is on us, then, to satisfy requirements far beyond those of the immediate client.

      If we all design buildings that fills our client’s needs, that’s great – but if that’s all we do, then we’ve fallen far short of the mark. Likewise, if our only marketable skill is to fill a legally-required role, then we’ve devolved into nothing more than interchangeable license-holding technicians, and I don’t think any of us are willing to agree to that. I know I’m not.

  • Jeffry Burchard

    For any one interested in “relationships” between client and architect watch the

    A ‘CityCenter’ for the Strip
    A Discussion with Fred Clarke, Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido, A. Eugene Kohn, Daniel Libeskind, Sven Van Assche, Rafael Vinoly, and Christine Williams

    Some of you will revel in the love-fest and hopefully there are a few who will struggle to keep yourself from closing the video.

  • Daniel

    I like the discussion, but I can’t help but notice the irony that it was started by a comment from CASE, who’s entire business model is about marketing to other architects. I love CASE, and it doesn’t make it any less valid a point.

  • Danny

    I actually agree with what you’re saying c-dub, but I think what we mean by educate needs to be clear. Of course you want to challenge your clients to learn more about architecture and push them to achieve greater results, and if that’s what we all meant by ‘educate’ the client, no problem.

    But more often than not what architects mean is: “oh you poor thing, let me bring you into the light and rescue you from you oblivious existence.” Its frankly a condescending attitude that I daresay we’ve all either seen voiced or acted out.

    Architects should not talk down to clients. They should talk with them.

    • c-dub

      If your point is that clients should be treated with respect, then I agree (it’s not exactly a controversial position). But Jeffry Burchard speaks the truth. I have dealt with dozens of clients with overinflated opinions of their own design ability. It’s common for people to consider themselves experts on a topic by dint of nothing more than passing exposure to it. I am often guilty of that myself, in other areas – but I hope I have the good sense to shut up and listen when someone with a lifetime of training and experience clears his or her throat.

      Frankly, I don’t consider it my job to give my clients what they want, because what they want is generally crap. Do I do it? When I can’t find an alternative, yes, I have to admit I do. But I don’t pretend to feel good about myself in the process.

    • c-dub

      My comment appeared and then disappeared, so I’ll try again. Admittedly, my language may have been a little strong in my last attempt, so a moderator may have removed it. I’ll proceed a bit more cautiously, with my apologies.

      I agree that we should engage our clients with respect, but I think Jeffry Burchard’s point remains very valid. I have dealt with dozens of clients whose opinions of their design sensibilities were vastly overinflated, and who considered themselves experts only because they had some small, vicarious exposure to design. To be honest, I understand that, because I suffer from the same tendency to overestimate my knowledge on topics with which I have only a passing familiarity – but once I’ve decided that a professional’s opinion is valuable enough to pay for, I’ll generally defer to their more educated, experienced and considered opinion. Likewise, when I am that professional, I will offer my own more educated, experienced and considered opinion. That is my service to my client.

      And at times, I’ll offer that opinion vehemently, because I do not consider it a service to simply facilitate in getting the client what they want, especially when what clients want is so often of appallingly low quality. Do I do it anyway? I have to admit that I do, when I can’t find an alternative. But I don’t pretend that there’s anything noble in that.

      To get back on topic, this is another reason why we end up marketing to other architects: because so many of the issues that architects care about – and should care about – are simply lost on an undereducated public. As a result, we often have to turn to other architects to find any understanding. It is an unfortunate reality for a profession that has to serve up populist, lowest-common-denominator design in order to survive.

  • c-dub

    And now both my comments show up, which makes me seem like an even bigger windbag. Sorry about that.

  • casiotimex

    back to the question: “Why do architects always base their marketing strategies based on their peers instead of potential clients?”

    nope, never happened in my company.
    our designs are rarely published, my boss avoids any “architects social events.”
    He does heavily based his marketing strategies on potential clients and as the result, during 2008-9 crisis, we are one of the very few offices that didn’t do retrenchment.

    But.. on the other hand:
    why can’t we be our own client?
    you know.. do your research; buy a plot of land, build, sell….
    of course, start small

    i already start..i do what i passioned the most: low cost housing

    i don’t care what’s in and out in the architecture world, i dont care what my peers comments, and no clients to “educate”..
    it just me and my small project, and im gonna build what i want.
    kinda fell good!

    ps: still need to keep my day job though..

    • c-dub

      The architect/developer model is increasingly interesting to me, for just the reasons you’ve described. Often when I’m working for a for-profit developer, I lose patience with what seemed to be overly fear-based decisions. I understand a need for conservativism in a speculative market, but there is often a real intent to dumb projects down so that no one could ever object to them, rather than to make them compelling enough to capture the interest of a few. There’s an generally-held conception that the best way to sell a project is to dilute it in order to broaden its appeal. Personally, I doubt very strongly that that is true – and I certainly don’t think it makes for good architecture.

      But, casiotimex: you still have to market. Now you’re marketing to the buyer, though, rather than the developer. Failing to market yourself properly as an architect means less (or less desirable) work, but failing to market yourself properly as a developer means a failed project and an empty, debt-laden building. The risk is far greater – as are, I think, the potential rewards. Congratulations on taking the plunge; I hope it goes very well for you.

  • casiotimex

    well, i live in a 3rd world country where the low-cost housing demand is so high, the only marketing strategy you need is to put a “for sale” sign.

    (ok, im exaggerating a bit)

    but yes, u are correct, c-dub.. with architect/developer model, i market to the buyer.

    and i like it.
    maybe because i always see myself as an indie artist: i do my art (a low-cost house with style), and people either take it or leave it..

    (i.e. ppl don’t ask an indie band like weezer to change the part of their songs here and there… )

    some sees it as arrogance.. but hey, it’s my art..

    but of course its different: the capital required, the loan, the time consumed, the construction works etc.
    thats why i do research to make sure theres a market for my product.
    and yeah: that’s why i still keep my day job.. where i market to developer and listen and do any comments they make (sigh.. but not for long i hope)

    but here is my point;
    for those who choose architecture because we want to create something from our heart, but end up do whatever those for-profit developers says:

    guys, we have other options! just be a developer urself :)

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  • Sam

    I have done bachelors degree in Interior Architecture. And I now wish to do master degree in marketing. I dont how much they will work together and if i can make someting out of it? Please help. Need some sugesstion.

  • Charles Orr

    Oh Architects, windbags
    I only hoped for some help in marketing

    • c-dub

      We’re very sorry that our conversation didn’t satisfy your needs, Charlie.

    • Christopher Bollweg

      The only sensible comment.