The Architecture of Labor: Working Conditions and the New Normal

Labor gives rise to design. As the aggregate of physical and mental effort used in the creation of goods and services, labor is tied to both what we create and our process. In a field shaped by production, architecture and design depend on labor from a broad range of professionals. But as workers increasingly put in longer hours and traditional measures of security change, questions of labor practices have arisen amid broader conditions of contemporary work culture. 

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via Duo Dickinson, Architectural Review

The Architecture Lobby is one organization founded to advocate for better labor practices. Launched in 2013 by architect and academic Peggy Deamer, it is an organization of "architectural workers advocating for the value of architecture in the general public and for architecture work within the discipline." The Lobby begins by identifying designers as workers and their contributions as “work”—work that is "aesthetic, technical, social, organizational, environmental, administrative, fiduciary, but in all cases, work." Their manifesto targets a range of topics, from labor laws, fees and services to wage transparency, in an effort to address precarious work conditions.

This time last year, Pascale Joassart at KCET explored the idea of informal work and labor in-depth, touching on labor outside of salaried or more formal positions and the rise of the "New Normal." She states how traditional employment, with security, benefits, and protections, is becoming less and less common, with terms like "gig, contingent, alternative, and precarious work" that emerged to describe work arrangements. In turn, these larger trends extend to design.

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© The Architecture Lobby

At Columbia GSAPP, a symposium was held in late 2018 on Renegotiating Precarity. As a provocation, the description outlined that, "wages are stagnating and rents are rising. Work is not only hard to find, but increasingly exploitative and insecure. People are forced to take on more jobs and loans just to get by. Privatization has turned entire cities into playgrounds for financial speculation, as social support systems have been withdrawn under the banner of austerity politics. In short, precarity has become a generalized condition." The symposium looked to possible alternatives and sites of resistance as the struggle of precarity needs to be continually renegotiated. Building off of questions posed by issues of labor and working conditions liked those outlined at Columbia, the following articles explore labor through the lens of design over the last five years.

Is it Time for Architects to Unionize?

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The Guardian’s architecture critic Oliver Wainwright reported that the United Kingdom’s first architecture union had been formed last year. The Section of Architecture Workers (UVW-SAW) is a section of the United Voices of the World, a new model of grassroots trade union that supports the expansion of union ideals to professions and sectors which traditionally did not have such representation. The launch of the union, and the reasons behind it, serve as the latest episode in long-running concern over the working conditions faced by architects in the UK and across the world.

For and Against All-Nighter Culture: Readers Respond

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© Forrest Jessee

The editors at ArchDaily reached out to our readers to help us investigate one of the most difficult challenges of architecture education: what do students and teachers think of the 24-hour studio culture that has come to pervade the architecture profession? From this discussion, two overriding themes emerged: firstly, many seemed to believe that architecture students have too much work in the first place; secondly, there was almost complete consensus that closing studios achieves nothing but moving the problem of all-nighters from the studio to students' homes.

Young Architects Taking Action at the Venice Biennale

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Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

The New York-based Architecture Lobby held a protest outside the Giardini on June 7th, 2014 during the Biennale's opening weekend. Through their protest, they aim to draw attention to declining working conditions in the profession, including low pay, long hours and insecure unemployment - particularly for young architects.

What's the Reality of Architectural Labor in the US?

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© The Architecture Lobby

The Architecture Lobby completed a seventy-question survey of architects that aimed to gather a broad range of data about architectural work--from firm standards and policies to worker satisfaction--to provide open-source information about the realities of architectural labor in the US. The final statistics were published from the survey after polling hundreds of architectural professionals.

About this author
Cite: Eric Baldwin. "The Architecture of Labor: Working Conditions and the New Normal" 04 Feb 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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