Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Reposting my words...

Ok, so I wrote this response on a forum, and it sums up my mindset at the moment. Word-for-word, here ya go:

jbplaster wrote:

i do believe it is the domain of the aia to work toward bolstering architects' fees. how this is handled, i don't know, but the situation is bad and it's not getting better.

The problem, like you mentioned, is that we are really at the whim of the market, and we don't have the organization. Real estate agents have that capitalized logo, and they are incredibly careful to always refer to each other as "Realtors", or whatever it is. They are, basically, a de facto union. Now, maybe they are also headed on the path toward antitrust issues, but I do know that the US Justice department came down on the AIA as recently as 1990 for price fixing, and that long ago, architect rates in the US were set by a table. I don't have the exact info, but you could say that when we lost that advantage, it was the beginning of the end in this country. We need every advantage we can get, because when it comes right down to it, architecture is a luxury 90% of the time. And please think about it before you respond angrily. Are we closer to art/design/functionality than we are to economics/ profitability/sustainbility? The best architects I know use metrics like cost per dorm bed interchangably with terms like "sense of place". The architects I see who can't make payroll usually spend their time waving their arms and describing that one project they saw in duomo in 1984. They would also hate to look over a project estimate spreadsheet. That's boring to them.

Business is not easy, nor fair, and like someone else mentioned on this thread, money flows only when it is forced to. If you can make it essential for a client to hire an architect, then you will be paid what you deserve. Bringing it back to this thread, engineers are legally required for much of the work they do, doctors have a protected monopoly and revenue stream (HMO premiums) and are required to do even the smallest services ("oh, it's just a small operation, you don't need a licence for that"), and lawyers are trained to create their own work through litigation and preemptive "legal strategy". Bonuses are also given to lawyers based on the additional time they earn for their firm, they are being paid for being inefficient! Could you imagine if an architect went around offering contractual advice for companies in case of architectural services needed in the future? That's the position I want.

I don't know, but there are thousands of new architectural graduates every year, and the number of projects is not increasing. The excess supply has led to the alarming trend: you start with a discipleship that we have been brainwashed into doing after education. You know, that model shop internship for Gehry or Meier or Pritzker Associates you took for no pay. Now you are 25 and have no savings, no actual experience in construction, no hours accumulated toward IDP, but great contacts! So you take a starter salary position at a corporate firm ($28k with benefits), stay there a while and boom, you're thirty and making $39,000 trying to live in a large city because you just can't stand the suburbs. Meanwhile, your engineer buddies from college took their entry level hits after college, have ten years of experience, licence in hand and on track for associate at the firm, have moved up the pay scale, got a house in a subdivsion with a kid or two, and absolutely love their minivans. I don't know if they have demand problems, but your typical engineer is much more traditional in terms of making money and real-world situations, and NO engineer that I know would turn down a job because the buildings were boring, or some other ideological reason.

I know that I personally was out of tune with the dynamics of the demand for our services, especially when I picked this path at age 17, but I'm not going to let that deter me. I see what is necessary for our clients, and if that is checking every line item for them, then that's what we try to get them. If that isn't what we called architecture a few years ago, then I will adapt. If I need to get a business degree or move my office to the construction site, then I'll go. I don't have the energy or enthusiasum for the profession as a whole to try to change it or wait for the NCARB or whoever to get their act together.