TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Click here to view the interactive survey results for EMPLOYED ARCHITECTS
* Includes Interns, Junior Level Architects, Intermediate Architects, and Senior Level Architects
Click here to view the interactive survey results for PRINCIPALS, OWNERS, AND HIRING AGENTS WORKING ARCHITECTS
Working architects should consider themselves lucky! It's no secret that even some of the most stable firms are experiencing hiring freezes or laying off their staff. Even when firms report that work has stayed "steady," they are tightening their belts in preparation for what may lay ahead.
A principal who responded to the Archinect survey said, "I don't know anyone who hasn't been effected by this...large firms, small firms, new firms, established firms, different specialties, it doesn't seem to matter. We have been flooded with resumes in the past couple of weeks from designers laid off by other firms. It's bad all around."
Architecture firms are cost cutting. Gone are the staff bagels, it may be hard to find an extra paper clip these days. Architecture firms are hunkering down, tightening up their overhead, downsizing, lowering their fees, cutting staff hours and salaries, putting off office expansions and putting equipment purchases on hold. Only the most effective and efficient employees are being held. Most firms are welcoming projects that they would normally turn away. Many principals report that they are desperately trying to gather work. One respondent stated that he is"chasing projects I would have considered too small; doing most of my own drafting; being generous with my time with a client whose funding has not come through yet even though it could be a while until they have money; spending more time on awards submissions and a monograph to try to be better positioned when things come back." Firms are becoming creative in their marketing efforts, or even marketing for the first time. Firms are focusing on acquiring international projects and landing government projects that have allocated budget 3-4 years in advance. The firms that have more financial breathing room are spending the down time dedicating their energies to research and entering competitions.
“I don't know anyone who hasn't been effected by this...large firms, small firms, new firms, established firms, different specialties, it doesn't seem to matter. We have been flooded with resumes in the past couple of weeks from designers laid off by other firms. It's bad all around." Firms are diversifying their services as well, branching into other areas of design, consulting and creating partnerships with complimentary businesses in the area. "I am taking in web and graphic work to compensate for disappearing architecture clients," said one principal. Another says "clients have been tentative to commit to projects past initial phases of design, taking a 'wait and see' approach to project development. As a result, we have taken on more projects than our current staffing typically would require in realization that few of these projects will provide long term income and could in fact be stopped at any time. The net result is an increased sense of urgency in the office to produce designs and keep the client excited about continuing the project forward. We are also working to align contractors and clients in the investment team."
The best advice is to take excellent, I mean ridiculously good care, of the clients you have. Even if their budget has dried up, be a friend. They'll think to knock on your door first when they are back on their feet. One principal states "our entire business is word of mouth, so I need to make sure my clients only have good things to say about us."
The general consensus is that architects are worried about their job security. "I used to be the cynical I'm-using-this-place-as-I-launch-my-firm but am now the cheerful helper-architect who begs to work on anything from monster health care projects to marketing presentations to door schedules. Anything to stay busy and seem essential" one respondent stated. It's a scary time in this profession. Many respondents report that they are unhappy in their current positions, but feel like there is no choice but to stay due to the lack of openings with other firms. Many report that plans to start their own businesses have been put on hold and that they will be keeping a not-so-great job to pay the bills rather than take any risks. Some reported that they felt protected while employed at firms that are doing international work or those that specialize in health care or government funded development. Others report that they are compromising their desires and securing more stable work with the city, state and government arenas.
“I graduated with honors from an ivy league graduate school and I am not even getting calls back. I am terrified." Some offer positive insight in saying that this is a time to diversify, gain more experience, be innovative and flexible. It's time to use not some, but all, of the skills acquired throughout your education and professional experience. Many are heading toward finding work in academia, assuming that there is bound to more employment opportunities as architects heading back to school when they cannot find jobs. Others report they are willing and ready to take on freelance work and take on 2nd jobs to pay their bills and college loans. The word "scared" was used often to describe their feelings about the current economic situation and how it affects the architecture industry. One respondent said "there was always too much work coming in and I was always too busy for me to consider it might one day stop. It literally dried up overnight once the banks stopped lending. Instead of stressing out about it I've been trying to stop and take a look at where my career is, what our profession is experiencing, and look at other opportunities within it I want to explore. Change can be good. Stay positive."
Do not take your job for granted. Keep the job you have. Stay off the chopping block by becoming a star employee, go the extra mile, kick ass at work. Complete tasks in a timely manner, get to work on time, work efficiently, stay until your daily goal is met, take on more responsibility, and look busy! If your hours have been cut spend the down time working on your portfolio, resume, complete the IDP, start studying for the ARE and LEED exams. Its a very good time to get accredited and licensed so that you are showing your current employer initiative while becoming a more attractive candidate for when the economy bounces back. Its time to polish up on software that you are unfamiliar with. Start reconnecting with your professional contacts and network with those in affiliated industries. Our best advice is to have a exceptional portfolio ready and have an updated resume on hand.
Click here to view the interactive survey results for UNEMPLOYED ARCHITECTS UNEMPLOYED ARCHITECTS
"13 of us were laid off this morning, from a firm that I thought would miss the recession."
Unemployed architects are crying for "HEEEEELLLLLLLLLLLPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!" Many of the employers that advertise on the Archinect job board have stated that they are receiving hundreds of applications from qualified, and over-qualified job seekers to a single job posting. One job seeker stated "I graduated with honors from an ivy league graduate school and I am not even getting calls back. I am terrified." Another job seeker shares his concern by stating "I'm still struggling to get on my feet from school. Now the company I was with since my first year of school just shut down. I'm hearing the same story across the entire city."
“I'm wondering if 5 years of being poor and working my butt off is actually worth the unemployment queue we may end up in." Unemployed architects are pissed off, offended and many have lost their faith. One job seeker said "I sent my resume to over 60 firms in the east coast and only one phone call interview (I didn’t get the job)." Many of the respondents have master's degrees, good levels of work experience and cannot find a job for the life of them. One respondent said"I just completed eight years of architectural studies, and my resume and portfolio haven't even yielded an interview. Contacts tell me that nobody in the city is hiring, and to get more training in the meantime, however long that will be." It is a frustrating time for those looking to get their feet wet in the architecture industry. Many of the respondents were part of a lay off, some are fresh out of school, many would settle for just about any job at this point. They are bummed out and we understand why. Those who had already entered the workforce find themselves over-educated and many are over-experienced in the market place. Many of the unemployed respondents reported that they were struggling, moving back into their parents homes, deferring student loans and living on bare bones. This is depressing, we know, but some have managed to keep their heads up, staying passionate about their career choice and hoping for the best. Many are using the down time to study and get licensed, so they can be ready when the economy bounces back. One respondent said "if you are unemployed, it's a good time to join competitions, collaborate with colleagues and create something new...don't feel down, a new opportunity is coming soon." Others are looking for work in related fields. A job seeker reports "I have turned to the construction industry for work because of the higher pay and availability of jobs." Others report working for engineering firms or taking on a contract job as an "Architectural Publishing Coordinator" to make ends meet. It's time to get creative folks!
Ok, take a deep breathe and a step back from the edge of the cliff. It's no joke, it's hard to find an architecture job right now, but we will make it through this.
"Drink a shot of whiskey every night." Have an exceptional portfolio and CV. Be flexible (willing to work for the city, government, be willing to work within a related field), express your ability to relocate, look into teaching (more people head back to school when the economy is challenged), develop your skills, learn new software, get licensed, network, offer your services through freelance. Revamp your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles then read 7 Secrets To Getting Your Next Job Using Social Media . Look for employment in areas that are still experiencing growth (rural places) rather than large cities. It may be a good time to explore and pursue secondary interests and then head back into traditional architecture when the economy has stabilized. If all else fails, many report that they are using temp agencies to find brief stints of work that will carry them through this recession.
Click here to view the interactive survey results for ARCHITECTURE STUDENTS ARCHITECTURE STUDENTS
"I have doubts about my future as an architect but love what I am learning and the people I come in contact with, therefore I plan to finish university and give it my best shot," one student shared.
If you are in school, that may be a good place to ride out this recession. University enrollment climbs when the economy plummets. While many of the students who answered the survey were concerned that they may be headed for the "wrong" career, others are attempting to insure success with double majors or minoring in related fields (ex: landscape urbanism, urban design, real estate management). One student reported that they were cushioning their architecture major by "pursuing another degree in City and Regional Planning," and another reported that he/she was"double majoring in structural engineering." One student suggested a"business or accounting minor just in case." There were several comments regarding the "schooling into profession disconnect - many teachers have not practiced and have little to teach regarding the business end of architecture." Many students feel that they are naive about the economic climate and it's affects on architecture. 90% of survey respondents report that their school has not adjusted it's curriculum to reflect the changing economy, this is a concern. Many feel unprepared for what they are about to face as new architects in a downward economy. We would hope that schools would be preparing architects and coaching them how to stay afloat in a bad economy but since many instructors may have little to no experience as a practicing architect, this may be stretch.
We thought one student shared positive insight when he or she said "undoubtedly, the next years will be difficult, but I really love what I do, and I won't give up. We'll all have to stick together and pull through."
Stay in school. Consider broadening your studies, take additional courses that could boost your career potential.
What architects are experiencing is in no doubt rough. We wanted you to know that if you are having career remorse you are not alone. But we're not going to let you sit around and wallow in this idea, we wont let you get off the hook that easy. After commiserating with your colleagues about how "bad" things are, we are going to ask you to reconnect with the reasons why you entered this career, rekindle your passion and get creative with your vast skill set. We are going to share some positive insights on how this economy shift could be a blessing in disguise and could force you to revamp your career and personal life.
But first, commiserate with the others.
“Bush really killed my career. Licensed, Cornell degree: three layoffs in six years. Two weeks severance each time. All well-known mid-sized firms. Each new job means new software, politics and process to learn, while trying to exceed expectations. Why do (did) kids fresh out of business school get paid twice what I fought to make with my 15+ years experience? I just finished my student loan payments last year! Now I have to give myself a 20% pay cut because Bush mugged the treasury? I have no savings or assets. I'll be 50 in six years. What a waste. I'm too experienced for boutiques, and look like damaged goods to the big guys. From what I hear, every city is facing layoffs, so moving would be a huge waste of my limited means. Not a happy camper."
“I wish I were a dentist or a plumber."
“We are fucked."
“I am tired of working behind a computer and not seeing the light of day. Thinking about hybridizing my career to one in which physical labor and sun light are integral."
“Architecture is not a profession you can call earning a living."
“I was laid off in 2002, went right back to school, and I have been an ICU nurse for 1.5 years now, starting pay is 2.5 times what I left as an architect. I work 32 hours/week, I never regret the change."
“Overeducated, underexperienced, horrible economy, timid hiring by firms = me struggling to get by, and probably leaving architecture and never coming back..."
“I spent 4 years at great college, and then 5 years working in the industry, to only run someone's firm for $24/hour. I'm disgusted at the industry pay standards and happy to no longer be in it full time. All no owner level architects are grossly under paid and over worked. If it wasn't for architects this world would not be like it is. There needs to be greater respect for that. Unfortunately, it took leaving the industry to regain quality of life. I'm happy to be helping people and getting paid my worth."
THE BAD, THE UGLY AND FINALLY.... THE GOOD.
After reading thousands of responses to the survey questions, we found that the recession actually tends to have a motivating effect on many struggling architects and students. So many respondents said that the economic state was forcing them to become a better employee, becoming more efficient and dedicated to the company that provided them benefits and steady income. We saw an overwhelming drive to update portfolios and resumes, get LEED accredited, finish IDP paperwork and get licensed. Many reported that these were things that they had been putting off for months and years because they were either too busy or becoming sedintary. The recession is actually pushing individuals to reach their next level. Many unemployed architects have been stepping out of their comfort zones and exploring employment opportunities abroad. Other job seekers reported that the lack of jobs in the architecture industry was forcing them to rethink their true potential and ability to venture into other fields. Many respondents were using the opportunity to take on freelance projects, pursue furniture design and become contractors. Archinect's recent "Out of the Box" series should serve as inspiration that many individuals use their architecture degrees and professional experience as a launching pad into other successful careers. Still others were excited about leaving demanding architecture practices to pursuing careers in academia.
"A downturn is the chance to position yourself for the next upturn," one respondent shared.
“Undoubtedly, the next years will be difficult, but I really love what I do, and I won't give up." Many firms report that they are reinventing themselves and expanding their focus. Some are finding relief in international and public sector projects, which had been of little interest before. Principals are rethinking their business strategies, networking with other firms and either attempting marketing for the first time or attempting new marketing approaches. Many firms reported that the recession motivated them to boost their attention to sustainability and essential-only building during a time when funds are lean. Principals reported shifting their focus to the client first and dedicating themselves to customer satisfaction, a part of the business that needed improvement. Many firm owners had an "I'll do whatever it takes to stay afloat" attitude. If this attitude were infectious we would see an evolution take place where only the strongest most passionate architects would remain, this ultimately being a good thing for architecture, and eventually design.
PERSONAL LIFE ADJUSTMENTS
"I am 40 and have worked everyday in architecture since I had my first internship at 20 years of age. Maybe taking a breath and a pause will be a blessing in disguise."
The economic recession forces all of us to make small adjustments. Most of us are rethinking our own consumerism. It's a time to focus on our true needs rather than frivolous desires, like choosing a cup of coffee at home rather than a $4 latte. It's time to live within our means. We're eating out less, buying less, walking or biking to work instead of spending money on gas, selling houses, renting, moving in with parents. We're being careful with our money. The economic downturn forces to live more frugally, to think before we consume. We are a nation of consumers and this may be the most important lesson we have yet to learn.
“There's ups and there's downs, this will rebound, and out of it a new architecture will be born. Mark my words, innovation will prevail." Many survey respondents expressed that the cut in job hours had been difficult financially, but had also increased their awareness of their personal goals. Some shared that they felt like they were able to focus on their marriage, children and home life for the first time in years. Many felt that they were finally working "realistic" hours and finding more time to exercise, focus on hobbies and starting home improvement projects that had fallen by the way side. If funds allow, the down time is being used to travel and explore dreams that have been put aside while careers were being developed.
"Finally, now is the time to go bartend in Costa Rica for a few years."
WILL THE ECONOMIC RECESSION REINVENT ARCHITECTURE?
A few optimistic survey respondents share their ideas.
“There's ups and there's downs, this will rebound, and out of it a new architecture will be born. Mark my words, innovation will prevail!"
“With the state of the economy the way it is, nobody is going to make decisions to build as lightly as they have during the housing bubble. I believe smart designers recognize the importance of good design both economically and environmentally (sustainability is also an economic factor). Good design retains value, architecture = investment. Cheap mic-mansions and sub-prime mortgages have caused there fair share of turmoil in our economy. As a designer I've know that both parties can benefit economically from good design, lets make it our responsibility to do so and educate our clients of such."
“While I work from the farm, I am in the middle east a week a month and 80% of our projects are in the ME region. I feel very positive that not only will we get through this unique period in time, but that it will bring attention to some of the hyper-consumption and inefficient building / design practices which to represent an "old way" of thinking. We'll be better for it in the end, and if we live / work within our means everything is going to be fine."
“I think that slow downs are great opportunities to retool the business. In fact, I think they present a chance to reinvent architecture."
“The time in this profession will bring about a newer theory of design and construction. No longer will architects design the for the rich, catering to their financial whelms. But designers will attempt to educate their client base to constrain the over-bourgeois of material possessions, and trying to prove who has the biggest house - to out shine their small members and brains. But our future clients will be shown the benefits of investing in the public, community, and will grow to appreciate the smallest of material possessions, instead of filling the voided spirits with 72" LCD with 7.1 surround sound. Also, the designers will begin to practice what they preach, we will choose gas efficient , or alternate fuel cars; small living spaces; the education of interns; and fewer pens and pencils - cause we collect these like kids in a candy stores - and be happy with the one or two GOOD ones."
“With our industry already not meeting the status quo we used to have decades ago, we now see our future hanging by a thread due to an "economic crisis". Who will arise out of these next five years on top? The renewable industries will arise out of the ashes and we will need to be ready for a new wave of architecture. These are the times when we must sit back and recollect so we can make an impact on the next style of design and new technologies spurring a world financial revival that we as responsible architects must be ready to implement when the time is ready. All we can do in the meantime is survive and watch the old regimes die off and for newly inspired professionals to replace them. We may no longer be master builders but we can still be known for molding an age and inspiring those who will look back on this time centuries from now."
“This is both a very exciting time, and a very stressful time. Architects have so much potential to help with the pressing environmental and social issues of the day. I am both hopeful and on edge as we move into 2009."
“The seeds of the next architectural generation are already in the ground. The sun will shine again."
- Paul Nakazawa, Building Design Online , Dec 18, 2008