the architecture of constructing a practice

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    up, up and away...

    Gregory Walker
    Apr 30, '13 11:45 AM EST


    everyone's talking about 'green shoots' these days - either they're sprouting or being choked out before they ever begin. 

    green shoots? how about full on growing plants.


    right now...  it feels.... busy - at least at my firm. we're winning a lot of opportunities, hiring people, looking to expand our offices. yes, it smells like growth (or bacon. though i really don't understand the attraction). 

    anecdotally, the whole of the architectural market in the u.s. seems busy. or at least busier than we've seen in a long time. hiring is up - perhaps way up over the past year. the best graduates are fielding multiple offers in town and the job placement rates are the highest they've been in a while at our local universities. 


    this kind of optimism doesn't extend to the full profession yet - there's still some de-leveraging going on in the market, especially in very specific sectors that seemed to have (to most people) weathered the initial brunt of downturn - science and technology at university level is one area where we've seen layoffs over the past few months at a broader level. and there's plenty of global warning signs - the pain in spain is... well, beyond any real joking around. 

    but overall, it's a far busier spring than we've seen in a long time. it's truly a good thing.


    as we generally ramp up (and pray the knuckleheads in washington don't rain on our parade) there's some interesting questions for the profession over the next year:


    is this rebound 'genuine' (see the most recent aia architecture billings index - it's above the mendoza line of 50, but has slipped compared to recent months. and, overall, it's not growing at the rate a 'roaring recovery' would seem to indicate (and the economy itself isn't quite growing as fast as we'd all like). 


    are mergers and acquisitions 'done' or out on the side for a while? or will we see further consolidation and growth of the biggest firms as the mid-sized firm continues it's long steady decline?

    are we about to see a radical shift to it being an 'employee's' market? multiple offers for some of the best talent; lots of lateral or upwards moves (firm to firm, people who've left the industry coming back) on the increase, etc. and, if so, how will employers react?


    will we see 'the middle' - firms between 20 and 100 people - grow and thrive or be caught between more nimble, smaller firms and the crush of trans-global giants?

    there's nothing's scientific in these ruminations - that's up to the real researchers. but if the early signs around these parts hold for everyone else, hang on to your rotrings and let's all get back to work...


    • x-jla

      I'm skepticle man.  It seems good on the surface, but there are all sorts of economic problems still festering.  Europe is worse than ever.  Highest unemployment ever in many euro countries this last month.  I am keeping a weary eye on europe, because its gonna implode soon.  Many americans don't realise that europe is a much bigger economy than the US.  If it falls we all go down hard.  we are not getting the full story here in the US.  My fam. in europe tells me about daily riots, 50% real unemployment, banks fucking people silly, Gov't breaking contracts, the rise of right wing extremist groups.... Not to be a bummer, I am enjoying the slight uptick too, but I wouldn't spread too thin because I don't think it will last more than another 1-3 years...

      As for the US....I don't know.  There are many aspects of the economy that seem good on the surface like housing, but once you take a closer look you see that the numbers are really being inflated by unsustainable things like speculative investors, low inventory, banks witholding forclosed properties to inflate prices......Its kinda shady. 

      May 1, 13 12:39 pm  · 

      i'm more concerned than optimistic.  i suspect jla's comments might have some merit, along with some of the concerns you pointed out gregory.  also, china could hit an economic meltdown of sorts before too long.  along with that is tension in the mideast.  i actually find it a little hard to believe israel isn't really at war with someone yet, assuming isolated bombings don't count as all-out war yet.

      what i think, and this could be off, but a lot of our problem is policy supporting 'supply-side' economics (or voodoo economics, or reaganomics, or whatever you call it).  as a country we've placed this high value on investment income over dragging-your-ass-out-of-bed-and-going-to-work income.  even people that work seem to think the income from their 401k is more important than their income from working. 

      what i think the problem with that is, 'investors' - far more the really rich private equity people instead of us regular schmucks that dabble in retirement plans - are causing undo influence on prices.  since it's more valuable for them to invest in stuff instead of employ people or pay people decent wages or even try to produce something, they find something like dot com companies to invest in.  rich people are not rich because they're capable or smart.  that's one of the ayn rand fictions.  they didn't know shit about what they were investing in, they just threw money at it and it caused an asset bubble that caused widespread economic harm.  those of us who have to work for a living took most of the pain.  then they set their sights on real estate.  prices were set by what investors were willing to pay instead of what people could to pay for a house, and alot of people forgot their house is there for them to live in.  of course the over-valuation of houses caused a lot of people to refinance and burn their pretend equity, but i think if money came from working instead of investing, the whole idea of 'investing' in real estate would have been more limited.

      none of that has been addressed.  we still think we should get money for nothing, but don't entirely grasp that it's not those of us that work for living that are going to benefit.  ever.  at all.  we get to suffer through asset bubbles popping and unstable commodity prices.  our income will stagnate while the cost of our homes and our food will go up.

      in this context, architecture as a profession will improve when we're hired to design buildings for business that are growing because they are selling a product or service at a bit above their cost.  that isn't likely to happen until most people (those of us that have to work for a living) are getting a dependable income in sufficient levels to buy said products and services.  giving all the money to a few rich people and letting them use that to destabilize the economy through generally stupid and reactionary investment decisions is not the way to strengthen the economy overall.

      May 10, 13 10:26 am  · 

      i'm going to follow up my previous comment so i can get my post count up.

      this is a headline from the aia billings index article:

      Recession has softened salary expectations

      the way that i see the economy working is that if i can't afford a new car, then car dealerships aren't going to be hiring architects to design new buildings.  in theory, i should be towards the upper end of the economic spectrum, well educated professional and all.  so all things considered, there should be a lot of people making less than i do that can still buy a car.

      we can get a quick jump in car dealership buildings because of government intervention or if private equity decides that's a good place to dump money for a little while.  either way, that is not sustainable and the latter option will create another asset bubble in car dealerships that will burst.

      May 10, 13 10:39 am  · 

      do people still read old blogs?  do people spend much time thinking about economy type stuff?

      anyway, that article suggests homes are being valued based on what investors want to pay instead of what homes are really worth, or what homeowners want to pay.  homes are still a commodity rather than a place to live.  maybe there is some sort of 'new normal' we will settle on, but valuing commodities as an avenue for wealthy people's gambling instead of what the commodity actually is, will not create a stable economy.

      i'm pretty busy at work with real billable time, so that's a good thing.

      Jun 5, 13 10:31 am  · 

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Central to the blog is a long running interest in how we construct practices that enable and promote the kind of work we are all most interested in. From how firms are run, structured, and constructed, the main focus will be on exploring, expanding and demystifying how firms operate. I’ll be interviewing different practices – from startups to nationally recognized firms, bringing to print at least one a month. Our focus will be connecting Archinect readers with the business of practice.

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