Evolution of Architecture as a Profession


Don't get me wrong, I have always wanted to be an architect...but lately I seem to be disappointed with our profession:

Highest unemployment of all professions, (even art!)...

...low design quality, long hours, education gets more expensive every year and salaries don't cover the investment, generally underpaid all together.  Don't even get me started on the hurdles of getting licensed.

Architects as a whole seem to be very esteemed by the community, but when it comes to small projects, contractors scoop up the work claiming they "design"...

Where do you think our profession is headed?  What do you see happening in your neck of the woods?  Is there a better way to do business in our profession?

Jan 18, 12 5:46 pm

This is a huge question and I hope we'll see a good discussion on it.

I see large firms getting larger and retaining as much of a stranglehold as they can on the official term "architect" and the scope of our responsibilities on large projects.

At the same time, I see medium-sized firms disappearing.

And, I see small - micro, really - firms of one or two or six-ish people doing non-traditional work and expanding the definition of what architectural practice is.  These firms will likely not be licensed at all and will not feel the need to be, though inevitably they will bump up against projects that under current law need a licensed architect - and I see them fighting like hell to change the laws so that registration isn't needed, while the big firms fight to keep the status quo.

Jan 18, 12 5:59 pm

In other words, a mirror image of what is going on in the rest of the world - consolidation into corporate superstrutures that seek to dominate markets and eliminate competition.

Nice, Donna. Hadn't thought about it that way.


Jan 18, 12 6:06 pm

Here is one example in the residential space.  Years ago you would hire an architect to design your house etc...that still happens, but now there is a big boy on the block and he happens to be a publicly traded big builder (think Pulte, Toll Brothers, etc..).  This dynamic might be more pronounced in the west than back east but here is a scenario:

They develop housing developments in the thousands of units.  Customers come into a very polished showroom to view homes w/ "options".  Financing is already in place, and you are dealing with very seasoned sales people.

They do hire an architect, one of them, to sign and seal all those houses.  Every Friday you sit in a conference room and rubber stamp drawings.....

Thanks for the question itsme, I tried to start a similar thread on here recently, I think it's the most important question for the profession right now.



Jan 18, 12 6:21 pm

Architecture is not a public affair anymore. That is, it is not focused in the public realm and respectively it is not understood by the public realm. The closest 'architecture' gets these days to the public is through the image of the 'starchitect' and these views of the architect remain slave to the visual image and of course the economy. Of course these two are extremely vital in the creation of architecture - however, in the contemporary state they are out of balance. They work together as a team selling the idea of architecture to the masses. This force is so strong that even the most successful architects of our time use this as a way to forward there true motives. They have understood they must navigate our current world as a design problem, recognizing that they must use the system, stay as close to it as possible all while stepping back and being critical (look at architecture firms such as OMA)


So, you see interesting things happening in the Netherlands with urban planning initiatives and also in Denmark (for the past 40+ years) where the general public is involved and has an understanding of how architecture shapes and defines our world, they being to form opinions and become integrated in the larger discussion instead of just consuming images. 

So, with this being said. 

Where do I see architecture heading in the next years. As you can probably tell by the way I write I am young, and yes I am still in school. So maybe you could say I haven't been out in the 'real world' (although I do have work experience). You could say I am nieve -I'll take that. But honestly the way I see it - it is up to us. If you have the perspective and the ideas then you can navigate through these systems and make architecture what you want it to be. Open your eyes and use your resources, every day is a chance to make some sort of change but it doesn't happen without hard work. 

All comments and suggestions are welcome. I'm not saying I have it all figured out. I'm just saying I'm here to do something, not just sit around and point out what is disappointing about architecture, that is unproductive. 

Jan 18, 12 7:00 pm

Can anyone provide some references or links to some reading, or even anecdotal evidence would be helpful, of how the building industry got such a stranglehold? I've always wondered, who is this architect that just sits there and ruber-stamps this crap? How can things be built without an architect... how did we arrive at this point in time?

I've heard a lot of people blame the AIA, and that sounds like a fun band wagon to be on, but I'd like to know why.


Jan 18, 12 7:31 pm

Thanks for joining the conversation everyone! 

Donna, thanks for your insight!  BTW, I'm def rooting for those micro-firms: I think they are our only hope!!

Lance, thanks for asking the question: How did we even get here?  I've been asking myself the same thing.  I took a look at your portfolio, great work btw, and that takes us back to the question in the first place: how can so much great work come out of the university environment and in the "real world" we are where we are today?

Unfortunately Phil, I think even just 5 years out of college will discourage your optimistic view. It's not easy to change culture, but it would be nice...I wholeheartedly believe design really does make a difference.


Jan 18, 12 7:52 pm

It's hard to point fingers at any one person, institution, group, but I don't think pointing fingers really works. It's more about understanding the implications of the givens. Once you understand them you can begin to operate with them. Everything has happened for a reason usually with the 'best' intentions - or some sort of intention. It is important to understand these intentions when they were created and how they have effected the now. 



Jan 18, 12 8:43 pm



I think the real problem with architecture institutions these days is that they do not directly aid in allowing the students to understand the basic principle that design does make a different. In this same idea, EVERYTHING we do (or don't do) makes a difference in some way. What becomes important when the discussion of how to operate becomes too vast is how to bring it back into the now, assess your immediate resources and work towards a real solution you can achieve. Every day becomes an opportunity to make change, it's all about using your resources to their fullest, in what has been called the 'developed world' we have more then enough resources, maybe TOO many, so that the field becomes crowded and confusing. We need to have vision and perspective through this in order to achieve progress. 


Even though I am not yet out of architecture school I have begun to recognize my own method of operating and hope to one day extend this knowledge to understand my Country in a much more in depth way. I have begun to do this through a number of on going projects that are outside of my 'educational' work. One is a competition entry for the migrating landscapes exhibition to represent Canada in the 2012 Architecture Beinnale in Venice and the other is a smaller project looking at rebranding the identity of a local cycling advocacy group in Halifax. Any time I get a large idea, and the path to the goal becomes too far away, I snap the idea into the present in an attempt to verify my thoughts. I have also been active in explaining this method to my school in an attempt to try and modify current initiatives at our school. The aim is to take current design build projects and make them relavent to the immediate surroundings of the city, get more parties involved and show young designers that they can be a part of the larger picture. 


The Biennale competition proposal has currently been selected for the regional exhibition and we are waiting for the results for the final stage. The project can be viewed here:




Jan 18, 12 8:54 pm



I am reading a lot of books right now concerning the contemporary state of the profession, one I could recommend would be:

"Surveying the Field: Experiments in Architecture and Urban Culture, Education, and Practice? - released by the Berlage Institute 


If you don't already know this you should pick it up asap, I basically see it as a sort of architectural bible. It was just released not too long ago, although it summarizes the past 20 years of the institute and all the interesting operations surrounding it through numerous essays by many different people - A ton of perspective. Get prepared to be inspired. 

again mind my spelling errors. 

Jan 18, 12 8:58 pm

This is a great read by Buckminster Fuller:

Don't blame the AIA, they are a professional advocate for Architects.  I think many of these issues are a result of macro market forces like "globalization" and the need for corporations to turn everything into "commodities"

Jan 18, 12 9:09 pm

Just for clarification: I'm definitely not blaming the AIA because I don't know enough about the subject to even hold a strong opinion (and why I thought it'd be a good idea to ask) but have definitely heard rumblings around the camp fire...

But, thanks Keith and Phil, I will definitely check those books out. In my undergraduate I did a lot of research on suburbia, the cultural phenomenon itself and some historical ideas of where it came from, but from a contemporary standpoint, I'm a bit clueless as to where the architect fits in, if at all ... other than boutique firms that are able to do the occasional house commission. These are of course, nothing like the builder homes we see everywhere.

Thanks Itsme, for the portfolio props, and I often wonder myself... obviously we don't learn to build suburbia type developments in school, and I can't imagine that's being taught in planning and real estate as the wave of the future.... but yet it is still ubiquitous.



Jan 18, 12 10:08 pm

Good move Lance, the AIA, well they have these lists for young professionals, you don't want to get on those....enjoy the book, it's a great read, and when your done I have a biography on him to recommend, he was truly an uncompromising genius.

Jan 18, 12 10:21 pm
Dr. Architecture

As an educator, I think this is the perfect time to pursue architecture; the occupation of architect has the highest career satisfaction and the skills of an architect are in high demand in any number of career fields -- architects need use their leadership skills to address the issues of the world.  Below is one set of 25 "mind-expanding" trends.

From Commodity to Quintessence: 25 Trends
James P. Cramer and Jane Gaboury

Annual DesignIntelligence trends forecast for 2012-2015 recognizes new opportunities for greater relevance.

Jan 18, 12 10:30 pm

Architecture as a fashion statement and marketing tool - both aspects of a consumer society - is the driving force. Instead of community architects competing for important local projects, they are bypassed in favor of the latest poster boy or fad firm from EuroLand who incidentally have no understanding of or appreciation for the indigenous local environment.

Such projects are often directed by spouses of the monied elite who are by definition overflowing with taste, knowledge, intelligence and good looks, and who charitably volunteer these assets on the boards of various institutions that are hoping for big donations towards their project.

The end result is invariably a travesty not only of design but also of cost and impact as the budget necessary to build, maintain and staff a $40 million seasonal small-town facility is invariably overlooked during the planning stages amid all the oohs and ahhs of celebrity and monetary worship.

/rant off

Jan 18, 12 10:40 pm
pale shelter

I'd like to add another (obvious to us all) unfortunate reality of the poor state of architecture and the built environment today: the automobile. I work in mainly the downtown condo and multi-family housing sector these days and, well if anyone of you are familiar with parking -  getting all those stall counts is the most overreaching program in these projects! By far! Money is the driver; and architecture, quality of space,  walkable, human-scaled outdoor space is...drastically, sacrificed - sacrificed to the insanity in how much money we spend on below grade and surface parking. It has crippled our neighborhoods already, and we've lost to the public the understanding of how important it is to build our cities with cultural integrity, beauty, proportion, pedestrian designed, human scaled structures.

Here are two articles:

Great images here of Buffalo "Then and Now" (and this is in every american city) :

LASTLY: I find it completely distasteful and wrong-doing when our (publicly-known) architects, I mean starchitects CELEBRATE the parking ramps by designing them like spaceships or making voluminous concrete spanning eye-catchers as Zach Hadid has done twice now. Shameful. How much more money will we spend on these fckng structures? Bury them (hide them) and reduce the number of them. They hold no value.

Jan 18, 12 11:30 pm

Re: parking

Best thing about the condos (for the residents): they never have to show their face on the street again.

Worst thing about the condos: the residents never have to show their face on the street again.

Jan 18, 12 11:55 pm

pale shelter -- Excellent point, and Corbu's principle failure as a designer, failing to understand the impact of the automobile on society.

Brian -- Thanks for the link to the latest level of absolute architectural absurdity. Perfect for those too good to rub shoulders with the unwashed masses of humanity.


Jan 19, 12 11:58 am

Keith--Thanks! I will try my best to keep off -that- list...

I wonder though, if we consider the use of the automobile as a given... are there better alternatives to parking garages? I mean, some schools of thought might say it's better to coral them into one centralized spot, sort of like a "park and ride," like we have up here in the Northwest, where people drive to a garage outside the city and then use transit to ride in. This then eases car congestion in the city.

Cities like Paris take a different approach... the boulevard strategy where cars park along the sides of streets and create a buffer between pedestrians and autos...

It is also interesting to think that so-called clean technology like battery powered cars and far off hydrogen powered cars still wouldn't alleviate our modes and patterns of development....

....still end up with sprawling parking lots like that Buffalo example

Jan 19, 12 5:17 pm

Great response Donna exactly the way I feel. The medium sized firm I have been with "merged" (was acquired by) a huge global firm out of Toronto. I have never been more miserable. I do see exactly what Donna suggests, small firms being local or regional, with the big guys fighting over the large projects, and dismissing anything that they see as not profitable. Look for the micro firms to produce much better work, provide better service, and bring Architecture back to those who seek personal attention, quality service, passionate design and excitement. If everything is going global, someone has to stay back and be local....and that is who I see coming out ahead in the not so distant future. These large firms are not growing organically, acquiring firms before knowing how to run such a large organization...Things will not turn out well for most of these fast growing huge firms.

Jan 19, 12 5:37 pm

And another thing i agree with that Donna pointed out, is the micro firm expanding the definition of an Architect....expanding perhaps backwards...The Architects of the past were more well versed in and more knowledgable in the building process, and had a grasp on M.E.P. to a greater degree than todays. Granted, things have gotten more complex...

Jan 19, 12 5:47 pm


We are in a Dark Age on numerous levels, including Architecture.  Jane Jacobs has a great book by the title of 'Dark Age Ahead'.  That time is NOW.  Actually, you could easily say it goes back at least 50 years...or however long ago discrete zoning was initiated.

I think Donna is right--micro firms are generally the only ones who even begin to entertain the idea of creative practice.  Along with this potential...the risk.  This kind of practice is highly volatile, but that is the trade-off.

Fantastic links, Pale Shelter!  There's a BBC documentary called ""Why I Hate The Sixties" which interviewed a cultural critic who says he asks older architects what they were doing in the the same way you might ask a German what they were doing during the War.  "Were you knocking down town centers for us?...where you taking apart 18th century town centers and putting in concrete monstrosities?..."

Jan 19, 12 7:58 pm

Miles, by "perfect for those too good to rub shoulders with the unwashed masses of humanity," you mean Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban [and almost Kelsey Grammer], right?

I think I came across an article that was calling the condo 'paparazzi-proof' but I can't seem to find the link right now.

I will confess I stole the car lift idea for a residential tower project in Chicago while in school, but the sentiment was totally different. The site was constricting and the parking requirements made for a lot of wasted space both above or below grade as well as a ridiculous street presence. So instead I threw in a couple of car lifts and made the argument for space efficiency and lease-ability and the future adaptability of the garage space if the personal automobile goes the way of the Dodo.

Jan 19, 12 8:34 pm

it's really hard to disagree with donna's thoughts; i'll come to the same conclusions but from a different angle for each (complimentary in sum): the large firms are, absolutely, going to get larger, through mergers by publicly held entities (aecom; rmjm; jacobs) or through internal mergers. the primary goal will be to expand services, increase market reach globally (to prevent one country's 'flu' from taking down the company) and to purse the likely work - larger infrastructure related projects; very large corporate or medical projects and large federal projects. 


midsize firms (20-150) are going to have a very difficult time because their primary sources of work (at least in the u.s.) are drying up - the 20-50M university or developer driven projects. yes, the best will survive, but just as one example in atlanta: one of the best firms here - one i'm an ex employee of (proudly) - has had a rough time the last year because their core work - those 10-50M university projects - are just about gone. there's maybe 6-8 that were started last year. they only got one. the design fees on that keep about 4-5 people employed. out of 120. they're not heavily invested in doing work overseas and were largely based on the east coast - mostly in the south atlantic. they haven't become less skilled - their work has disappeared. and they have a lot of overhead. it's not a good combination and one that plenty of firms face. if these kinds of firms are going to survive (imho), they've got to become experts in something and broaden their reach - through alliances or something - to cover the entire u.s. (this particular firm certainly has the expertise covered). 


small firms - i'm going to say 20 or less - will do well, if they can manage their workflow and overhead. if they get bloated and the workflow stops... not good. they'll just die. but, these kinds of firms will become boutiques, of a sort - maybe they focus on experimental or exemplary design, maybe they vertically integrate (doing, say, everything to help a restaurant get up and running), maybe they are 2 people teaching and take on an occasional practice. it'll be impossible to categorize this group -


one other thought on firms: i think almost all of us are doing things to diversify away from relying on 'traditional practice' - there's no way you can do 'just' architecture without being recognized as an elite design firm and hope to survive the inevitable market shocks. we're all doing different things, but ideally, whatever your 'side projects' are should be integrated into something that supports the business as a whole. 


cleaning up some other loose ends above: keith, i don't know how every builder does their homes, but toll has a few architects (licensed) on staff who actually do the designs. seen it firsthand through a friend who works there. they don't hire 'outside' architects and do have pure drafters. largely, though, they design kits of parts and put them together for the various houses. variation up to a point.

lance - the aia is what it is. and your approach is pretty intuitively right. just find someone to be your early 'patron' - someone who'll give you a chance to exercise that voice. it's hugely important.

kevin - dead on. i'm trying to be one of 'those' small firms. we're not perfect, but we get work using that exact attitude. and, if you read through my blog posts, we haven't lost one to perkins + will going head to head... interestingly, we've been approached by 2 firms in the past 3 years looking to 'acquire' us, which we've turned down for different reasons. plan to stay the size we need to be to do the work the way we want to do it. if that's 7, great. if it's 20, great. better margins are always going to beat higher numbers...

Jan 19, 12 10:50 pm

miles - my experience is that most communities actually hire someone who's nothing but local, even if it means hiring someone who's clearly incapable of doing a high profile project. long island (if you're living where your father practiced) is a weird animal - i could definitely see it being as you describe, but i've seen more of the converse situations (just my experience - neither leads to getting the right firm for the right job). 



Jan 19, 12 10:55 pm

Greg, sure, I interviewed with one of them years ago and that's kinda how they laid out the position.  I did not articulate it accurately, yes you are correct, I meant "in house" architects.

I am trying to illustrate how within that one building type the development of a business model (essentially started with Levitt Town from 60 years ago) can redefine how those structures get built on a large scale.  A consequence is the reduction of the demand for traditional architectural services for residences by architects.

I once heard an economist describe market forces as similar to nature, they have no conscious and can be quite ruthless at times.

I am not saying that the residential space goes away completely, but this dynamic is certainly having a profound impact (in my opinion), I would like to see a study on this if it has been documented.


Jan 20, 12 10:50 am

Pale and Miles ( a quote feature could be nice) ,

I think you have identified a true departure point in calling out the automobile as a negative towards the social vitality of the city. However, I think it is false try to work directly against this reality, but more try to understand its implications and integrate around it. My developing thesis project aims at navigating this reality, my ideas developed around a recent work term in Copenaghen Denmark. I am all for alternatives, I think this is what North American needs - basically to wake up the the reality that oil is not forever. I will be the first one to say we need to change, but now it becomes a matter of how to do this successfully. So I tried to understand how to bridge the gap between cultural norms in Denmark and North America - and the difference in conditions are blatantly apparent and exist on all levels of operation. My ideas for change are large but I try to bring them down to a level in which I can work with my available resources in the present. I am working with a cycling advocacy group in my city of study, Halifax, to redesign their methodology and make the movement more effective. There are always ways in which to operate and make change and this is a design problem in itself - deisgners of today need to broaden their scope and realize how to do work in the present, instead of just speculating in the virtual world. 


This leads me to my second point (Miles). The comment you made on Corbusier, however accurate, is not useful. Instead of looking back in a negative way on the past we need to understand the broader context to their actions and beliefs and extract a lesson to use in the present. The car was the most exciting new technology, and it infiltrated the minds of the every one and every realm, they were thinking in a futuristic, technocratic way, but without understanding a more complete set of implications. There are many valuable lessons to learn from Corbusier, despite what could be regarded as faults, he was great, and he accomplished a lot of real built projects, more then I have ever done (right?). So this reality says something about how the people of his time believed in his work and how he was able to operate as an architect. We can accomplish more by understanding architecture as a complex evolution connected to many parts of life, rather then negatively looking at 'faults'. Not trying to be rude, just offer a new perspective. 


I like this thread,

sorry for ranting and potential spelling / grammer errors. 

Jan 20, 12 2:02 pm

Phil, understanding history is essential, as those who don't remember it are doomed to repeat it.

Many of the problems we face today are due to rapid and ravenous exploitation of various materials and technologies without understanding of anything other than their commercial potential. This applies to everything from cars to GMOs.

Until we look at everything we design as an integral part of a complex dynamic system, with the potential to amplify or reduce various behaviors and activities (many of which we utterly fail to recognize), we are not fulfilling our responsibilities as designers.

Jan 20, 12 3:08 pm

The intermediate term future of the profession will look pretty much the same as it does today.

Large economically and socially connected firms will do the plum projects; unlicensed "designers" and other non-professionals will drain away small jobs; middle-sized firms will struggle; the profession will remain overcrowded; salaries will continue to fall relative to other occupations; architecture students will continue to take on insane levels of debt they can't repay for degrees that lead only to the unemployment line; universities will continue offering graduate degrees in sub-specialties for which no real economic demand exists; the profession will continue to be a plaything for those able to practice as a hobby; architects will continue to be the laughing stock of the real estate/construction industries; the A.I.A. will continue to be irrelevant; and forums like this will continue to be therapy sessions for embittered old farts like me and young idealists who want to remake the world when they can't even make a living.

As the Arab saying goes: the dogs bark and the caravan keeps moving.

Jan 21, 12 12:14 pm



Jan 21, 12 12:41 pm

I could have added that the legal liabilities will continue to be unknown and terrifying; developers will continue to beat fees down to the basement and then refuse to pay even that much; building departments will continue to require more and more hoops to jump through that the architect can't build into the fee; and macro economic cycles will continue to upend and sometimes destroy the most carefully conceived projects and careers.

The dogs are still barking. 

Jan 21, 12 12:58 pm

Well I know where to direct all those newbie "should I be an architect" threads!

Jan 21, 12 1:37 pm

You don't have to be passionate to be an architect, you have to be demented.



Jan 21, 12 2:09 pm

trace:  Sorry for the negativity, but am I missing something?  Is this not the state of the profession currently?  As least the newbies can't wake up when they are 38 years old and say they were never warned.

Jan 21, 12 2:11 pm

Geezer, WOW!  I do not see it as negativity at all.  I see your assessment and an honest, direct, and frankly blunt perspective on the trajectory of the profession.

Just so the readers understand your background, may I inquire how many years you have been in the business?

Personally, I am finding that conversations I have with people who have been doing this for +30 years to be incredibly informative as they have the experience and wealth of knowledge on the ground as actual practitioners.  For me this is the most trusted source of information, rather than the reports, graphs and articles. 

I would suggest that all you folks debating schools, entering the profession etc...go interview a dozen senior architects in your local, I bet if you buy them lunch they would be happy to do so.  Best $12 you ever spent.

Jan 21, 12 2:31 pm
wurdan freo

What he said. Geezer. That was awesome! Sounds like a couple of seasoned vets I have talked to about starting my own practice.

Jan 21, 12 3:17 pm

I am now 64 years old (geezer is the word) and am joyfully retired!  Graduated in '71 and spent the bulk of my working years in architecture.  Upper end and tract residential to small and medium commercial and multi-family.

Yes, it's a good idea to talk to professionals.  Newbies should get as many opinions as they can.  Some will be positive and some won't.  You just have to weigh each one and judge where the truth is.  If a newbie invites an architect to lunch, undoubtedly the archie will pay unless he is REALLY  hard up.  Some may just blow you off.  Don't take it personally.  I wish I had done something like that back in the day.  It would have at least given me a heads up.

I think conditions in the shorter term will probably improve from here.  They couldn't get much worse.  My worry for the younger people is more for the long term.  I started reading this forum a few months back, and frankly even I have been shocked at what apparently is the norm now.  When I got out of school, I don't remember ANY of this nonsense about unpaid internships, etc.  It's truly shocking.  Architecture was never the path to riches, but I started out at $4.00 per  hour, major medical insurance, and two weeks vacation.  Sounds like a pittance, but in those days in a middle sized city you could rent a beautiful one-bedroom apartment in a spiffy highrise for $190.00 a month, and a new car was $3K.  I was able to live quite comfortably on my income.  I'm appalled at the notion of minimum wage being paid to Ivy grads by starchitects.  Prestige law firms take pride in paying high salaries.  Architects on the other hand have the attitude that I got screwed so why shouldn't you?  You don't build a first rate profession with third rate ethics.

Jan 21, 12 4:07 pm
pale shelter

geezertect - i see that we have similar thoughts on the architects eat their young theory given you say "architects have the attitude that i got screwed, why shouldn't you?". I think this is an incredible misfortune of our profession. This, combined with the fact that getting licensed at a firm garners nearly nothing, perpetuates the poor-pride-in-compensation reality in our profession - and maybe even degrades our prestige or public respect, given we have so many architects not seeing the value in getting licensed.

Appears we have (2) debates going on in this thread; so, back to the car madness:

Phil Wilson: with all do respect, you will have to condense and fortify your thoughts in regards to what you're trying to say: "I think it is false try to work directly against this reality, but more try to understand its implications and integrate around it". In other words, what do you mean by your reaction to some of us saying the car has destroyed much of our culture? It has, period. What can we do about it? I'll give it a shot, not the run-around: <please note: i am from midwest urban-sprawl usa, and not a historically rich, beautiful and dense pre-automobile-city europe>

Incentives $ towards one-car households (or less) in downtowns. <some ppl believe in penalties to car usage.. "raise the gas tax, make it expensive like they do in europe"..."this will wean them off the car" > Not in America. Can you imagine the reaction in this country?!! "jobs, jobs jobs, economy crash economy..."" We need people to do the financial breakdown cost-benefit analysis. This is how we think. Save $.

If I were to understand that sharing a car with my roommate would save money - AND we get $1500 a year in tax breaks from the city, great! That's money I save from car insurance, maintenance, etc. Let me make the decision if I wish to save money from omitting my car. I want to know the cost-per-citizen for annual road maintenance anyway in this country.... about $1500/yr/driver?!

Lower parking requirements per city-code. May not make the development feasible (most ppl own cars), but if the developer can made inroads in leasing nearby parking ramps to fulfill needs, we can build less new parking and utilize the ABSURD AMOUNT OF EXISTING PARKING in this country. My apartment could employ valet's to retrieve my car for me as part of my basic services provided.

Parking in america, baby:



UPS logistics-style Taxi-group-service?: (more urban (private) transit options) i'm not going to get into this.

Others, anyone? <       >

Please understand, we can't change this all with "big, think-outside-the-box, re-invent the wheel ideas". Just getting 1 out of 10 cars out of our downtowns should be our goal over the near future.... and continue from there... (more cycling and walking will inevitable emerge)...

Jan 21, 12 6:04 pm
pale shelter

a despise long posts.

Jan 21, 12 6:04 pm

seriously, the car debate is a tired one, it should go into retirement along with all those geezers that live in NU neighborhoods.

Its a planning debate, not necessarily an architectural one, and it continually derails every thread into some conservative ranting.


Attaining some real power to demand higher fees, and real prestige that can match up to all the hours we work, that should be our goal.

Creating more traditional pedestrian-friendly cities, is not enough, the profession is much more complex than that





Jan 22, 12 7:18 am

geezer - I was being serious and appreciate your insight.  I realized, half way through grad school (of 7 straight years of arch ed) that I would not be fulfilled following a traditional architecture career plan (I enjoy designing, creativity and getting paid too much!).

You'll see I am fairly consistent in my recommendations to students or younger ones.  What I have never addressed is the future, which would pretty much solidify and conclude my advice and opinions.


Until design, in architecture (as every other creative profession has managed to demonstrate that great design is worth money), is given priority the profession will continue to plummet to the lowest common denominator.  Unfortunately, the AIA and others see every architect as equal, regardless of creative talent.

Until that changes, imho, it comes down to who can put up a building for less money, with design being left to the stararchitects (where they have built a brand, which possesses monetary value).


The only opportunities I see is from a developer's view (a la Jonathan Segal), which is the approach that interests me.  If an architect can control the design, benefit from the profit and share the risk, then they can have it all.  Unfortunately, not many architects go this route (for many reasons, of course).

Jan 22, 12 9:55 am

The AIA is primarily a vehicle to advance the interests of large corporate firms.

@Graham: Architecture is planning, and architects should have a seat at the table of urban and community planning. Domination by financial, development and political interests has shaped the world we live in.

@trace™: Architect as developer results in design for market rather than innovative designs, which usually fail commercially. There are some examples of government funded development such as Habitat that show how removing the commercial developer allows other possibilities to flourish.

@geezer: Third rate ethics seem widespread if not dominant in our society, to the detriment of all.

Jan 22, 12 1:32 pm

The developer/architects that I am familiar with (granted, not a large number) are more innovative than 99% of architects out there.  Knowing what can be built (vs. what you want to be built), what can be funded and being the one that prioritizes each piece is (possibly) empowering.

Being truly innovative is a balance of imagining possibilities and executing a plan to make them happen.  You can't get there without some way to make it happen (a la funding).  How/where you get that is just your business model, there are many possibilities.


Personally, I don't really see many innovative designs out there, period. 

Jan 22, 12 1:56 pm

"Attaining some real power to demand higher fees"

"Until design, in architecture (as every other creative profession has managed to demonstrate that great design is worth money), is given priority the profession will continue to plummet to the lowest common denominator"


why is there this attitude that we have to be 'given' more priority/power/responsibility/etc? most of our problems are a direct result of RUNNING AWAY from the parts of the construction process that we didn't want to deal with. 


no one's going to GIVE us that back. you can make the decision for yourself if want to TAKE that power/responsibility/etc. from everyone else we've given it away to or not.



Jan 22, 12 2:29 pm

and yes, trace, a lot of our diminished power comes from not understanding (outright) nor being seen as the ones who will best lead the construction process. we asked to be set decorators and that's what we've been GIVEN. 


prove to your clients that you truly can manage and control the money and a lot will be entrusted to you. 

Jan 22, 12 2:31 pm

I look at things from the opposite side, I suppose.  To me, coming from other design oriented professions, quality = money.  Execution is very important, of course, but that's not the hard part, plenty of qualified folk that can build something well (whether it be programming or construction). 

Architecture does not promote (again, with the exception of stararchitects and a few random others) design as the value to invest in.  It promotes the lowest common denominator, not the highest. 

Large firms will continue to lower things into being "production" houses.  Surely they will execute well, save pennies, etc., but they will do nothing to elevate the design side of architecture.


Other professions charge and pay more for the design talent, not the other way around.  That's my point, that in architecture it is backwards, and, hence, it plummets.


Jan 22, 12 4:31 pm

The developer/architects that I am familiar with (granted, not a large number) are more innovative than 99% of architects out there.  Knowing what can be built (vs. what you want to be built), what can be funded and being the one that prioritizes each piece is (possibly) empowering.


it's only financially risky to be "innovative" as a developer (and for many it's not a big deal to lose a few million dollars).  For architects to be "innovative" is taking on a very different and much bigger risk.  we stand to lose a lot more when projects don't work.

Jan 22, 12 5:38 pm


"the car debate is a tired one, it should go into retirement"....says the fish about water---or, rather, says the fish which no longer has water and is slowly suffocating. 

Imagine a ubiquitous Black Plague.  You're a doctor, but you go on insisting on the 'complexity' of medical theory and in taking the profession into some mysterious 'progressive' territory (god forbid, 'conservative').

The annihilation of our physical and social landscape as a result of automobile-centric planning is analogous to that Black Plague.  It could even be argued the cause of the death of Architecture.  Many twisted artists and architects actually get off on the gore (or their pretty analysis drawings of it).

There's a fallacy in thinking things are more complex than they are.  Taking some simple, 'boring' ethical positions is what society needs more than more of the same infinitely subtle artistic riffs.

DENSITY of population matters more to society than anything anybody learned or ever will learn in architecture school.

Jan 23, 12 8:39 am

"Other professions charge and pay more for the design talent, not the other way around.  That's my point, that in architecture it is backwards, and, hence, it plummets."


ah, different issue (if i'm understanding your point). yes, the 'best' architects tend to pay less for getting the best talent to join them. it's really a weird phenomena from a contemporary practice standpoint (relative to other professions and industries) but not so weird as a legacy from the atelier model. 


but, if you're referring to quality=money from the client side, i absolutely think that's the case. the reality we don't seem to want to face is that (a) most clients don't really want high quality because they don't want to pay for it and (b) the few clients that do, tend to play it safe and hire the same (big) names or tap people who are flagged as 'legit' by the media or other establishments. or they hire someone they like and trust, regardless of their ability. what's wrong with that? 


what we're really bemoaning is that there's fewer opportunities for a broader range of architects to enjoy doing 'satisfying' work. which, i think, can be cured if the architect quits thinking of themselves as a pure 'artist', gets in and learns to lead the client through the process of getting stuff built. meaning, you'll have to bust the contractor upside the head, argue with code officials and do all sorts of stuff to try and keep what you're doing on track. gehry, if you look back, cut his teeth for 20 years doing work that most certainly would not be recognized as being 'GEHRY'. he learned how to build the conventional ways before he started abusing (and then transforming) it. most architects neither want to wait that long to learn or are afraid of getting their hands bloody and are perfectly willing to whine about being 'misunderstood'.... 

Jan 23, 12 9:27 am

I think we are on the same page, just different priorities.


Here's an example - I have been more aggressively pursuing photography these last few years and am starting to incorporate it into my business.  What do I charge?  Well, with the architecture model, I would charge a flat rate, regardless of my talent.  Thankfully, architecture is the only creative profession that is determined to lower everyone to one common denominator (sadly, it has followed construction, it seems).  So, with photography I can charge what my talent allows. 

I know some soso photogs that will charge 3000 for a wedding, then I know another (local) photog that charges 30000+ per wedding.  That's quite a difference! 


The point being, that if architecture were to charge in a similar fashion, it would promote talent and recruit more ambitious/talented youth, as they would have the chance to be rewarded both financially and creatively.  Unfortunately, architecture continues to promote a lower and lower common denominator, where it is (more or less) down to the lowest bidders.

There is no value, or very little value, placed on the design/creative side.  This, from where I sit, is why architecture continues to decline, pay is going down, etc.


(note that the above example with photography is also applicable to law, medicine and a host of other professions - there is value in talent and people understand this, pay for it and benefit from it)

Jan 23, 12 10:18 am

Trace, if I may, it sounds like what you are describing above is something called a "commodity"

": a good or service whose wide availability typically leads to smaller profit margins and diminishes the importance of factors (as brand name) other than price" - Source Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Now what I am wondering is do you really have a registered trade mark (TM)?  Careful, I am very good with intellectual property issues!

Jan 23, 12 10:29 am

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