sick of architecture being called a bad profession


Actually it is the truth. Architecture is brutal and unstable, and not really worth the sacrifice required to practice it. The economic collapse resulted in my essentially being retired at age 50 with no benefits.

It has been an incredible adventure from undergraduate school at University of Houston in the 1980's, to Graduate Scholl at Columbia University and a degree in Historic Preservation. I came to Philadelphia in late 1988 and met my wife here. Without the ambition to leave the old South, where my family lived since the 1790's, I would never have met her, and for that I am a fortunate man. I have lived through over 10 layoffs in my career, which also includes years as an adjunct professor at Philadelphia University.

I have lived in lofts, tenements, dormitories, rowhouses, and once lived out of a YMCA near Grand central Station. Its a miracle that I have a small istoric home in Glenside PA. Hope I can keep it.

Work was good briefly and fell off during the 1991 recession. Through training in a former classmate's basement, I learned CAD and revived myself professionally in 1998-2009. I had a great run in Philadelphia, working on numerous large existing building projects. The layoff in 2009 appears to have ended my career. New young talent with new computer skills has taken my generation's place already.

My wife is in medicine, thank god. I earn a small income as a restoration artisan, antique dealer, and  scrap metal merchant. I still draw occasionally, but realize that professionally, I am a beaten man. My son, who has similar skills to me, has been warned to  stay away from architecture and high-priced college education in favor of trade school.

I wish you new young architects well. Perhaps you will outlive what happened in 2008-09. I doubt I will be back. Let meknow if you have antique furniture or an old house which needs some work. Thanks!


Feb 26, 12 8:36 pm
Lian Chikako Chang

I logged in to Archinect to post this NYT article about "lottery" professions and saw your post. Seemed relevant.

Feb 26, 12 9:45 pm



thats too bad 

"I still draw occasionally, but realize that professionally, I am a beaten man. My son, who has similar skills to me, has been warned to  stay away from architecture and high-priced college education in favor of trade school."

I did not enter the architecture profession until I was 54 - I was laid of in 2008 - but made a point to learn all the latest computer skills like Revit and have been working since 2010 - you sir need to to do the same and get moving or you will be sorry at 60 - I just turned 60, and am glad I never capitulated to circumstances - you need to set a good example for your son and not surrender - don't be a beaten man - set a good example.

Feb 26, 12 10:03 pm
Justin Ather Maud

Hard not to be beaten when you have been beaten.

Feb 27, 12 8:57 am

"sick of architecture being called a bad profession"

I'm sick of architecture being a bad profession.

Feb 27, 12 9:26 am

Fifty is not old.  Don't give up on life, but do consider the pros and cons of giving up on architecture.  Yes, there will be a demand for older architects' knowledge if and when things turn around.  A lot of these CAD jockeys know software but I really question whether they know which end of the hammer you use to hit the nail.  The problem is that it could take many, many years for the market to normalize, and you have to eat in the interim.  And, will there be so many other practitioners desperate to get back in the game that compensation levels will continue to be a joke?

Consider acquiring a few blue collar trade skills.  Plumbing, electrical, welding, auto body.  Don't laugh.  The time and expense of stringing a few of these together probably has a bigger payoff than skulking back to grad school for another useless design credential.  They may not impress anyone at a cocktail party, but there's nothing very prestigious about unemployment either.

Just a thought.


Feb 27, 12 3:00 pm

There is light at the end of the tunnel in that the baby boomer genetion will be gone once and for all.  Hopefully our generation won't be as stupid and reckless when it comes to spending and a lot wiser about the world in general..  You can already see traces of it in the younger generation.

It is the older generation who fucked everything up - drove prices to suffocating levels (anyone try to buy a house in the last few years...?  Not fun), started a bunch of useless wars killing thousands from my generation and maiming thousands more, made everyone in the entire world hate us, drove most businesses into the ground, and the younger generation is made to suffer.  Does the older generation have no shame when they see a 23 year old in a wheelchair with blown off legs for a fucking war that you started and were too big of cowards to fight in?

I've been with three major firms since graduation in the early 2000s and seen the brunt of the workforce being laid off as younger people (aged 23-35 and only down the stretch were older folks finally laid off ).  What kind of message does that send everyone - particularly to the younger generation ?  Of course your son is going to be discouraged from entering the profession.  You guys fucked it for everyone and took it ALL out on us.

Feb 27, 12 4:02 pm


You need to learn not to react - "It is the older generation who fucked everything up "

be lucky you have a job - many over 50 never will again - better plan for the future now while you can because failing to plan is planning to fail.

Feb 27, 12 4:16 pm

Well, I just interviewed for a position, and was up there in the running. I just learnt that they hired someone with 15 years more experience than me, and wanted to work for much lesser pay than me. Maybe this is the place to say "fuck the old farts", or something like that, but the truth is that everyone, including, yes, the oldies are all screwed in this huge mess of an economy.

Med., I do not know if we should blame the baby boomers, or the 23-year old starbucks barista I know, who bought a house and a spanking new car during the credit boom. Or the young architect couple, who bought TWO houses, and now lost both of them. The stupidity that has resulted in this fuck-all mess is not restricted to a certain generation or age group, but to the notion of living the American Dream -- Extra Large.

We have been leading this unsustainable way of life for a while, and as much as we blame the older generation, I do not think that young hipsters can do anything better with their food truck and Etsy economy.

Feb 27, 12 4:25 pm

Don't get me wrong - there are peope in my generation who would even be bolder than the older generation and baby boombers.  Read about the Tea Party and the fact they want to get us into another briliantly run war with IRAN this time.

I know that some of what I say is a little hysterical but it really pisses me off when I see a good buddy of mine who has been with a firm for over 6 years doing some amazing work (could put together a CD set blindfolded) only to get laid off after he and his wife just had twns.  He was a big target because he requested a three week leave and needed to relieve his wife of taking care of the kids so that she could get back to work.  RESULT:  they were both laid off from two different firms the same week.  One was an architect the other wasn't.  So clearly this is all accross the board.

When I experienced the first waves of layoffs in late 2008, every single person who was laid of was between the ages of 22-35.  That was 30 people - same thing with the second round.  I myself was laid off after surviving 6 rounds of layoffs between two different firms.  I remember it being me and 4 other younger people and we were all being lectured by the older windbags who only seemed to add insult to injury.  This has been everyone's experience who I've known.

I agree with you that we DO have an unsustainable lifestyle that will not last unless we want to be like Greece.

Feb 27, 12 4:42 pm

late 2008 I got laid off - except I was 54 at the timeand very proficient with Revit  - they said "you don't have much runway  in front of you" - I was only able to get back in the game 15 months later - albeit at less pay - some of the people I work for now, are 1/2 my age - they do the design and I do production.

Feb 27, 12 4:54 pm

Sorry, med., your generation will make a mess, too.  All generations make messes.  The world has been a mess since time began.  Want to talk about greed and stupidity fucking up the economy?  Look at what your great-grandparents and great-great grandparents did to create the Great Depression and the Holocaust.  Young people dead and maimed in stupid wars?  We've lost about 4,600 in Iraq and Afganistan.  A tragedy, but only a fraction of the 58,000 (mostly boomers) lost in Viet Nam.  At least your generation has a choice of being in harm's way.  Our generation got DRAFTED.  Be grateful we horrible boomers got rid of military conscription!

The truth is it is the political and economic elites of any generation who make the decisions good and bad.  The rest of us are just along for the ride.

The only thing we learn from history is that we don't learn anything from history.  It's the human condition.

Have a nice day!  :-) 

Feb 27, 12 5:04 pm

I also want to point out, re: the age issue, that in 2016 the 18-40 year olds will make up the biggest voting block in US history.  Things can change IF that generation votes and doesn't turn into mindless evangelical idiots.

Things suck for everyone right now, but those of you under 45 have more time to for things to turn around.

Feb 27, 12 5:27 pm

I'll add too that the jobs postings on Archinect seem to be picking up, and I know two firms in my city that have advertised for new positions recently.

Feb 27, 12 5:32 pm

basically - those over 45 had their chance and need to let the millennials call the shots esp. in architecture - take look at who is most capable in terms of the latest design and design technology. 

Feb 27, 12 5:57 pm

lol zenakis.

Feb 27, 12 6:20 pm

lol? jeez every place I worked at - it was the Rhino drivers + Revit heads, ex video game types that were pushing things.

Feb 27, 12 6:32 pm
Erik Evens (EKE)

"basically - those over 45 had their chance and need to let the millennials call the shots esp. in architecture - take look at who is most capable in terms of the latest design and design technology."

I have to smile to myself when I see the "move over, Pops" talk coming from 20-somethings.  As a rule, architects don't become really good at what they do until after 50, in my opinion.  It takes that long.

To quote Lester Burnham:  "You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday."

If you love it, keep going.

Feb 27, 12 6:55 pm

EKE, yes, architects might have to wait till 50 to "become good", but frankly, a lot of us need to survive first in order to wait to become good.

The problem is the structure that is set up, especially in this country for architecture. It is a hierarchical, crappy structure advocated by the AIA, where the highest level most of us will get to is a PM. Not everyone is partner material, and frankly most of the sustained work is at corporate gigs, where they really adhere to the pyramid structure.

There is just not enough work to go around, and the sooner things change from the top, the better it is going to be to spread the work amongst all generations.

Feb 27, 12 8:18 pm
Erik Evens (EKE)

I realize that it's frustrating and very, very difficult for many, especially in this new economic reality. 


I'm interested in what your recommendation for an alternate structure for practice might be that you think might help.

Feb 27, 12 8:26 pm

EKE, I do not think I am qualified enough, on my own to recommend an alternate structure for an architecture practice, but the way to do it is probably gather a few diverse minds and then going at it.

I have worked quite a bit with other design professionals like Set Designers and  Entertainment Designers, and find it quite remarkable how they do not take themselves as seriously as us, and even younger designers are compensated based on their input to projects, not seniority. That could be one of the ways to go...

Feb 27, 12 8:37 pm

Older architects with a license who are not working could be excellent mentors and help young emerging professionals get through the IDP and ARE obstacle course. 

Be an architect to those who could never afford one. You have skills and you have compassion for others, I think I hope most folks chose architecture as a career because they honestly believe they can make the world or at least the parts they come in contact with better.  Look around and find a problem that needs a designed solution.  Once you have a problem find an intern to mentor who can help you with the technology, you help them by giving them your knowledge and experience.  Sounds a bit lofty and aggrandizing but I believe this course will make you happy to be an architect even though times are hard. I am really envious of you because you have a loving spouse who can support you and I think the two of you could use your resources to do a few wonderful projects in a deserving community. My mentor is in his seventies and he is eager and excited to get up and do architectural stuff with myself and a few other emerging professionals, we appreciate his contribution and he seems to enjoy the opportunity to keep practicing.

We are working on a community garden for a community that has a lot of disabled folks this has ramps, benches, planting boxes and a shed.  Not something a designer in a huge office or even a small one would be able to spend much time on.  Maybe there is a playground that could be restored or park pavilions that need historic preservation or just an advocate for their preservation.

I believe that as a younger emerging professional when the recession is behind us and jobs are offered the mossy logs will be the last ones pulled from the pile. I am determined to keep rolling forward and I hope you are too.

Be an activist architect, you will be surprised at how quickly you get recognition in the community and request to use your talents on other projects. Working for a community with civic authorities can get you a lot of contacts and potential allies who want to give you something in exchange for the design expertise you gave their cause. Do good for people because you can and you will find a posy of friends in your corner.

Feb 27, 12 8:41 pm

Excellent post, PJN26.

Feb 27, 12 8:56 pm

PJN26, that is a good post. I am wondering if the "arrangement" you mention actually pays or not. You know, is anyone spending any money on restoring playgrounds or park pavilions these days?

Feb 27, 12 10:11 pm

It would be wonderful to be independently wealthy and devote free time providing community services without worrying about personal bills.

Feb 27, 12 10:50 pm

I don't think PJN26 means 'look for paid work for that kind of thing' as much as 'get out in your community and establish yourself, one way or another'.  At least when no one is paying, you can choose the work you want to do.

...all of which depends, of course, on how many shifts you have to pull at Starbucks to pay for yourself.  Some will have more than others.

Feb 28, 12 6:52 am

Zenakis - don't put fucking words in my mouth.  Obviously I didn't say Millenials should be put into higher positions to replace our superiors.  However, the people we look up to and consider our mentors need to actually be leaders and actually set an example for the next generation - not scare the shit out of everyone and act like douches which is clearly what everyone is doing. 

I think a part of the problem is the mismatch between generations.  I've actually seen "millenials" be put on point as "head designers" even though they were woefully unqualified and had zero talent, experience, and abilitiy.  This was all because of favoritism and office politics.  This was a common practice at one of my previous firms.  The older generation needs to set an example to the young generation but when they only encourage gossip, fear-mongering, office politics, unsatisfavctory hours/pay, and abysmal work/life balance it's very counter productive.  We actually view our elder generation with respect and value their mentorship but in turn they can us at every opportunity they get.  Like I've said, during this recession I've worked for three different firms and in every single case the youngins' got the axe first.  It was shitty.  In one instance, there was one layoff where the entire high-octane, recently licensed production staff (all in their early 30s) were sacked in one day while the older guys who did nothing but write emails and surfed the internet were spared.  How does that even make sense?

And nice try about the older generation "saving us" or whatever from having to fight wars.  We have NEVER learned from the mistakes and lies from Vietnam and you can bet we are planning another one of those "Gulf of Tonkin" schemes with Iran as we speak.  We as Americans typically don't have an attention span past 20 years so chances are, our media will never talk about that incident so that when we do the same with Iran and end up fighting a costly war that will undoubtedly re-institute the draft and plunge half of our nation under poverty, we won't even question the motives.  We all realized what a lie Iraq was and now I am surprised we are all actually paying attention and encouraging the saber rattling with Iran.

Feb 28, 12 10:19 am

PJN26 - that's all fine and dandy but in the end it's all about the money.  When I am looking to work on any project (even within our firm), my expectation is that we get well paid for our services.

Even if your idealistic vision worked consider this fictional scenario:  Say I decided one day out of the kindness of my heart to lend my services to design some kind of community thing or whatever for my own community.  I will be doing all of the drawings, corresponding with engineers if need be, and be on point with the construction of that project.  All the supplies will be ordered and someone still has to pay for all that stuff.  People will get paid to build the thing, and then you realize everyone has made money off this thing except for the architect!  How fair is that?  Why should the architect be the one to get screwed?????


When will everyone understand this?  We have an important talanet and hard-earned degrees that we paid good money for.  We are professionals and should be treated as such.

Feb 28, 12 10:31 am

med.--architecture IS free and will remain so as long as architects work for free.,  You can never compete on price with the one who does it for nothing.

There are just too many doctors' spouses and trust fund babies in this business.  It's not an appropriate profession for the middle (or below) class.  It's too bad but...............

Feb 28, 12 11:13 am
wurdan freo

Med. You're on tilt man.

Maybe you over paid for your degree. Maybe it was a bad investment. Maybe the "millenials" should lead by example. It's easy to blame others for our own situations because then we don't have to deal with the reality that perhaps the decisions we made led to our current situation. You don't like your job... get a different one... better yet, make a different one.

One valid reason that the young/inexperienced get axed first. A project needs the experience of a PM/PA that has been through the process many times and can help the firm mitigate liability. Production can be bought at any point in time and fairly inexpensively right now. I'm not saying it's good or bad, it's just the way it is. You don't like being an employee and feel you're being taken advantage of, try the flip side, become the employer. 

Imagine that. You can pick your own projects, salary, working hours, fellow coworkers, location, benefits, perks and on and on and on. 

Architecture is not free, but just like every other service, it is driven by the laws of supply and demand. Right now the "millenials" are high in supply and low in demand as are architects. You need to start thinking like an employer. What are the things that keep him up at night? How can you help him achieve his goals? If you can do that, then you have a much better chance of convincing him of helping you achieve your goals. 

Feb 28, 12 11:15 am


"Zenakis - don't put fucking words in my mouth"  I got it med - 

I studied architecture at 50 and have the same education and skillset as the millenials and similar eye hand coordination from 11 years in the video game field and can hold my own technically - but I get discriminated from people my own age or older  - saying " you just don't have enough runway in front of you anymore" med I hear you -

seriously, our #1 priority is to prevent a war in Iran - if that happens, we are all ruined - no more architecture careers in a great depression - maybe this is what the republicants want - 

Feb 28, 12 12:01 pm

I gotta say, I mostly agree with Med, though  I'm more of a genx rather than millennial.

It seems to me that the baby boomers, who are currently in managing and decision making positions, aren't doing much to help prepare younger generations.  It's been pointed out that people with experience should be running projects or offices, but that experience is being denied to a lot of the younger generations, so there won't be many people qualified to replace the boomers anyway.

The problem I see is that a lot of the boomers did not get their positions because they worked hard or they're qualified or competent, it's simply age and there is an assumption they know what their doing because they've been doing it so long.  This doesn't work if the person spent all their time watching TV and getting dumber.  The people in leadership positions don't have the sort of curiosity and drive to learn new things.  Instead they assume nothing ever changes so whatever they were doing in the 80s and 90s is still the best way to do things. 

My solution is for the baby boomers to teach younger generations what they know of how to build buildings.  A lot of the example I see set by boomers is about how we have to work free (because we aren't worth anything) and how important their opinion on the right color of green is or whatever other arbitrary shit.  Get rid of the ego and arrogance and crap, and start talking about soffits, coping detail, roof drains, code interpretations, etc.  Then let those who are capable take over.

There isn't any set reason why a Baby Boomer can't be more capable than a Gen Xer or Millenial, it's just seems to me that more often than not the most capable person is not going to be the Boomer.

Feb 28, 12 12:19 pm

The work being done is for free right now and the materials are mostly free or salvaged but there are funds being spent the city has bought land and there are grants to be applied to but it is 15-20 hours a week, I have a rent paying job in another industry but I decided to be proactive If I cannot find a design job I will make one.

I don’t expect everyone can afford to do this with rent mortgage or student loans, but for some it is possible and for me it is better than sitting around waiting for good things to happen.  The recognition and contacts may end up paying out in the long run, I could end up with a sitting mayor or community development commissioner as a strong reference. The immediate thing is I get to use my skills earn some IDP credit and have another modest built project to add to the portfolio.  Doing a design competition is similar except there are no real losers just some modest gains.  I don’t have an image of myself as an affluent architect driving a flashy car smoozing clients I did not chose this line of work for the money. There is plenty to do that can make you happy to be a designer if designing is what makes you happy, if you want to make money or not have to worry about money then this is not the way to go about it.

It can be hard at times but I like the work and I think for this situation getting paid for a few hours a week for 4-5 months would be nice but I don’t place that at the top of my priorities. I’m fine with the occasional thank you and recognition.  I do have to say it is important to set a limit, you do eventually have to say no, I can’t, my limit is 20 hours a week, others may have less or more they can afford to give.

Feb 28, 12 12:28 pm

too many years of doing things the same way over + over does not create progressive experience. Just because I have always been curious and learning new things including Revit 2012 + Maya 2012 - the fact that I just turned 60 is huge red flag and maybe I too need to take a hint - maybe become a high school trig teacher or something or sales.

Feb 28, 12 12:30 pm

The Millenials seems to have a clear vision, the drive and ability now - lets let them call the shots.

Feb 28, 12 12:42 pm

Architecture isn't free, true - but why not view it as a gift that you give to those who need it?  Heck, you could probably even set up a company and write off the 'would-have-been-billable' hours as a charitable contribution for tax purposes. (NB: check into that first before going to some kind of tax jail.)

PJN26 has, by far, the correct perspective.  All the mentors I've had talk about how architects are members of some kind of community, and hold a position of trust in that community.  Why not start acting like it, as long as you have some extra time that isn't occupied by a job that might be some kind of 'survival job'?

Feb 28, 12 12:54 pm

Also, what's up with all this generational warfare?  I thought it had its time in the '60s, but then eventually became lame and un-hip...

...along with the baby boomers.  *zing*

Feb 28, 12 1:01 pm

Yeah, working at Starbucks to make some money, and then working for free for the community is exactly how we should envisage our futures .. not!

We still need real jobs that pay real money, to be able to spend time over the weekends and give back to the community.

Feb 28, 12 1:25 pm

Generational warfare never changes.  Only the generations.

Feb 28, 12 1:54 pm

PJN26, I understand what you are saying in principle but I think that is one of the many things that are cheapening our profession and is only a part of the problem and not anywhere close to the solution.  RESPECT the Architect.  A lot of work goes into the built environment and we shoulder much of that burden.  Our job is NOT easy and requires a lot of time away from our family and loved ones and a lot of skill that comes from years and decades of hard work.

As professionals we should already have ties to the community because we are the ones who create and maintain them.  We should already have all ties to the professional networks including politicians and the various support groups (ULI, USGBC, etc, etc).  We should ALREADY be mentoring the younger generation with or without employment.  Archinect is a good example of that.  and what's more is that we need to start practiving our profession with an iron fist - in otherwords demand higher fees.  Who else is going to design?  Engineers?  See it can be done, it will just take a concerted effort without the bureaucracies running our profession.

I already have a decent amount of experience (around 7 years) and I have to say that when I am in the 20-30 year experience range, I fully expect to get well-paid as an Architect as I will not only be a project manager but one who is proficient with all of the CAD, REVIT, 3D modelling skills, and the ability to design and lead on the delivery of a project.  Sernior level people for the most part in most of the firms I'be worked in who weren't even management level actually were paid rather decently.  I don't expect that to dwindle - remember you guys all drove up the prices and ruined everything.

Feb 28, 12 2:03 pm

By the way, sameolddoctor, I really admire the work you've done on this thread.  I feel like I agree with everyhting you say except you are more level-headed than me which is something I wish I can be.....

Feb 28, 12 2:08 pm

The profession of architecture is pretty stellar.

The architectural industry, however, is a laughable joke.

Why anyone would want to be mentored by professionals who literally handle trillions of dollars in assets but is barely able to maintain solvency is beyond my comprehension.

It's like getting bicycle lessons from drunk pirate with an ear infection who has no legs.

Feb 28, 12 2:23 pm
Stars + Stripes

Unfortunately, there aren't enough jobs out there.  Investment isn't here like it use to be.  It has been years since this started.  Some will have an opportunity to work and weather the storm.  Others will leave for awhile and then return if they can, and if they want to.

Feb 28, 12 2:46 pm

See here is a the problem I have and the way I see the younger generation getting screwed in the most unscrupulous way.

Take this scenario:

A 100k SF project is awarded to your firm.
You get the notice to proceed. 
Staffing and Scheduling  are underway.
The “dream team” is selected
There is realization that the team has two senior principals, a vice president, two project managers, a senior interior designer, a marketing staff member, a project architect, and TWO production-level ‘designers.’
There is realization that no one knows how to put this building together and no one is talking to each other.
There is realization that only the PA and the two designers are actually doing production on the project and working day and night to get things accomplished
There is realization that everyone in the team has been billing 30-40 hours a week to the project
There is realization that very little work has been achieved….
There is realization that very little budget remains on the project yet there are complaints the project is understaffed.
More production staff are added to the team
Everyone is still billing to the project.
There is an imminent deadline of a 70% set going out the door.
The newly formed team (the 22-32 year olds) are working day and night with very little sleep and a lot of coffee.
The Deadline is met and the 70% set is out the door.
The next morning – the production staff is absolutely thrown under the bus and GRILLED by upper management and given a guilt trip for charging too many hours onto the project.
There is no “thank you” for meeting the deadline only admonishment and complete hostility to the staff who worked night and day to get the project out the door.

This is a VERY common scenario and it happens all over the place just so upper management who is more than in cahoots with this ugly way of doing business.  All this to justify their existence and use all of the projects available hours on themselves while throwing their production staff under the bus.  At my previous job, this happened with every project.

Feb 28, 12 2:50 pm
wurdan freo

Great point and analogy JJR. No thought here, but I wonder if there are other profession's that struggle financially like architecture. And if there are, could you examine them to see why they struggle financially? Is it the business model or the personality type that enters the profession that is ultimately flawed? 

Feb 28, 12 2:54 pm

Ah ... the recession must be ending. Med's back on archinect, spending his employer's dime to bash anybody in the profession who's a day older than he is or who's earned one rung up the ladder from where he currently squats.

Good times !

Feb 28, 12 3:33 pm

wurdan - i've been looking at a lot of these issues on my blog. and there's certainly others looking at how to remake models of the profession. and some people are actually doing it.


i think the 'consulting for a fee' ONLY model - the traditional professional services model for everything from a cpa to a lawyer to an architect - is what's breaking down. or at least firms which keep a lot of staff. it's too much to really go into in this kind of post.


med - yes, that can happen. and yes, the production gets thrown under the bus. the problem is too many people in the upper levels trying to justify why they're still important to the overall company. believe me though, plenty of senior level people are being tossed aside if they aren't truly great performers. what's interesting to me is how you have so many people on a (merely) 100k building. we'd have 4 tops - a principal/pm; pa, 2 supporting staff (could also be pa level, but aren't on the project full time). we'd bring in an interiors person for a limited run. that extra layer of overhead - the VP and 2PM's - that's going away in the leanest firms right now...

Feb 28, 12 3:35 pm

And if there are, could you examine them to see why they struggle financially?

Sure, there's plenty of professions out there that are struggling.  Marketing, specifically advertising, has been stagnant for a while. The big four of advertising— Omnicom, Interpublic, Publicis and WPP— are essentially "zero growth industries."

In the 1980s and the 1990s, the majority of these ad companies grew only by acquiring other advertising agencies. Any other growth these companies may have experienced preformed at or just below market growth rates— i.e., their companies are growing at rates slightly below the growth of GDP.

Advertising, like architecture, is a sort of fixed percentage expense much like architecture is— almost always X% of a budget or product will go towards marketing and advertising. And advertising generally almost always requires a tangible product— it's difficult to sell something to a mass market that does not exist or does not provide a service.

That being said, if you readjust their performance to exclude inflation, the majority of them have actually suffered over the past three decades. Their growth has come purely from the absorption and ownership of other marketing firms.


Is it the business model or the personality type that enters the profession that is ultimately flawed?

The great comparison to advertising here is that personality types are drawn to it are similar to the ones found in architecture— head strong types who view it as a way to both express creativity and potentially earn a steady upper middle class standing.

However, in the case, it's just more than the social capital. The business model of advertising is fundamentally flawed— as long as revenue is almost always more than expense, few will change the paradigm.

The issue with advertising isn't necessarily the product itself; although many can agree that advertising is generally subpar when it comes to effectiveness. It's that when these companies made a run to the top by literally acquiring everything, their business models changed from local and regional to national and international. And, like architecture, many smaller companies have come in fill various niche markets that are either too small or too specialized for a major broad focus company.

Competition leads to innovation and the smaller advertising agencies just don't have the talent, money or work to attract the better students with the flashier degrees. And eventually, one of the smaller companies ends up creating enough ripples when it lands a major advertising deal and like hundreds of other mid-size well-to-do companies gets absorbed by one of the conglomerates.

However, what the larger companies fail to realize, whether it's Gensler or Omnicom, is that these smaller agencies often get their advantage is from taking chances on a wider pool of applicants. And it's not a firm, its building or its computers that make great ads or great advertisements... it's the employees these firms hire.

Feb 28, 12 3:57 pm

I've been in similar circumstances to what you describe med.  Corporate firms are too often overly top heavy, with no balance.  The thing you have to ask yourself is if you are capable of worming your way up there or does the mere thought make you throw up in your mouth a little.

I think project architects are put in the worst position.  All the actual production responsibility, sometimes little if any design input, and constant pressure from the higher ups billing to the project whose jobs seem to be to shoot down anything slightly different (costlier) than what the firm usually churns out.  Maybe without so many of them on board the project could be more successful.

Feb 28, 12 4:21 pm

Oh God - you again with the whole "Young people suck and should be glad that they are getting payed a bum paycheck mentality"

I don't spend my employers dime on archinect.  Ever heard of a sick day?  Stept throat is not a very fun illness, I can guarantee that.

Feb 28, 12 4:29 pm

Architecture nowadays doesn't have that spiritual and artistic backbone that it had when Gaudi was alive and buildings were crafted by hand with pride and humanity. The profession is now dominated by green tech geeks, BIM automatons, and Sweets Catalog zombies.  Just look at the monstrously banal skyscrapers surrounding the 9/11 Memorial. In addition to American society scrambling for its own survival, it's no wonder nobody gives a hill of beans about architects and their plight.  Architects have become non-viable, and the younger generations better take note of the painful fact that high tech prowess is not enough to pull the profession out of irrelevance.  For a young graduate who bears the brunt of paying her staggering student loans by herself, there is no sense in being religiously loyal to architecture.  She must wake up and realize that only the rich and their children are capable of riding out the economic flush, while still sticking to this pretentious design circus.  Furthermore, I find it totally absurd that 5 years of architectural education at a university has turned me into an over-educated welfare bum, but only 9 months of a much cheaper vocational program got me a full time career with benefits. America, WAKE UP!

Feb 28, 12 5:00 pm

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