Two Surveys: The past and future of the profession

The AIA released it's 2012 survey. Not surprisingly the summary seems pretty grim. (I don't have a copy, but I would like to hear people's thoughts, especially if they've seen it.)

>Total construction spending levels, which exceeded $1 trillion in 2008, fell to under $800 billion in 2011. As a result, gross revenue at architecture firms declined from more than $44 billion in 2008 to $26 billion by 2011, a 40 percent decline over this three-year period.

>Such a significant reduction in firm revenue produced a comparable reduction in employment. Construction payrolls peaked in early 2007 and steadily declined through mid-2011 due to the housing downturn. Since then, there has been very little recovery. Positions at architecture firms have generally followed the path of the broader construction industry. Due to the heavy reliance of architecture firms on nonresidential construction activity, payroll positions continued to grow through mid-2008. But at that point they dropped sharply through early 2011 and have not recovered much since. Between 2007 and 2011, more than 28 percent of positions at architecture firms disappeared, more than erasing the 18 percent increase in architecture positions seen during the 2003–2007 upturn.

>The general downsizing of firms has also produced a change in staff compositions. In the 2009 AIA “Business of Architecture” report, 60 percent of payroll positions were architecture positions (including interns and students), 21 percent were other design professionals (with engineers and interior designers accounting for the largest shares), and the remaining 19 percent were technical and support staff. By the beginning of 2012, these proportions had changed significantly. The largest losses were in technical and nontechnical staff, positions that generally were not directly billable on projects. Architecture staff positions increased their share somewhat over this period, while the share of other design professionals remained essentially unchanged.


McGraw-Hill Construction Survey Predicts Architect Shortage

>The survey of 1,007 U.S. designers found that nearly one-quarter of respondents anticipated a shortage of architects resulting from a combination of designers exiting the profession, baby boomers retiring, a lack of skills among architects looking for work, and less talent in the pipeline as job prospects discourage students from entering the field. Firms both large (more than 50 employees) and small (less than 10) anticipated some kind of shortage of designers, but nearly half of respondents from larger firms expect it to be severe.

>A parallel survey of 448 American Institute of Architects members found that of the 15 percent of respondents who reported being laid off during the recession and its immediate aftermath, 15 percent of that group have moved on to other industries. At the same time, 60 percent of professionals surveyed anticipated a loss of knowledge resulting from older architects retiring.

* Do you think there will be a shortage in the future, or will firms be able to expand to meet the growing demand?

* In your experience how are firms preparing for the loss of skill within the profession? Do you have a comprehensive plan in place for when employees retire? 

* Have you seen anything in place to help people maintain their skills even if they decide to leave the profession? Are more people working on part-time contracts in their off time, while working outside the profession?

* Will Contractors, Developers and others in the industry continue to expand and fill in the gap if a skill shortage does appear? 

Sep 28, 12 12:21 pm

Some people will benefit and others will lose. I figure who ever can provide services for the growing sectors will be OK and those who can't get that work will have trouble for a few years more. Maybe all the other people involved in the construction industry making up the other 950 billion dollars will move in. But that has been the case for generations now.

I'm generally optimistic that architects will find themselves in a good place but expect to see many go into other roles like CM or Facility management. My backup plan is to move on to a different career is everything is looking dim. 

Sep 28, 12 1:45 pm

Like thakopian above, I'm guardedly optimistic for the future of the profession in general. We're moving into what Jeff Conklin calls the "Age of Design," where creativity combined technical ability will be the key value position in the global economy. The idea originators who have set themselves up with the technical multipliers to lever those ideas into reality very efficiently will be in a very good positions indeed. That's the future, and we're in a good position to be a big part of that.

But for the architectural profession to get there from here is going to be really painful. The old business models will need to have stakes driven through their hearts. Large numbers of design school graduates who are poorly positioned by training, experience, or temperament to take advantage of the new design-centric world will see chronic unemployment and downward mobility.

Sep 28, 12 2:13 pm
i r giv up

others on the other hand are figuring out that the market works quite efficiently in the fringes of architecture (design architecture, branding, fabrication, etc), and that unless a huge amount of consolidation happens, architects of records will continue to be part of the service industry (not the creative class).

Sep 28, 12 3:07 pm

The design revolution in technology based.

Will small firms that cannot afford the software and then the rare talent survive?

BIM is what automation did to the Auto industry we no longer need a team of Cad monkeys so how much of a reduction in staff will we see because of this?

Sep 28, 12 3:19 pm

As far as efficiency boosters like BIM go, they are definitely changing business practices and create gateways to employment/clients. That said only workers with limited skill sets like drafters will lose out while engineers and architects who know the software will be in a better position than before to offer services because everything can be done faster and better.

What I was missing out on was the professional exposure to industry standards; knowledge of the different methods of program layouts, trends, technologies, client needs and your ability to meet the requirements of a given job. If you can't keep up then you can't stay around. We learned a lot about design and basic practice in school but not what can make you attractive prospects to employers these days. Everyone can draft but not all entry level architects know how to resolve technical problems like sourcing materials and construction assemblies.

I think we can benefit greatly from learning some basic programming skills like what you can do with html, flash and excel formulas and apply them to our services and make ourselves that much more efficient. That's how all those well paid IT architects seem to get by.

Sep 28, 12 4:32 pm
wurdan freo

I think this was posted in another thread not to long ago, but the idea that small firms would survive as boutique/fringe/specialty companies and large firms would grow exponentially larger makes sense to me. The medium size firms will either be gobbled up by the large firms or close the doors as they will not be able to compete with the resources of the large firms. Could be a lucrative exit strategy actually. Build up a local small business to medium and then sell it off to the really big ones looking to enter the market. The cost of the software really is a huge barrier to entry and a huge obstacle for small firms to overcome. 

Sep 28, 12 4:38 pm

peter, I disagree with that.  Technology will be a huge part of it all, but the revolution that I see is one that goes beyond just software.  We will likely be looking at much much more significant need driven problems.  I think that the future will belong to those  who are able to identify the problems in a scientific way and solve them without relying on the traditional client driven business model. 

Sep 28, 12 4:39 pm

More than two-thirds of international billings in the last three years were from projects in Asia, the Middle East, or Latin America

This is really scary considering the huge slow down that is coming to these parts of the world. 

Sep 28, 12 5:02 pm
i r giv up

i don't know about the software cost argument.

i bought two rhino licenses as an undergrad and those are now commercial since that's the way that rhino works.

and pirated software is everywhere.

pretty much every small firm in the city runs on pirated software. 

yeah, i guess if you're too dumb to torrent revit, or don't have friends that will do it for you, you're pretty much screwed.

Sep 28, 12 5:23 pm
wurdan freo

amazing how archie's are the first to complain when someone rips off their "original design" and start shouting "copywrite copywrite!" ... but pirated software... well that's just some big corporate fucks that are too greedy . 

And it's not just Revit. There are many softwares out there that as they evolve that will be critical to project development. Tekla - $30k, navisworks $10k, Revit $6k. I haven't used rhino in years, but last I checked, it was a cad based program, not really BIM. That's how small firms will survive, using $1000 cad programs and pirated software, but they won't be the ones defining practice. 

If you don't have a client, who are you providing services too and who is paying you? Unless you're talking about the Arch as developer model, which in my opinion is the best way for small firms to carve a niche while maximizing profit and design control. 

Sep 28, 12 11:53 pm
i r giv up

that's kind of cute to think, but i know enough people in good, cutting edge architecture firms in nyc and i know not of one that actually bought autodesk software for all their computers.

even a few really large firms run on cracked copies.

don't delude yourself.

piracy is pretty rampant in this profession.

Sep 29, 12 12:35 am

If there will be a shortage, isn't that good news? Firms can finally have "teeth" in the game to negotiate for higher fees since supply is short compared to demand.  That means more work, less competition (and less undercutting).

On software... Autodesk has a near monopoly on software, so that means they can afford to charge exorbitant prices. Good for software company, bad for architecture company.

Oct 7, 12 12:59 pm

One thing to consider in “contemporary” Architectural training and education is industrial design and one of the best jobs an aspiring architect could have is to work for a furniture manufacture or the companies that build architectural components such as windows, bleachers, Doors extra. Get to know the new technical abilities such as CNC, laser and plasma welding, robotic welding. All of this will be relevant as more design elements that were once cost prohibitive are now within reach. 

The machines are waiting for us to design something for them to build not the other way around.

Oct 8, 12 9:57 am

@ Peter Normand

I thought that way too, until I worked in an advertising/marketing agency with an in-house product design team. It's pretty brutal as well, AND product designers don't get any respect... At least, when you say: "I'm an architect", girls sit up and notice.

My boss (in the marketing company), when told I was an architect, smiled while shaking my hands and said, "Noble profession!".

I rolled my eyes (not really, but in my mind's eye, I did, and just went along for the ride).

Product designers are not respected in ANY way in the marketing firm I worked for. They are at the lowest rung of the office hierarchy, next to interns.

Oct 9, 12 4:51 am

Note: I speak only in terms of my experience at the agency I was at. I'm not sure if it is true everywhere.

Graphic designers are respected (and paid) more than the product designer at that company!

In my experience, account managers have the most influence, and marketing knowledge is where the money is at, not hands-on production work (although I know that the product designer is the most skilled person in the whole office - try building a complicated NURBS model for yourself!)

Oct 9, 12 4:59 am

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