What other models for architectural practice might be workable?

I’ll start this off with a provocation: the business model for conventional/traditional architectural practice is broken. 

So, I’ve been thinking about what other possibilities there might be. For instance, can a model be developed for a not-for-profit practice offering professional architectural services? Could it be made sustainable?

The pipe dream triggering this is:
What if an architect could make a simple living by doing projects which enhanced the community, not worried about taking jobs which are typically considered ‘bread and butter’ just to keep in operation?

What if an architect could offer design services for free to those who couldn’t otherwise afford to hire an architect but who really need design services to make their projects a reality? How would that work?

I assume the venture would have to be funded through grants and fundraising. Not necessarily the most stable support for a business which needs to have specifically educated/skilled staff,  periodic software updates, and a functioning office infrastructure. What resources could be brought to bear to make a non-profit office operate? Could there be a sort of subscription/membership structure, like public radio? 

What I'm NOT proposing is that architectural needs to be offered for free in all cases. There still has to be an understanding of the value proposition in professional services provided. An explicit statement about the value of the services in the general professional market that could be related to the cost of running the organization. But that value might be more readily acknowledged if what the public saw was architects consistently working toward a public good, not compromising their role by always having to jockey for *any* paying job. 

-That empty storefront might be turned more easily if architectural services weren't among among the barriers to entry. 

- If the billable hours aspect of practice was removed, greater attention and rigor could be brought to bear on small typically non-lucrative projects. 

- Neighborhoods could bring architects into a conversation about the potential for certain catalyst projects to trigger re-investment. Developers might be attracted more readily if they understood what a neighborhood's goals were and there was a pre-vetted vision for it.  

There would have to be some discretion on the part of the venture about what kinds of projects would be taken on and what the limits of the services would be. If it was more appropriate for a for-profit firm to do the work, the non-profit would pass - or possibly offer limited assistance to help the project along and keep it going in a community-positive direction. 

I’ve looked around a little at what the architecture not-for-profit world looks like. What will come to mind first for most people is Architecture for Humanity, but they're more of an aid organization and a clearing house, of sorts, for the design work of others.

Public Architecture ( is closer to what I’m looking for. Are they the only ones experimenting with this kind of practice? Can it be considered a model for practice, or is it just a side project of Peterson Architects? Can it sustain itself independently as a business concern?

Has anyone seen other examples in your cities for how this kind of thing could work?

Nov 9, 13 2:41 pm

How about we have city architects like there are city engineers and city planners? I imagine a handful of public employee architects (interns too) at the city or county that are available to walk-in clients of small projects like residential renos or commercial tenant fit outs. These architects can go to the sites with the client, do some analyzing, help determine a course of action and do some sketches (no construction drawings, just sketches and advice I'm thinking, but I don't know.) This would also help improve the public's opinion of architects and it could be an awesome internship opportunity too. If there were interns involved it would keep the work fresh. Could be co-oped with local universities or even high schools too. Costs could be covered by permitting costs, and including basic design services with a permit would help get people in to permit their work. 

Nov 9, 13 5:00 pm  · 

I thought the practice of architecture was a non profit endeavor.

The economic model for western society is broken and the business of architecture is a reflection of that.

Detroit would be a great test bed for this kind of thinking and social redevelopment but instead it is going the other way and being used as a test case for further privatization and elimination of social services.

Nov 9, 13 5:01 pm  · 

there certainly have been tests of that, quondam. some with ok results, some not so much. the challenge with students as interns is that either someone in the school becomes liable for the work or they have to enlist a professional to take ownership (i.e., liability).

in an office that oversight and responsibility is natural, but the structure of school makes it a different relationship. 

miles, we've joked about our non-profit nature in the office before... i guess if the margins are going to be so thin anyway, i'm looking for ways we can change the agenda so that it feels more ok! 

Nov 9, 13 5:14 pm  · 

miles, will you expand on the notion that the economic model for western society is broken? i'm assuming you're meaning something to do with the parallel investment economy that has become abstract relative to the actual production and exchange of goods and services of value, but i may be just assigning my own meanings to your statement. 

tint, i thought of it as a publicly administered function, but we sort of have that already in some cities. i'm not sure the taxpayers would stand for a publicly funded role that was brought to bear on individual private projects *except* in the service of public interest. but i like where you're going. 

Nov 9, 13 5:17 pm  · 

Capitalism. The purpose of *everything* is profit. Anything that competes with profit is bad.

The only measurable value of anything in capitalism is financial return: social / environmental / cultural concerns only exist to the minimum extent necessary to comply with insufficient regulations and marketing purposes.

Obviously this varies from place to place. Donna's examples of small public works in Indy are wonderful. But try doing that in a fat market like the Hamptons or NYC.

Thus my comment about Detroit - where the economy is shot one would think there is great potential for change. Instead the sharks are having a feeding frenzy. If public sector workers in Detroit have their pensions slashed to pay off private investors - this is going through the legal process now - it will become the model for every city with financial problems: Denver, Seattle, Dallas, Phoenix, Atlanta, Portland OR, Baltimore, Philly, LA ...

Nov 9, 13 5:49 pm  · 

Great idea. Does the client pay the school, thereby underwriting the educational system?

How does this not compete with private practice? How would their lobbying group respond?

Nov 9, 13 7:04 pm  · 

Miles, I think what you are missing in your critique of the western economy is that it is not merely profit that is valued, but rather the much more narrow theory of Shareholder Wealth Maximization that has come to dominate our economy. so it is abstracted profit, in the form of quarterly cash flow.

Quondam, you seem to think that the average architecture school ins't interested in the same thing. So can you explain why 87% of classes last year were taught by adjuncts making less than an average of $4,000 per course, while the average tenured professor (shareholder) is paid $87,000 annually to teach five courses? 

Steven, it is entirely possible for a person to focus his or her practice on the improvement of the built environment within a community, and to make a profit doing so. It just happens to be the case that the individuals responsible for defining "architectural practice" really only see firms that use a substantially similar business model as practicing architecture today. I'm not surprised that, after 11.8 years (on average) of ritual obedience to that professional model, most registered architects prefer to ape the same poor business model rather than figure out how to actually make a profit. 

If you can find a grantor who might be vaguely interested in supporting your idea however, I'm all ears.

Nov 9, 13 7:42 pm  · 

I think looking to the government to provide jobs will just get us more stuck in the mud.  Let us think: why is it that our cities residents are paying very significant portions of their incomes on rent / mortgages, yet the quality of much of our housing stock is going nowhere fast?


I think it has to do with the regulations themselves.  I also am thinking that as an architect, maybe I should get involved with development on the side..  zoning codes and other regulations prohibit our profession from raising the supply of housing by building condos to replace housing that grossly wastes space. 


I think an interesting model to try could be:  everyone at the office goes fishing for projects.  Whoever gets one, gets commission on the project.  the financials are transparent, and it encourages people to seek out opportunity instead of wasting time staring at screens.


Architects could work with future business owners to build out their spaces.  We could offer our sevices kind of as a 'loan", meaning that we would charge them interest on the amount they owe until their business developed to the point where they could pay it off.  Or we could find ways to crowd fund development in which we had people with money bid on return on investment based on the potential of the project.  A better sounding / looking project makes more money by having less of the money go to the investors?

Nov 9, 13 8:44 pm  · 

Quondam, If the average practitioner was capable of providing a complete education, I'd think your proposed model is fair. But the first real realization you have as an educator is that you aren't equally good at everything.

More importantly, Steven's problem isn't that he wants to teach more, it's that he wants to stop taking bread-and-butter jobs. It isn't that he knows enough, but rather that he has something to learn. That's why he came to us with his thought.

Green eggs and ham, why are you so afraid of government jobs? The reason why there is no there there wants one (and Steven too, actually) is that a government employee in most places has a 9-5 job with local holidays, paid vacation and sick leave, benefits, and most likely a pension guaranteed by the state. What would you not want that? Do you really think you aren't worth it?

you should clarify whether you want to work as a developer, who raises capital and negotiates contracts, or a politician, who writes building code. They aren't remotely the same.

Nov 9, 13 10:34 pm  · 

I think what you are missing in your critique of the western economy is that it is not merely profit that is valued, but rather the much more narrow theory of Shareholder Wealth Maximization

Maybe you should reread my post (2nd paragraph). Can we agree on a definition of "shareholders" that does not perpetuate the illusion that they are you and me? "Shareholders" are corporate management or related and own all the preferred stock and/or a substantial portion of the common stock. In more than one company, because if it tanked you wouldn't want to go down with it. It's called diversification. Let's not lose sight of the topic ... we're looking for a model that might work in this environment.

I don't envision a very large office, thus the number of students involved is likewise not very large. Perhaps a working laboratory is a better analogy. The office does actual work, but it also provides schooling.

Quondam, all you've done is replace an institution (a school) with a laboratory (a school). Sounds a lot like IDP to me ...

eggs, the codes are largely written by economic forces. Lobbyists influence law (quoted direct from the dept. of understatement).

We could offer our services kind of as a 'loan"

LOL! Architecture fees on time sounds like one of those Ginsu knife commercials. Act now and you'll get a free landscaping plan! As if we don't have enough trouble getting paid as it is.

Grants, crowd funding, developers, investors - it's all the same failed economic system. Until we decide that something else has value, or until we shit the entire planet, capitalist economics will rule.

Nov 9, 13 10:45 pm  · 

Capitalism is what we got like it or not.  The problem is not the idea of capitalism but rather the fact that the capitalist system is experiencing an extreme imbalance.  What if there was a way to develop a project with a little money from a lot of people instead of a lot of money form one or two big shots.  Guess it would be something related to crowd sourcing.  What if regular people could buy small shares of a speculative development project. Kind of like buying stocks.  The money could be put into some kind of REIT. Maybe 500 to 10000 dollar shares?  Like crowd sourcing the project would be designed prior to investment. This would reduce the influence that the developer has over the design, and it would allow architects planners ect to think about what should go where and experiment with new typologies that traditonal big shot developers are less willing to take chances on.  In essence, you are spreading the risk thinner.  People may be willing to gamble 500 bucks on a new crazy idea like a urban farm and market whereas one developer putting up the whole 5 million dollars wouldn't be.  

Nov 10, 13 12:35 am  · 

I don't know the legalities if something like that but I been thinking about it for a while.  The projects may even be put up for competition.  Here's a lot research the area and propose something that...,,maybe the lot owner would be willing to hold it for a certain amount of time to give time to raise the money.  In exchange they would get the money for the land and a certain amount of shares. 

Nov 10, 13 12:41 am  · 
chatter of clouds

the ugliest thing about capitalism (and actually corrupt neoliberalism, what you have (and has been forced on to others around the world ) is not a true capitalism even), is that you think that you can't even imagine yourself outside it. 

Nov 10, 13 1:15 am  · 

You can choose to opt out. Vote with your wallet, voluntary poverty, freeganism, etc. It gets extreme pretty fast. The best thing to do is set an example with your own behavior, which goes right back to Steven's challenge. We can refuse commissions that we don't agree with or volunteer / donate services if we are able to accept the consequences. 

Nov 10, 13 1:36 am  · 

Tammuz, any alternative will be corrupted just as capitalism had been.  The problem is that people are greedy and power hungry by nature.  Whether you like it or not it is part of the context.  Architecture must be designed within the constraints of the context.  

Nov 10, 13 1:37 am  · 
chatter of clouds

jla-x, you're proving my point. no, you live in an empire that has its very own specific sins. i'm well acquainted with that defeatist sort of thinking (we're fucked no matter what we do). it is the thinking of people who have even lost the freedom of thought, voluntarily. you live in a specific empire with its specific evils. understand that this is not the only way and never was.  scandinavian countries, for example, are far better off than you are. your neighbour up north is better than you are (even if it, like many other countries virtually line up behind the US to do its bidding). 

Nov 10, 13 1:40 am  · 
chatter of clouds

the problem with Occupy was that, once it started raining, they went into Starbucks for a coffee and shelter. 

oh, and the establishment also funds them sometimes

Nov 10, 13 1:44 am  · 

Tammuz, I know it's an empire. I am aware of that as most Americans are. You assume that Americans are all brainwashed sheep.  Incorrect.  While I would love to live in a completely decentralized world free from greed and power structure, the reality is that we don't. We can only affect change by infiltrating the system we are living in.   As for occupy.  How do you expect a few thousand people to topple the US when a million can't even do so in much less powerful nations.  And even when they do what do they get?  Change?  Maybe a little but far from utopia.  They get the same old shit.  Greedy scumbags with slightly different agendas  who fill the void.  The great revolution will be slow and silent. This revolution has already began we just haven't fully realized it yet.  

Nov 10, 13 2:12 am  · 
chatter of clouds

i didn't say that americans are all brainwashed sheep nor did i suggest that. thats an irrelevant derivation. 

and whats the Nietzsche quote? when you look int the abyss, the abyss gazes into you?

well, since you mention infiltration, do you not realize that the maestros of infiltration are the very those you say will be infiltrated? do you know devious and clever they are? do you know how naive and simple and unarmed you are (unless you're an undercover agent gathering information  on possible state subversion, hee honk :o)? 

for fucks sake, we can't get rid of them in our countries, do you imagine you'll get rid of them in yours, the very center of the empire? paaah. rather that the USA will collapse before they do; they'll just move to another host. thats what they did with Britain after WW2. infiltrate....hehehe

no, thats not the way i think. i seriously think that something far more overt is called for. 

Nov 10, 13 2:23 am  · 
chatter of clouds

can you guys set up an architectural militia? no real bullets and what not. just like spray guns, paintball guns...that sort of stuff. target the globetrotting neoliberal-ish architects...Zaha, Gehry, Libeskind, Mayne,  Zumthor, Chipperfiled, etc... even maybe yourselves. yay, zaha in her usual black as a canvas. 

Nov 10, 13 2:31 am  · 

There have been many empires before the us.  If you look at history it's the same story over and over.  Every system has been corrupted from small agrarian tribes to ancient kingdoms.  Same shit different day.  The utopian system that you seem to desire is only possible  once the individual becomes universally enlightened.  The system is arbitrary its the characters that need to change.  

Nov 10, 13 2:47 am  · 

I have an idea as an alternative to IDP by a direct instruction route. It is a sort of finishing school for architect grads where you learn intensively in a real setting plus get explicit instruction in ARE prep subjects and general support and guidance in professional development. At the end with of the program (1 year) you take the exams. The finishing school would work with the community to offer offer low cost or free design services. Students would pay for this school, it wouldn't be cheap, but the advantages would be that it could take one year instead of up to 7 years to get licensed and graduates don't have to rely on firms to educate them. These schools would be geared towards the ambitious young entrepreneurial-minded architect that wants an express track to licensure so they can be self-sufficient sooner.

Nov 10, 13 5:47 am  · 
i'm also exploring the potential of opt-in community-funded projects, jla-x. especially with the JOBS act this becomes more viable. fundrise out of DC has made some of the best progress along that track. it's more a development/investment model than design practice model, but it might facilitate new approaches to design practice.

good stuff, all! exactly what i hoped.
Nov 10, 13 10:57 am  · 

Along with 2 other architects, I'm involved in one of a couple of projects where we're experimenting with a pseudo-development model where we pre-sell condo units, find a lot, figure out what exactly we can build there, and then design everybody's unit WITH the clients hand-in-hand. No developer fees and everybody gets what their budget will allow. We're taking single-family lots and building 5 to 7 times density, which the city is keen about, we don't need outside investors, and suddenly building and owning a (custom) home becomes much more affordable for people like me who otherwise couldn't afford to buy a single-family home.

it's architect-as-developer on a tiny scale, but we have plenty of others interested in this model, and we'd like to see it done more often.

Nov 10, 13 3:00 pm  · 

While on the subject of crapitalism ...

Arizona Firefighters Charge Family Nearly $20,000 After Home Burns Down

Nov 10, 13 4:45 pm  · 
won and done williams
The problem is evident from this thread - instead of discussing an actual new model for practice to exist within a market economy, we discuss the evils of capitalism, non-profit models, and government subsidy. Architects are pathetic capitalists, and the contractors will clearly continue to kick your butts.
Nov 10, 13 10:20 pm  · 

^ That is all you can do once you're full submerged into the industry.

Bitch about it, and do nothing about it.

I was one of those, and then realized what a bitch I was.

Ignorance is bliss, and clarity is poison in architecture

They need to make a commercial like the "it gets better" one for gays, but instead it should be called 'it gets worse".

Nov 10, 13 10:35 pm  · 

won and done, that was really helpful. Much more so than an analysis of pertinent conditions that solutions must address in order to succeed.

Nov 10, 13 10:57 pm  · 

won and done, I must've missed your idea. Did you post it in invisible type?

Nov 11, 13 6:16 am  · 
bowling, how have you managed the presells? are these people who knew you already? selling a project in advance - no design or site - sounds brilliant, but is a huge leap of faith on the part of the investors.

were they already clients before?
Nov 11, 13 7:32 am  · 


That kind of language is part of the problem. It means that the purpose of doing something is financial, that economic return - "profit" - is the goal.

I heartily applaud the idea of eliminating developers. The majority of projects here are speculative. Developers max everything at minimum expense for maximum profit. Of course this market heavily influences my PoV.

H4H sponsors projects here: small, conventional and rather crappy ranch houses built with largely donated materials and labor. The people who win the lottery for the house essentially hit the jackpot - although sale is restricted for seven years at that point they can cash out with a huge profit. Recently this has been somewhat addressed by making having the municipality maintain ownership of the land.

Nov 11, 13 9:13 am  · 

'investors' shouldn't be a bad word, but then i'm never willing to throw away a useful word. even if someone is buying in to the home they will have for the rest of their lives, it is an investment - they have a vested interest in it. this interest could consist of money, time, or their own labor.

so, yes, these folks were nothing if not investors prior to there actually being a home in existence. after the fact, all going well, i hope that they're satisfied residents. 

i don't want that to distract from my question, because i'm truly curious about the relationship that allowed this to happen. 

Nov 11, 13 9:22 am  · 

I always thought that it might be an interesting venture to partner with a real estate agency to do quick design studies for tough-to-sell or distressed properties, as a way of helping future buyers visualize what opportunities there may be in a property before they buy. You could be as detailed (or schematic) as time allowed and maybe even prepare cost breakdowns for the renovation if a buyer is interested.

It would be a gamble, as you would not be guaranteed a project, but in a busy real estate market it might be a viable source for generating types of projects that interest you, while doing a real service for future home buyers.

It's always just been a thought of mine, but I plan on giving it a shot once my schedule allows it.

Nov 11, 13 9:26 am  · 

How about we have design codes, in addition to building codes, so that people stop building crap and use architects as a requirement not only for code/construction/material and methods approvals but also for aesthetics. I am sick of driving in suburbia and looking at eyesores. Who builds these buildings?

Nov 11, 13 9:42 am  · 
won and done williams

Partner with real estate agency to do quick design studies = market-based solution

Design codes = not market-based solution

This is endemic to much of this thread. The vast majority of suggestions here are not market-based solutions. They are looking for government/philanthropy to somehow provide an answer that is unlikely to ever come or comes outside of a market-based economy.

My wife works at a community design center. Do they do great work? Hell, fuck, yes! Is it a new model for practice? Hell, fuck, no! They are almost entirely dependent upon grant money and still run at huge losses that must be subsidized with duct tape and twine to keep the office running.

You want suggestions? How about integrated project delivery? Contractors have picked up this ball and run with it, now controlling almost all aspects of development from design to construction. Why haven't architects jumped on this bandwagon? The power of BIM is in its ability to coordinate all phases of design and construction, but most firms I've observed have only updated their software, not the way they deliver services. 

How about a closer relationship with the real estate industry? How can an architect's services embed themselves within the transactional flow of real estate? Just look at HGTV. Not many shows with architects, lots of shows with contractors.

How about development itself? Clearly Jonathan Segal is the poster child, but why haven't we seen more of this in the profession?

I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I do the know that the answers lie in market-based solutions, not in bitching about capitalism or trying to write the next building code to make architects more important.

Nov 11, 13 11:13 am  · 

wow and done Williams, I agree with you, and I don't think I want government involvement, by having design codes, you put the best trained and educated people at the forefront of building, instead of everybody else that thinks is an architect. There is builders out there who are good, but the majority are not.

My ultimate goal is : design + build = master builder, should be the goal of every architect, and not just be a paper architect.

Nov 11, 13 12:17 pm  · 

Steven, as I think I mentioned, I'm involved with "building two," as in there has been one previous such project, currently under construction.  We are at the schematic phase of building two right now, but I digress.

For the first building, all pre-sold units were sold to friends - a bunch of which happen to be recent architecture school graduates, who were either ambitious or dumb enough to take a chance on this model. Like I said, there's no developer so costs stay a bit lower and my cohorts and I can afford to do this - because we can determine, based on our budgets, how many square feet we need, finishes we want, etc.

For this second building, the net of pre-purchasers has expanded to include co-workers and friends of ours, and co-workers and friends of our spouses, etc.  The "head honcho" in these projects recently gave a talk in town and there are others from completely outside our circle who are interested. We are always happy to tell our experiences, because we believe it's a model that can work (but its not without risk, of course).

The idea is that we get a handful of interested people, say 5.  We will then find a lot, and each of the interested parties makes a deposit on an offer for the lot.  Upon closing, we need to put down a total of 35% of the selling price to be able to bulldoze and develop.   We form a corporation where each purchaser has an equal say in decisions which affect everybody (which aren't already governed by code, etc).  Each party gets a separate mortgage pre-approval, which they all take together to a single broker, who must be a little open to the idea of what's going on here. The risk is that if people start dropping out of the project before their mortgages are signed, costs can go up if no replacement is found.

We get a fixed contract price from a builder, who gets paid by the bank in typical builder mortgage fashion.  This isn't too different from somebody who wants to build a custom home, the difference is that we're building condos on a single or double lot for several pre-purchasers, thus spreading the costs.  It takes people with some guts and vision (or like I said, stupidity) to embark on a risk like this, as there are no typical or even example floor plans, no slick renderings, nothing.  At least now construction on the first project has started so we can point to something tangible as a precedent. This will get a little easier with each new project. 

What I like about it is that as somebody with design and construction experience, my own unit will be nearly shell-only - I wll do drywall finishing, floor finish, install millwork and lighting, etc.  My money is worth more than my time currently, so I can put whatever sweat equity I decide into my own unit, while others will go the more conventional construction route.

I really hope this doesn't confuse things too much - I've been sick lately with a foggy head and I haven't had my coffee yet today.

Nov 11, 13 12:57 pm  · 

"Non-profit" just means subsidized, so that's a non-starter for any kind of serious business enterprise. The point is to get the practice of architecture to be more independently viable, not permanently lock it into dependency, whether on financial institutions, governments, philanthropy, or whatever. If you go non-profit, it's an admission of failure: that what you're doing doesn't have enough value to sustain itself.

As won and done points out, alternative models for architectural practice have seen the most success when they have moved away from a fee-for-service model and toward a price-for-product model. Design-build, design-development, product design, IPD, value-add, IP royalties, etc. are all examples of this.

The truth is, architecture is not really viable as a standalone service. To make architecture relevant and viable, which it can be, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty and participate in the risk pool. You have to make stuff instead of just designing stuff.

Nov 11, 13 1:02 pm  · 

Steven, semantics are important. We need to agree on the meaning of words within a given conext. Investor is clearly defined in the dictionary as "to commit money in order to gain a financial return."

Lee, brokers only want to make a sale, and buyers want to be reassured of the value. Brokers will happily use you to do that. I've tried this strategy a number of time with nothing to show for it.

bennyc, you can't legislate aesthetics. Locally we have Architectural Review Boards composed of bored houswives, insurance salesmen and the like with an occasional untrained, self-styled preservationist / traditionalist (reminds me of another thread here ...) who are responsible for aesthetic approval. You can influence design with zoning, and Telluride CO has done it pretty effectively. But that is a tiny and unique environment, I don't know of any other successful example.

Design / build has been my business model for a number of years now. It's still difficult to find good clients.

I like the idea of bowling ball's community oriented model. "Risk" is another word related to "investor". We need to leave the capitalist model behind. We should be doing things because they are the right things to do, not because we profit financially from doing them. 

Nov 11, 13 1:42 pm  · 

MJ: "We should be doing things because they are the right things to do, not because we profit financially from doing them."

This would sit a lot more comfortably if it read "We should be doing things because they are the right things to do and because we profit financially from doing them."

Morality and economic success are not mutually exclusive.

Nov 11, 13 5:13 pm  · 

Steven, I'm not entirely clear about your motivation(s) for starting this thread, but I find it to be a fascinating topic. While some of what I write below indirectly echoes portions of certain posts above, I've tried here to focus on seemingly fundamental aspects of your proposition. This is my take on your question:

a. As a general observation, most Architects seem extremely frustrated by their career circumstances. That frustration is rooted firmly in a profound dependency on others (e.g. clients, contractors, etc.) - others who only rarely share our values or our vision - and who generally enjoy greater economic success than do we.

b. To address this frustration, it would seem that any alternative form of practice first must attack that dependency. This idea suggests a form of practice that does not rely on the traditional relationship between client, contractor and architect.

c. To break that dependency (say, for example, by pursuing an architect-as-developer business model) architects will need to take on more risk and master additional skills (finance, negotiation, leadership, etc.) - none of which will come naturally, or easily, to many of those currently in, or entering, the profession.

d. Architects typically look for patterns of business success that others have demonstrated to be worthwhile. We take comfort in emulating processes and techniques that others have proven to work - at least to some degree. This may not be appropriate for us going forward -- in fact, such behavior may become a constraint.

e. If traditional forms of practice no longer work for our profession, I believe the primary characteristic that will be necessary for future success will be "entrepreneurship" -- which is, almost by definition, not a prescriptive approach. Every entrepreneur must work out for himself (herself) a unique business model that works in the circumstances present in that entrepreneur's life, and then devote the energy, creativity and commitment necessary to make that approach work.. 

Nov 11, 13 5:38 pm  · 

Morality and economic success are not mutually exclusive.

Agreed. But we need to define both morality (or cultural and environmental responsibility) as well as economic success (where's my Lamborghini Veneno?).

For me the substantive issue is to what degree it is possible to work outside of the existing market system and the effects of that, along the lines of local sustainable communities.

The idea that Herzog and De Moron were brought in from Switzerland to design the Parrish Art Museum is simply an example of a local institution shitting on the local community. As if there are no qualified architects here ...

Nov 11, 13 6:24 pm  · 

i appreciate your break-down of things, quizzical. it's parallel with my thinking and generally why i posted the original challenge. i'm dissatisfied with the state of things and i'm looking for other answers. 

while i agree with a lot of your last post, the difference for me from what is typically thought of as the entrepreneurial model is that - not always, but generally - the 21stC entrepreneur is looking at something which can scale. with enough r&d, seed investment, development, and positioning, a good entrepreneur can develop a thing, process, or service, which can then begin to pay back once rolled out.

the architectural model - when the work is considered good - seems to have to start from scratch with each new client. we're not selling what we've developed as entrepreneurs but providing bespoke service which isn't easily/obviously transferable to other clients.  

true, i'm defining entrepreneurship differently than you did. and your definition is more open-ended, less limiting. both more hopeful and more difficult: how to build a more worthwhile business approach around the skills of an architect is exactly what i'm thinking about. 

to your option c above: the other challenge an architect might have in pursuing development - other than lack of nerve - is capital. many architects may not be averse to risk, but they have to be able to aggregate the capital to shift to developer/architect in the first place. that's probably a skill you're including in the finance/negotiation/leadership list, but it's not just something you can learn. unless one is self-financed, you've got to have a track record to show potential project backers. finding the starting line for that first run is a big challenge...

Dec 2, 13 7:21 am  · 

Steven, Its all about starting small and working up.  My dream is to be able to finance my own small residential projects....long way to go but starting to get somewhere ....  Ever think about starting out by flipping homes or apartments?  How about buying distressed property?  It would be much easier if you have a few like minded friends to go into it with.  In order to get into the developer/architect arena you have to start really small unless you have a rich uncle.  Its like that red paper clip thing where that guy kept trading up until he bought a house.  I know the whole flipping game is part of the problem but you kind of have to think about the long term plan...My long term plan is to buy land and build net-zero homes...I think that market is very underserved, and as the environmentally conscious gen-y people grow up and start buying homes there is going to be a huge un-tapped market.  I hope I can get my shit together by then so I don't miss the boat...

Dec 2, 13 10:48 am  · 

Steven - entrepreneurship takes many forms. What I believe to be common among those diverse forms is the concept of 'creating something from nothing'.

In my experience - which includes many years as a real estate developer - many, if not most, entrepreneurs start with little more that a very good idea and an extraordinary desire to succeed. Most that I have known actually are relatively risk adverse - meaning that they very rarely are reckless, but always relentless in looking for concrete ways to drive risk out of the equation. Those who are reckless go bankrupt fast.

Also, most entrepreneurs that I have known use OPM (other people's money) to get started and also to expand their activities. This OPM takes the form of financial partners and bank financing - usually both. There's typically a lot of selling and negotiating involved.

As reflected in my earlier post, these behaviors often are beyond the comfort zone of most architects. But, given our training and knowledge base, there's really no reason (beyond personality constraints) that keep us from being entrepreneurial.

Dec 3, 13 12:31 am  · 

I have another idea for a business model, architects as sub-contractors that provide drawings.   

Dec 3, 13 9:20 am  · 

real estate development (successful real estate development) is the key to the architect's freedom. Real estate development can give the architect control in order to spend more time on other "self acclaimed" important matters like working on particular projects for free. It also gives the architect more control over a project like sustainability and the buildings relevance to it's surroundings.

Creating a development scheme is the architect's deli ma, residential or perhaps commercial????? 

Dec 3, 13 11:20 am  · 
Donatello D'Anconia


Is there any information online for either of your two projects? I'm curious about the footprint, dimensions, and location (7x density is great and I'm curious which progressive city is open to this idea, or how your team was able to convince the city code officials/planners to allow the increase in density).

Is the "head honcho" talk available online anywhere?

Dec 4, 13 2:13 pm  · 

I can tell you that our property was already zoned for multi-family residential. We have a fairly big lot (120'x45') but of course there are limits to the densification we can achieve. Fortunately, the architects are also designing a similar building on the lot next door for a developer, and so the city has been amenable to reducing our side yard setbacks, etc.

Dec 4, 13 9:49 pm  · 
Saint in the City

a. As a general observation, most Architects seem extremely frustrated by their career circumstances. That frustration is rooted firmly in a profound dependency on others (e.g. clients, contractors, etc.) - others who only rarely share our values or our vision - and who generally enjoy greater economic success than do we.

I'd say that covers it.

Dec 20, 13 12:37 pm  · 

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