These days, what DON’T we take for granted? We EXPECT so much out of life it’s a wonder that a third world war HASN’T broken out yet. As technology continues to push forward at breakneck speeds, we continue to take more and more things for granted. Electricity, microwaves, TV dinners, the Culligan Man, the internet, WiFi, Starbucks, those little chocolates on our pillow…the list just goes on and on.
And this is increasingly true in architecture and practice. With the widespread advent of digital architecture, clients, and even more than a few bosses, take for granted the time, concentration, talent and expertise it takes to produce a work of architecture…or even just a constructable one. And this time, this effort, translates to billable hours that are the first thing to be widely scrutinized and bargained for with clients and bosses.
One of my favorite little nuggets that always gets thrown out by both sides is “well, that should take you just a few minutes in AutoCad right?” It’s as if, with the advent of AutoCad, everyone now thinks that Architects and designers suddenly have all this free time. Architecture is now an instantaneous endeavor requiring no skill or thought or TIME. This, by far, is the one thing that is constantly taken for granted and is only getting worse with the push towards BIM software like Revit and Archicad. These new “pioneer” softwares are being hailed as the holy grail of architecture. They are the master key, the secret handshake, the special sauce that just makes architecture WORK….well, like any tool, it’s only as good as the person using it. And the person using it is still human. We can not alter the fabric of time, defy the laws of physics, nor can we be God (much as we think we can most days).
While new and sophisticated tools tend to make our jobs easier, they also come with their own brand of headaches. Take BIM for example. BIM is wonderful. It has allowed for nearly seamless Integrated Project Delivery, something that was almost unheard of 10 years ago. And it’s wonderful; we’re cutting down on mistakes before we get to the field, we’re coordinating more efficiently with consultants on the various building systems, BUT (there’s always a but) it also adds work and adds complexity to a project which is going to add time and additional expertise which is an added benefit to the client and will cost more money. But yet we continue to charge and get paid LESS for our services…..that ain’t cool.
All of these things are taken for granted under the simple and small assumption that time, and therefore billable hours, has decreased thus the fee should decrease. This is all caused because multiple people throughout the process are taking things for granted. The sophistication of the software, the talents and skills of the intern, the management from the project manager, the design skills of the principle and his/her ability to convey intent to the project managers and interns and the clients desire to spend as little money as possible on a project of increasing complexity and creativity.
If, instead, everyone involved could present themselves and their work product in an apples and oranges kind of way, do we think that less would be taken for granted, that less abuse would be dished out for us to take simply to retain a paying client? I think this bleeds into the larger issue of Architects more successfully selling themselves and the value of their services and sticking to that value. What do you think?