why do architects “architect”?

This also begs the question “what do architects DO?” I see it all over the place these days. For months I’ve seen thread upon thread on LinkedIn and the AIA Knowledge Communities about contractors and builders and “unlicensed architects” taking over more and more of the lion share of residential projects. The attitudes seem to me to be increasingly hostile towards those who are being sought after by the client – i.e. the ones who simply get the job done for a fair price. Now as a unlicensed-but-soon-to-be-licensed architect, I see both sides of the coin. I see a lot of really shitty work being done out there by “professionals” without the education, training or basic knowledge of human behavior to adequately design a home or addition for a client. The same can also be said of some fully trained and licensed architects who simply crank out one bad design after another with thought only for their next paycheck. There are evils on both sides of this fence. But most of us, believe it or not, all tend to hang out somewhere in the middle – having a real desire to design good, if not great, architecture for our clients and have it built by skilled and competent contractors who will have the client’s best interest at heart. This is true whether you’re licensed or not.

Now, what really gets under my skin is the “solutions” that float around these discussion threads. Most of them seem to center around a government requirement that all building projects, whether residential or commercial, be signed and sealed by a licensed architect of that state for the project. Now, some will say that this is the only logical way to ensure for the client that a trained and experienced architect is overseeing the project thereby adding value to the finished building and property. Yeah, remember my comment above about some trained and licensed architects being concerned only with a paycheck as they crank out one crap project after another? Licensure does not guarantee competence nor added value nor proper oversight in construction. What will really happen is you will actually increase the general animosity towards architects. If clients are REQUIRED to solicit your services for every bathroom renovation, home office addition, roof repair and remodel then they’ll make sure they get the cheapest guy possible to provide the bare minimum amount of work to satisfy the “government regulation”, in which case the real work will still be done by the contractor since the architect won’t be involved past Schematic Design and Permitting. So, we waste all this time and money to legislate our practice which will only serve to devalue our profession and the end product will still be the same – a majority of work being done not by architects, but by contractors and builders.

How about, instead of bitching and moaning to the AIA, which is just another political organization, we instead each get involved in the community and show the larger public that:

a) Architects do not design only for the 1% and that our services add value to a project because of x, y and z,

b) Architects can do more than just design shinny buildings for the covers of magazines, and

c) that architecture can and should impact all levels of community life from community gardens, well thought out parking garages, city squares, large scale urban planning and, yes, even your small bathroom renovation.

Architects, as a whole, need to go on the offensive in a major, locally focused PR campaign that forces the public to see architects and architecture for what it truly is – a necessary and valuable part of creating sustainable and engaging communities for generations to come. In short, quit yer bitchin and do something.

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One thought on “why do architects “architect”?

  1. Nice post Jeremiah. I try and do my part in the area that I live, especially when it comes to entities hiring architects from other states to design projects that the local taxpayers are paying for. This of course is a whole other story. As architects we need to provide our clients with a valuable service, not like you said, “licensed architects who simply crank out one bad design after another”.

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