March 25, 2005

A New Business Model

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jean-paul gaultier ss 2002, flats in Glasgow

I came to the conclusion that, at this time of my life, I HAVE NO BUSINESS SENSE. Money escapes me like sand through a colander. Partly because I've been pretty spoiled and partly because I don't grasp concepts like 'utilizing your network,' 'win-win situation,' 'market-rate compensation' (because I've never had to?) But I believe I should.

I've talked to a lot of practicing architects (late 20s, early 30s) and the thing that matters most, always (if they stick with architecture) is not design, not ideology, it's the bottom line. Don't compromise the bottom line: sustain your business. It precludes the rest -- a kind of life-survival knowledge that they never seem to teach in school ... strangely ... (but not strangely at all, since I get this feeling some of us believe they should be working utterly altruistically, ie for free, in order to save the planet -- I mean, architects ARE trained to be poet-warriors, after all.) A sustainable business precludes influence.

WHY does architecture have no respect in the States? Some ideas: architects bend over backwards for their clients, and don't fight hard ENOUGH for their own ideas and integrity. They are so specialized, they fail to take advantage of other aspects of the building, design process. They are badly trained (how many start-ups are there that don't even know basic construction techniques and rely on the contractor to 'figure it out'? Countless). And they end up being inefficient, short-sided, and generally, inept at running a business. One result: exploitation of the younger members of the profession.

Not to be entirely self-deprecating. The hope, I think, lies partly in better education firstly, alongside more lobbying, allocating internal resources to create better PR for the profession as a whole (make sure the public knows: good design = better life = better bottom line) -- because how many average people know what the hell an architect DOES anyway?. You don't have to agree ideologically, but there are certain values that I believe most architects, and any decent people, share. Make sure people know your design is value added. Care about them. Lastly, design / build and architecture-developers -- ie can MAKE DECISIONS FROM START TO FINISH. Let smart architects be somewhat empowered for once, and not be total TOOLS. Have the conscientious fresh grads go to the fields where they MATTER THE MOST -- the big-impact builders, not working for some custom home maker.

Lots of times I talk about a course of self-improvement, but this time I'm gonna go for it gung-ho, because it's one of those things that's gonna matter fundamentally in the long run. Let's look at successful design business models. I don't mean advertising or marketing (though there are some creative ... insidious ... minds in those industries). We have to tackle the issues of mass-production -- big box retail, tract housing, etc -- before someone who you percieve to be 'stupider' than you at recognizing good design gets to it. How the hell will an architect make a difference until that happens -- escape the image of being a niche profession, and into the mainstream. RIBA is trying hard to make that happen in the UK; where's the AIA?

"You want somethin done right, you gotta do it yourself."

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jean-paul gaultier ss 2003, tract housing

ps i just got a new job ... in architecture.


Kamal said...
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bruce said...

damn, braveheart.

Anonymous said...

i think that for the majority of us, we lack a family that is dependant on our bi-weekly paycheck or a looming mortgage which takes decades to pay off. even worse would be to have employees working under you who also have these responsibilities and are dependant on you to be able to continue your success in order to maintain their needs.

plain and simple: ideology over money sounds impressive to us in this stage of our lives because we're not overburdened with the need to maintain our current lifestyle.

jean said...

here's our chance ...