The Value Of Architecture Is What The Market Pays For It
I’ve had a great month following this debate that’s raging on about fees in Australian architecture — because for the first time I can remember, architects are showing a bit of vulnerability in public (and I’m stoked to see everyone using Twitter again, the best social media platform in the world.)
I really hope we do more of that in the future, and I think Shaun Carter, John Held, Jennifer Crawford, Sam Payne, Peter Raisbeck, Ceilidh Higgins (and everyone on Twitter) should be applauded for contributing so many great ideas. We need ideas.
That said, there’s one recurring theme in this conversation that I’m struggling to get my head around. Architecture is undervalued.
We talk about it a lot, but I can to ask: undervalued, compared to what, or when?
What is the right value for architecture? Is it 3% of a budget rather than 1.55%? At the end of the day, the market gets to decide, and it’s our job to put in the work to figure out what we can do that they’ll value more.
It on us to change, not the public. We aren't going to change the market.
It isn’t an education problem, either. The reality is that people have more data informing their choices than ever before. If you believe that Joe Shmoe knew more about architecture in 1955 than he does today with blogs, wikipedia, youtube, TED and Instagram, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you — the market has just changed.
“The market is the market. Stop crying.” — Gary Vee
While architects don’t have a single disruptive threat to point our fingers at in the shape of an app or startup, the outcome is the same. All threatened industries go through a denial phase where they can’t stomach changing consumer preferences and a disruptive repricing of their longstanding business model.
Peter Raisbeck suggests that “to overcome the malaise that architects find themselves in the architecture schools, the professional associations, and the AACA need to lobby for the worth of architecture collectively.”. I can think of several examples of industries in decline who’s collective lobbying actually made the problem worse.
The music business, when it faced competition from Napster and torrenting, upped the anti and lobbied lawmakers and the courts to enforce the $20 price tag they arbitrarily decided an album was worth decades earlier. They left a quarter of a century of potential growth on the table by digging in their heels and fighting the consumer. Eventually they swallowed their pride, stepped out of the way for streaming to emerge, and without any lobbying or consensus whatsoever, revenues began to march higher and an industry on death’s door is crushing it once again.
Similarly, the book business operated like it’s primary objective was to sell paper, and fought hard when threatened by digitalisation and self-publishing. Once they realised that they were in the idea business, not the paper business, the idea of ebooks, audiobooks, and other terrifying new approaches to distribution didn’t seem so scary.
Is the architecture profession going to go through something similar to the music and book business?
Are we in the concrete/brick/timber business or the social change business? What does the future look like?
Rory Hyde, in a must-read interview with FailedArchitecture.com, shared a brilliant Indy Johar quote “we happen to do built environment if that’s what’s required”. Maybe Indy’s onto something, who knows? The market will decide what it needs from us.
Society loves architecture more than ever, and there are already plenty of very promising business models that the public is eagerly supporting. It’s best to accept that new things will emerge. It’s even better if your firm can lead that change.
As the old saying goes, the market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent. It’s counterproductive to dedicate your time to thinking about ways to bully the world into submission rather than focusing on what you’re doing in your own business to improve your chances of survival.
I’m on the coalface of that change. I speak to established architects who have been doing the same thing for 20 years, and it’s stopped working, so they’re rebuilding from the ground up. At the same time, I’m meeting with newly minted directors starting firms from scratch and guess what, the idea of rethinking the business model is just second nature because they’re students of Tim Ferris, Eric Ries, Seth Godin and startup culture. It’s awesome, and makes me so optimistic.
An architect fifty years ago didn’t have to worry about anything but the craft itself. If you’re an architect in 2018 and you’re great at the craft of architecture, and just the craft —and you don’t want to hustle, and build media relationships, invest in the best photography, write about your work, and you’re not charismatic, and you don’t want to build your brand on social media and all the other things… then your world has changed.
Markets change, everyones affected by it.