Value within architecture can be a difficult topic to nail down. Like many things in our profession this general notion can be applied to everything from our role within the larger marketplace to the merits of a project within its community. An interesting conversation has been developing over the past few weeks on the AIA KnowledgeNet centered on the many facets concerning the question of value in architecture. Much has focused on how architect’s can expand their role in the greater marketplace. Some question our ability to adequately communicate our “added value” to our clients, worse yet the public at large. Having started a career in the midst of the “great recession”, I have very direct experience with diminishing scopes, piecemeal agreements, and competition from forces outside architecture. I can’t help but ask myself, how can we increase the level of “value” architecture can provide, both to the health of our firms as well as in our clients’ minds?
The construction industry accounts for roughly 8-10% of US GDP, and with the majority of new construction being that of single family homes most of our built environment never has an architect involved at all. This is an untapped market for our profession, and given the current state of commercial construction, one that we must find a way into. Simply working for the uber-rich is not going to bring our profession back to its previous position of influence and compensation. For sure not every home out there warrants full architectural services, but what about programming a small addition for that family who has outgrown their current space, but can’t sell and are looking to remodel?
But how do you convince a smaller potential client to bring you in when they have preconceived notions that an architect only “complicates the project” or “adds cost”? How do you identify (enough) potential clients when this vast sector of work is rarely announced via RFP? If I knew the answers to these questions I would probably have a much healthier bank account. I do find it frustrating that the general public can name three or four personal injury law firms, but probably couldn’t tick off a single architecture firm in town. Surely communication is key, and we must do a better job getting the word out.
Let’s expand our services! Programming, CMa, CMgc, sustainability consulting, master planning, industrial design, graphic design…why not!? Let’s take on more risk, forgo design fees for equity positions (but then how do we pay ourselves?…hmmm), rethink how and when we bill for our services. We have to start thinking like our clients. What issues cause them heartburn? Why do they balk at paying us 8% when they happily pay an agent 9%? I’m sure it has to do with where the paychecks come from (personal bank account versus sale profits?) but I can’t prove it.
One thing is for sure, we need to evolve our profession. We need to tap into previously neglected markets and consider commission opportunities that a few years ago we may have considered “outside our specialty”. We need to broaden our understanding of a project’s life, from due diligence to financing to sales, so that we might rekindle serious growth within our profession. There is value in what we do, but maybe the time has come due for us to collectively ask ourselves what that value can be. Not only in our own terms, but in the terms of our clients, those great and small alike.