Architects Are Facing A Silent War

architects are facing a silent war. Read on to see how you can find a solution!


Make no mistake – architects are facing a silent war.

We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender – Winston Churchill

Photo credit: taken by the U. S. Army Signal Corps about mid morning on June 6 (D-Day) showing unidentified troops in a Higgin's industries Landing Craft moving into Omaha Beach, only a few hours after invasion assault first started.

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After 8 years of study and professional training, an architect should be respected like a doctor and paid like a highly qualified professional.

This is seldom the case.

As an advocate for architects I have studied the reasons why this is so.

  • Why are you treated like a commodity at times?
  • Why are you not paid what you are worth on projects?
  • Why do you feel you have to justify your fees?
  • Why do clients take elements of your design out to reduce the price and reduce the quality of your design work?
  • Why do builders, real estate agents and clients think you will drop everything to drive across town and give advice for free in the hope you might win a deal?
  • Why do you work so hard and get so little credit?
  • Why do owners often trust the contractors more than they trust you?

Something here has gone terribly awry.

There are two silent wars architects are facing.

War #1

The war against ignorance. This battlefield is in the minds of our clients.

According to the shocking results of a new survey undertaken by who surveyed 2,031 adults, people don’t know what architects do.

  • 72% are unaware that architects apply for planning permission
  • 79% don't know architects ensure buildings comply with health and safety legislation
  • 86% have no idea architects select, negotiate with, and manage contractors
  • 20% are unaware architects prepare construction drawings
  • 9% DO understand architects control site budgets
  • 15% don't know that architects design buildings
  • 33.3% of over 55s were aware that architects prepare planning permissions, whereas: 14% of 18-24s were aware that architects prepare planning permissions
  • 20% of young adults were aware that architects handle building control certificates and guarantees

We can look at this war in two ways.

  1. Blame the client
  2. Blame ourselves

Once architects accept responsibility for the education process you take power back. Your weapon is education.

You may not be able to educate the world but you can make sure that every person who meets with you is educated about the architect and his or her role in the project.

War #2

A post on the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) LinkedIn group asked…

Would you recommend my kids take up a career in architecture?

I was shocked at the responses.

There were two sides. Those who had given up on architecture as a means for earning a decent income and would not recommend architecture.

And secondly those who felt architecture was about doing something you loved and that was more important than money.

The only thing that they both agreed on was that the choice was either money OR architecture.

I was staggered. These Brits had given up. Both sides had lost the war. They were prepared to raise the white flag without a fight.

The Brits are the people who said…

We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…

Tony Robbins taught me a valuable lesson. He said if you want a better result then ask yourself a better question.

Maybe a better question is:


That forces your mind to search for new answers. That is the question that finds new ways to overcome the enemy.

This right attitude within architects is weapon #2.

We Are On A Mission

When I first started working with architects I thought your lot were a well-paid bunch of smart people.

Well, I was half right.

You are smart.

But you are not great marketers and therefore underpaid, which is ironic because you are pretty good communicators.

Maybe you get lost in the detail or some aesthetic mist of great design. Maybe you are too smart and don’t realize how ignorant your clients really are. Maybe you don’t want to appear too simple-minded by stating the obvious.

You assume your clients understand the value in what you are doing. We (the general public) do not. All the stats prove that. You need to teach us about the value in a way so simple that we can marvel at your creativity and pragmatism.

I think architects get a raw deal.

But this isn’t your fault. You’ve been sold a lie.

You’ve been told that people recognize the value of good design.

Your design schools have sent you into the workforce unprepared to face the reality of dealing with a world where money is king (unfortunate, but true).

Your professional organizations are more concerned with their own interests than your struggles – you, who fight on the front lines.

Contractors blame the architect and come in at the last minute to “save the day.” They make out as the hero (and take the victor’s spoils).

Construction managers set up shop and push architects out of the construction process (and make a killing doing it).

What happened to the “master builder”? What happened to the architect that led the design team – the architect who controlled the process and guided the contractor and owner to the successful solution?

No, my friends. It is a sad day. Architects have been marginalized. The noose is set and the trap has been sprung.

The good news? It isn’t too late. Some architects are fighting back.

You must help yourself too.

  • You need to stop driving all over town doing free work.
  • You need to stop cutting your fees to win deals not worth winning.
  • You need to value yourself first so others can follow.

Lawyers and doctors do not do this and neither should architects.

We need to raise the bar for the architect community.

The Battle Plan

The great American orator Patrick Henry said it well: “United we stand, divided we fall.”

I’m taking a stand. But we can’t do it alone.

Here is our plan of attack:

Step number 1 is to believe in the value you bring to your clients. This battle is won in your own heart and your own mind. Are you willing to stand up for what you are worth?

Step number 2 is to communicate that value to your clients in a way that they can understand.

It’s that simple, really.

But it needs to start with you.

Architects deserve better – you are both the problem and the solution.

I’m taking a strong stance and I’m not backing down.

You can love me or hate me but I believe in architects. I believe if you are prepared to fight on the beaches you can do what you love AND be paid like the professional you are.

Eric Bobrow, Enoch Sears and I are doing our part by teaching architects how to communicate their value in a way that brings them “better clients, better work, and better fees.

But we can’t win this battle alone. Will you join us?

You owe it to yourself by creating a career that is fun and profitable. You owe it to the world by bringing us great design. And you owe it to your children and future generations to live up to your full potential.

In the words of Winston Churchill, “Never give in, never give in!”

So, now I'd like your thoughts: What's the problem (as you see it), and what is the solution?

Post your thoughts in the comments section

86 comments on “Architects Are Facing A Silent War

  1. Maybe too late for this post, but I believe in most cases the D&B contract dissolved the worth of the architect because it all became about cost, and not about design. In the D&B contract, your not paid to think, your paid (very low) to push out the drawings and documentation they want in unrealistic timelines, and if it doesnt become clear or you question the budget, or a mistake happens due to pressure from construction managers then your first to be blamed. Let’s take back the traditional contract.

  2. Charles on said:

    My work lately is review of contractors shop drawings for facade, the value of this element of the project being around $42 million.

    It is essentially a major project in itself, and I’m under quite a bit of pressure to ‘expedite’ reviews by project manager who have 20:20 hindsight, and whose view is, if you found the important needle in the haystack last time, you should know next time where to look.

    Um, no, it doesn’t work like that.

    Anyway, in self-defence, I’ve started to compile my own references list, of contractors shop drawings I’m working with in reviewing the contractors own design. As I said to a colleague today:

    “I’ll get the complaint soon enough that reviews are taking too long, and intend to use one of these lists to shown what needs checking, then ask where would they like me to stop?”

    As long as the PM / QS is happy with me to not check the design works against structure, architecture, electrical, landscape or mechanical services, complies with building regulations, includes the right materials and finishes, and coordinates with the contractors own design work, then I’m fine with not doing that myself.

    Just don’t expect me as the ranking architect responsible to sign off on it either.

    So far, they have backed off every single time, as while they might be prepared to put pressure on me, I’m not prepared to be unprofessional to save time and land the problem in our clients lap, which whatever managers might talk about ‘risk’ think, is ultimately where all problems end up if they are not managed.

    I’m prepared to take the flak for doing so and argue my views as well.

    Perhaps if more architects were prepared to stand their ground on professional and technical design matters, and develop the exertise to do so, they would be more respected, like Engineers?

  3. Union made on said:

    You’re not a master builder. That’s the problem.

    You run jobs and design buildings you’ve never actually built at all. There is a gap between having actually worked as a real master BUILDER and designing and pricing projects for clients while telling the BUILDERS what to do.

    This is the actual problem in construction and why everyone hates you.

    I’m a union carpenter, and foreman. I make more money now than I will as an architect when I’m done my cert. I don’t care about money, I want to create something people will be happy to live in, work in, go to, and look at. I am sick of seeing half ass planned projects planned out that end up being over budget and over schedule. Though here in the United States projects are safer than most other places I am bullshit over how many structure failures we have had that killed my brothers and sisters. From the ABC bridge at FIU in Florida to the recent New Orleans hotel incident killing 3. Both were the architects fault in my opinion because they were on site and failed to notice obvious fail points that workers pointed out. Due to the lack of BUILDING experience it cost lives. I plan to fix that.

    Remember.. the most iconic, beautiful, fast, and efficient cars were all designed by people with professional driving experience. These people are “mechanics” too that drive the cars and know how to make their work the best.

    Know that a lot of your logic is why people hate architects. The buildings we take vacations to go and see were all created by someone who once picked up the tools to actually build them. Name 10 structures built in the last 50 years in America that people will admire and visit in 500 years. I’ll wait.

  4. Brendan Shelton on said:

    I never knew that people had no idea that in addition to designing buildings, architects do so much more for the safety and regulation of a building. My son wants to become an architect in the next few years and is trying to find out all he can about the industry he is entering. We will certainly look over this information as he prepares for his final few years of training.

    • Sienna Mae Heath on said:

      Absolutely, Brendan, it’s important that future architects like your son know their value so they can communicate it to their clients. I’m glad our stories are inspiring him and your family.

  5. Colin on said:

    I’m not an architect, I’m a freelance architectural technologist. I provide services to architects creating production drawings and specifications at competitive rates.

    When I price a project or package for an architect I often get the response “too expensive” or “I can get it cheaper elsewhere”. The problem is not just the clients it’s with architects too. They devalue their own work and the work of fellow professionals like myself.

    Architects need to stop telling potential clients what they are and start telling clients what they can do for the client.

    Architects need to demonstrate their ability to create light, delight and space as if by magic.

    Architects need to be back at the forefront of construction and value their work. Then they may value my work too.

    • Sienna Mae Heath on said:

      Yes, everyone in the architecture field needs to know their value. Magic exists in how a designer solves a problem or designs a structure that the client was beginning to think could not be done. Think of a time when a client came to you almost hopeless or when you overcame a challenge discovered during the project. That story expresses so much value. You’re right, the client’s needs should always come first. Thanks for joining the conversation, Colin!

  6. Sotiris N. Papadopoulos on said:

    Defense Action: Highlight and disseminate the good practices of the modest-Neighborhood architecture – look the following website

    My purpose is to highlight the good practices of “Neighbourhood Architecture”, so, the Role of Architecture in Society’s Quality of Life becomes a part of the consciousness of the citizens of the world; and to mitigate the huge gap in awareness that separates “the general public” from the social values and benefits of architecture that can be provided to their quality of life.

    • All statistics prove that only a 2-5% of all the worlds’ projects are designed by architects.
    • All statistics also prove that our clients, the general public, do not understand the value of what we are doing. We need to teach them about this value in a way so simple that they can appreciate our creativity and pragmatism.
    • The profession must look to itself for reasons why architects are being marginalised

    Therefore, in order to “flesh out” more effectively and take steps towards the recognition of architecture, we should consider a key focus mandate; to examine well-designed architectural policies, guidelines, events and actions for popular involvement in order to communicate the architectural aspirations directly to the general public and, with the use of a simplified and popularized architectural language to ensure that “The Role of Architecture in Society’s Quality of Life” — UIA’s declaration — becomes a part of the consciousness of the citizens of the world. This new “Call to Arms”, should specifically and systematically work in cooperation with the schools, organisations and professional bodies to create knowledge, to mitigate the huge gap in awareness that separates “the general public” from the social values and benefits of architecture.

    …And finally we should ask ourselves:
    • How did the “grand” congresses, exhibitions or any other kind of events, (apart from sharing and exchanging architectural information, amongst the closed circle of the main participants, the Architects), reach out to the wider communities where these events, of great importance, are taking place?

    • How did the schools, the architects and the professional bodies attract and motivate the “many” (citizens) to learn, to their benefit, what is important regarding their built environment and the reasons why?

    • Is there any doubt, after all, as to why architects are being marginalised?

  7. Ali Raza Shabani on said:


    I am an architect from Karachi, one of the biggest cities of Pakistan. In Europe and America the battle against ignorance has begun. In my city, the concept of this battle doesn’t exists because the architects never gained that recognition and appreciation to begin with. Here, architects are regarded as someone who overcharges for drawing a few lines. As a result, over the years, architects here have taken up so many roles to get a decent amount that any architect who doesn’t takes on the extra roles, is considered useless. No unity exists in the community here.

    I have a 3 years experience doing jobs with senior architects that has now resulting in I opening up my own practice 5 months ago. Here, architects have to first educate the client as to “Why” am I needed? “What” is my worth to your project? “How” will I be of service? And if you are a young practice, you have to even prove your competence. I have been battling this misconception since setting up my own practice. I’m glad there exists a sense of this injustice to our community.

  8. Ashley Johnosn on said:

    I thought that it was interesting when you explained that there are so many people that don’t understand the role or the need to hire an architect. I would imagine that the architect plays a huge role in the construction of different kinds of structures. I will be sure to hire a professional architect to help me build a custom home so that it is done correctly.

    • Sienna Mae Heath on said:

      Thanks, Ashley! Yes, all architects play a major role. Design-build firms take on both the design and the construction from start to finish. Wishing you the best in your search!

  9. Sarah Smith on said:

    It’s interesting that a lot of the people in the architecture industry stay there because they love what they do and enjoy creating art through buildings. This reminds me of some of the classic buildings with all the filigree as well as modern buildings that look like they are made of origami. I wonder how many commercial architecture designers are in the field because of their love for creating something new.

    • Sienna Mae Heath on said:

      Hi Sarah! Yes, that’s an interesting point. A lot of heart goes into designing a home, as the architect often learns so much about the inhabitants’ lives. We’re helping commercial architects define brand in a very personal way too, to follow the narrative of the company, employees, and customers. Through creating offices, hotels, and breweries, it’s wonderful to see how designers can become storytellers.

  10. CIA SERVICES on said:

    Hi Christopher Murray ,
    This was a excellent informative post you have shared on this page about the building of your home by using the services of building construction company but When you build your own home, you need to have somewhere to put it. That means buying land. Obviously, buying a lot of land will be more expensive, but in rural parts of the country, you can buy a decent amount of land fairly cheaply. For example, in my home state of Maine, you can get a few acres for anywhere between $20,000-$50,000.

  11. I love what you said about architects being responsible for the education process of a client. I think that proper communication with an architect will help achieve the desired results when planning a project. My wife and I are thinking of contacting an architect as we plan on building our first home and the benefits seem to evident.

    • Sienna Mae Heath on said:

      Yes, Sam, we see many client relationships grow as a result of open communication. Educating the client can come in many forms, from sharing project stories to more personal anecdotes. Wishing you the best on building your first home; that’s so exciting!

  12. Holden Ellis on said:

    It is entertaining reading all the comments. As if there is some mysterious reason why the career-field is dying.

    I absolutely love architecture… It is a shame that the AIA and pretentious architects have ruined the profession. Architects are not paid well because there is little demand for what architects offer in terms of services… especially in the United States. In the residential development world, why would I pay architects a hefty fee when I can get better value and better service from a general contractor that is going to manage the project much more efficiently. Instead of two semesters training on how to free hand draw a house or a year worth of training on how to make a foam model… maybe students in architecture programs can learn something more practical. I have worked with unlicensed designers that are far beyond their licensed architect counterparts in terms of the quality of product I get. This is anecdotal, but it leads me to believe that the practical design experience far outweighs the 7 years of education that the licensed architect has. I asked to see some of the work from a designer and a younger, independent architect to see who I would put on the team… the designer had much better practical experience and the licensed architect had pretty watercolors and a portfolio of homes that no one wants. Why are they pushing this garbage in college?

    Then, there are articles and comments on sites like these that tell young architects not to devalue themselves. They are devalued because the business world cares more about the consumer than architects are trained to. If anything, I have found that architects over value their work and get too hung up on details that only hurt the consumer.

    Just for example, I was out of town and wanted someone to walk three different lots in a subdivision and tell me which has the best ocean view, a quick summary of the topography, and a few pictures from the building site. This is simple stuff that would take a few hours. I wanted this to get done quickly so I looked up if there were anyone nearby that could take a look. Online, I was able to actually find a young architect that actually lived in the same subdivision I was looking to buy a lot. He was a younger guy and I actually thought I was throwing this guy a bone during a time when people were not building. He comes back to me with a quote of $3,600 for what I asked. He literally could walk down the street, snap a few pictures, and write a paragraph on what he saw in less than an hour. Let us just pretend, he was going to be over the top thorough and it would take 3 hours. $1200 an hour is insane. I actually ended up paying a much more experienced architect who had to actually fly to Maui from Oahu and paid him less than $1,100 including a rental car.

    Bottom line, there are great architects out there. It is not because of what they learned in college. It is about them understanding the development process and getting the absolute best for their client. Kids coming out of college are not taught the practical fundamentals or the business aspect of real estate development. Fix the licensing process and maybe more people will value your profession.

  13. Gregory Knowles on said:

    I have a Bachelors Degree in Architecture from Florida International University. I love Architecture, and have 10 years of experience doing it, but it doesn’t love me back.

    To Younger people out there (Warning) please don’t waist your time, you will learn design in school, and get out, and only work on construction documents until there are no more jobs to work on, and they will let you go after one year.

    They will hire more people to get the job done, and after one year will let you go, and you’ll be unemployed again for another year. And this will repeat the same cycle (no job stability) over and over again!

    This job is for the very wealthy, and privileged who can afford to pay their way thru school, and their carriers, and not made for people who need to work. Also, while on the job they will treat you very poorly, so that you will leave and not be able to collect unemployment.

    My background was in construction, and thought I was setting my self up for a better future. I have physically built many buildings before, and believe it or not, it didn’t really help to further my carrier in Architecture. It only intimidated the Architects or made them a little uneasy or jealous that I had as much knowledge as they did in that area.

    They would never talk to me about it, they only would avoid the matter, and make believe that they were better than everyone else.

    My school professor once said to us in class that: “an Architect: knows a little about everything, and a lot about nothing”. Another professor compared us to sheep, and said: “you are all being rounded up like sheep to slaughter.”

    Your teacher’s and employers will not care where you end up in the future! Take it from me, your just wasting valuable time, you’d be better off learning something that’s in demand, than what you think you would like to do for a living.

    One Architect told me: “you will get sued”, and also, may I add, most architects have to do exactly what the clients tell them to do, weather you like it or not, if you don’t like it you don’t get paid.

    Although I’m proud, and thankful, and not sorry to get a good education, its all of our fault in how we treat others. We should consider other peoples futures selflessly. Its a crime to think of ourselves only, and not consider others as a part of a group or community.

    What happened to teamwork!

  14. Sanjay Dhar on said:

    Sorry to go against the grain…but I love architecture…and its creators. I think the author has chosen not to talk about the basic point…to do with the nature of architecture. It is not like medicine or engineering or accountancy or law. Yes there is a fairly large component of plain technique and admin ( building permissions etc). But primarily architecture is about creativity in the same way as à writer or painter or sculptor under the broad head artist. And we know by attending art college or writers workshop it does not follow that one becomes a successful writer painter or an architect! If we accept the creativity argument. All questions raised should get an answer. Good architects command premium and great ones have cult status…they dictate terms…why this self pity..I agree education is important…and several other ideas in the writeup make lot more sense….but the underlying current is a sense of inferiority. I am not an architect / contractor but I work with them.

  15. Michael Martinson on said:

    This is a far more complex conversation that can be discussed in one comment, so I shall share my experiences with you all. I have been in the construction industry for over 20 years now, and I’ve been on all sides; architecture, engineering, labor, the business side, etc, etc.. I studied architecture for 6 years at university, as well as Sociology (extremely relevant to architecture), so I do have some merit. The Number One thing I see here in Georgia is an obscene amount of egoism in architects. Blatant disregard of clients wishes have sent dozens of new clients my way. I’ve stopped working with a handful of architects specifically because of this. Architecture in America has lost touch with society, and neither Architects nor the AIA want to take responsibility for it, and instead act as if they are the victims. It needs to reavaluate itself, it’s role, and it’s importance, instead of holding fast to past principles that no longer work. Again, far more to this conversation, but don’t misconstrue my words. I view myself as an architect (i’m unliscensed yes) to a certain degree, and support the career and always do my best to educate my clients in the importance of properly designed architecture (not just structural, but spacial).

  16. Thomas Ward on said:

    First, Architects are trained as designers. This leaves significant holes in marketing and general business skills. In fact, most firms run by working Principals tend to be marginally run businesses, suffering by having their leadership play two jobs, sometimes more. When’s the last time you saw a musician play several instruments And sing and win Grammy’s year after year?

    Second, Architects devalue themselves. It’s tough to know (and I do) that an engineer working on a job makes more than a corresponding Architect that’s got the same experience and more responsibility. How does this happen? Fear- wanting the job and willing to cut fee. Foolishness- agreeing to a unrealistic schedule and then working the staff to death to get it done, and then selling the fact that you did it to the next client, insuring you’ll work your staff to death again and again. Ignorance- not understanding the value you bring to a client, and therefore being unable to communicate that value in terms they understand.

    Third, there are too many Architects. If there were fewer, you’d stand pat on your fee’s, tell your customers that the meter starts running when you pick up the phone, that your ideas were not free or theirs to give to a competitor. The reason is the knowledge that if you don’t cut your fee, someone else will incorporate your great ideas and collect the fee.

    I don’t think delivering more or better service (as some have suggested) at a the same old cut rate is the answer. I think banding together as a profession, for the health of the profession, is part of the answer. Competition is good, but eating each other alive is not. A supporting move would be to get the schools of architecture to start training future members of the profession in business development/marketing, communications and business management.

  17. E Rose on said:

    Think about how you can offer a better service or better experience to your clients, not how to leverage more money out of them without changing how you behave towards them or the value of what you offer.

    Less arrogance, more politeness would be a good place to start.

    The client should be treated with respect. A good working relationship is one based on mutual respect, not on limitless deference.

    A push to “educate” your clients is very patronising. It presupposes that all the fault lies client side. It doesn’t. There are a lot of rude and arrogant architects who have little idea how to work collaboratively, who treat clients and contractors as if they are fundamentally beneath them.

    If you want to be listened to, start listening. If you want respect, start showing it to others.

    • ami-admin on said:

      E Rose –

      Thank you for your insightful comments. Offering better service and a better, more memorable experience is a foundation of any business, along with politeness and mutual respect. We encourage self-confidence in the value that an architect provides a client, not arrogance or a patronizing attitude.

      I think you may have missed the point – architects are often treated with little respect, expected to provide design ideas at no charge to compete for the project, and often asked to cut their fees or add extra services (ongoing revisions, scope creep, etc.) at no charge. There is a balance here, and overall it is our opinion that architects can improve their position, their satisfaction and their income with the use of effective, ethical marketing and sales strategies.

      – Eric Bobrow, Partner, Architect Marketing Institute

  18. Jon McNeely on said:

    As an architect I think we need to realize that we will never have the power to charge clients like attorneys and doctors. The reasoning for this is 2 fold. Yes, we lost that war. It’s over, forget about it. Attorneys control Congress/government and all state legislatures. They make the rules, and their rules are made to create more lawyers and work for lawyers. But let’s not forget that there are many attorneys out of work, or not doing work that requires a law degree. Doctor’s are in the highest demand of the 3 original professions, and their rates are controlled by Insurance marketplaces. They control 1/6 of the US economy. They’re also in their own war battling for the standard of care vs insurance malfiesence to make sure they can get paid the money they believe they deserve. Like architects some doctors and lawyers make more than others.

    The main difference is the floor for all three professions. Lawyers are more likely to be unemployed, so for that profession it seems to be sink or swim, they have the lowest floor, but a good middle range and low ceiling. Architects are more of a rarity, so we have a low floor, but probably the highest ceiling. The biggest difference is those considered starchitects get paid millions of dollars a year, while the aspiring architects they employe are lucky to average 40k outside of the firm principals all making 120-200k each. Doctors are by far making the highest floor, but their ceiling is controlled by the insurance industry, all doctors probably make between 100-300k, and it’s mostly dependent on location. People look for the best doctors and lawyers, but it’s not something they tend to seek out across continents.

    The 2nd issue is that even though architects are required to do their best to protect health, safety and welfare of the public, the public doesn’t know this. Also, our success isn’t directly life threatening, as our work is so important that it is regulated by the cities we work in and with, and it’s all through various building codes, and our work requires permits and necessitate contractors (unless we’re design/build). We need to realize that due to all the requirements we need to hurdle around to get a building constructed, we ceded a lot of our responsibilities over time to the contractors. So the client sees us as only 1/10 (if we’re lucky) of the bill to get their building constructed. The client also has an attorney on contract to deal with a lot of the hurdles attorneys created in the structure of city government. Most of our fee isn’t profit as we need to pay our consultants. Not to forget that we’re dealing with the wealthiest people in the country, and all of them are pretty stingy with how they want to spend their money. Our client is the 1%.

    Not only are we dealing with a stingy client, but us performing our service doesn’t have a direct affect on their life, it affects their money, but they’re more likely to sue us because of this, not throw money at us to fix problems. If they were to see a doctor it’s probably because their life is literally hanging in the balance. If they’re dealing with an attorney it might be for a nefarious reason, and they will do whatever it takes to avoid going to jail or paying a large fine. Simply put, our work is of dire importance, but it’s not the kind of thing that wealthy people want to throw money at. It’s literally the opposite. We’re a service to them, not a necessity.

    Should we make more, YES. Do we have the means to make that type of change to the culture of the society we live in…. no. Most architecture practices struggle to survive. We generally don’t get paid that well (and to a large degree it’s due to our own survival instincts), and even our employees can sometimes feel like they’re lucky to even have a job.

    I have no solution how to fix this pay gap, but I think it’s important to stop assuming we should be paid as much as a doctor or a lawyer. Doctors and lawyers work for everyone, because everyone wants to keep living a somewhat healthy life, and everyone would like to avoid going to jail. Their markets apply everyone who can afford any service, so the top 50%. Our market is not, and it will never be the same, and what we offer isn’t even full service, as contractors steal most of our business.

    If we really want to focus our battles it should be against other vocations in our industry. We lost our greatest chance at wages when we let state legislatures allow contractors to design and build those damn cookie cutter houses that flood the suburban markets. That was our chance to serve the everyman and the 50% market place. After contractors, I would focus on real estate agents. They make more money in the resale market of our design work than we made it the implementation of our work.

    Forget lawyers and doctors, they’re not in our marketplace, and it was never a battle to begin with, that’s not our war.

  19. Negon on said:

    It’s been about 10 years that I am an interior designer/ project manager (& sometimes pseudo super-intendant). I wear many hats on the multiple projects I do per year in Los Angeles.

    I am a lover and advocate of thoughtful architecture. My father just purchased a beautiful, unmolested Neutra home – his last commissioned work before he passed. We appreciate good architecture and the value of working with an architect, in all fields (e.g. Landscape Archs), I am even married to an architect.

    In my day to day, I handle all the bids and negotiations…I believe people should be paid what they are worth and even further, paid in a timely manner. I even pay people for first time consultations, whether I work with them or not. (After all, no one is working for free). With the architects I’ve hired, I don’t ever negotiate down. All I expect is deliverables AND communication to be handled with courtesy and respect for timelines.

    That is my greatest frustration with architects of all kinds, especially in LA; the “I’ve been so busy” excuse when I am waiting and waiting for drawings, email responses, and information needed to continue moving forward. It has been my experience that while architects are incredible people with worthy skill sets and an asset to any remodel/new build, unfortunately they tend to sit in a self created ivory tower, giving themselves permission to delay jobs in a way that is completely unprofessional. (To be fair – the same goes for pool contractors and roofers – they are the WORST).

    Bottom line: architects go through a shit ton of schooling, come out of that with massive debt in school loans, only to be paid pennies for all that invested time. It’s not fair and as some mentioned above, it really is a matter of supply & demand. Also the issue of everyday “people” not understanding or appreciating the skill set an architect, designer, etc bring to any project. You can blame “DIY” programming for that. (HGTV I’m looking at you!)

    Because of this, most architects (and sometimes designers too) have this silent chip on their shoulder. They’re bitter and frustrated and somehow it translates into arrogance and attitude. I’m sorry if this offends but it’s true for many. Humility could go a long way…not responding to a client for days on end, and costing the loss of weeks to get work mobilized is inexcusable. As a fan of architecture AND architects, it is really disappointing.

  20. Lance Fulton on said:

    I am a practising architect in Johannesburg with thirty years experience in both the UK and South Africa in all forms of building types. The comments posted here are all valid. I note the comments of Winston Churchill at the start of WW2 here, but if you study The Art of War by Sun Tzu, retreat and repositioning are alternative strategies that need not be equated with a white flag of surrender.

    The problem begins at the Universities where architectural students are not taught important matters such as marketing, financial matters and client handling. Without some training and understanding in these sectors it does not matter how good you are at all the other things they teach you at Architectural School.

    However overriding all this can be summed up by what a structural engineer said to me at a site meeting recently – “The problem with professionals working in the built environment and correct fee charging is that clients approach us when they are not in trouble and then leverage fees down to unbelievable levels”.

    An architect will never be in the same position as a medical practitioner who possibly has to save a life or a legal practitioner who has to save a person from jail or even worse, i.e. the death penalty. The stakes for the clients when they approach these professionals is much higher and the pay rewards reflect this.

    Retreat and reposition – the latter as already mentioned here as a comment can take the form of an architect / developer. There are a myriad different ways to reposition.

  21. Thomas Myers on said:

    Wake up. Smell the coffee! Architects are graduating at a rate in excess of the rate the market needs them. Basic economics is driving the wages down. In addition, the profession is unable to gain respect for their service which is ridiculously elitist. They describe their work in mumbo-jumbo jargon that suggest the emperor has no clothes.

  22. Sharon B on said:

    As a woman working in architecture, I couldn’t pay the rent. So I moved over to the client side of the table as an owner’s representative in educational and government work. Good design and the architect’s vision was all fine and good, but it was never at the top of the client’s list. What the client really wanted was an architect who could lead the design team (coordinate the work of all subs), provide a sustainable building solution using durable and easily manageable materials, and provide experienced representation on site during construction to avoid problems and delays.
    The clients I worked with really knew what they needed and had fabulous programs they only wanted the design architects to verify – which led me to move later into architectural planning. There I learned probably the most important skill I feel many in the profession sorely lack: active listening. It requires respecting the client’s knowledge of their own operations and programs and listening to them with interest and concern to really hear and understand their needs.
    For anyone interested in a refresher, try Edith Cherry’s “Programming for Design: From Theory to Practice”.

  23. David Wilkinson on said:

    I have been a registered architect in Canada for more than 25 years. I felt like you did for the first year or so, until one of my valued classes nets gave me a piece of advice: “Put yourself in my shoes. Protect my interests and do not think of me as your patron. This is not the Renaissance. ” I have since then become more and more like me a client. I hire, manage and fire architects and engineer. I make money and I support smart design. I take RISKS and thus am entitled to REWARDS.

  24. Lee Martin on said:

    This issue has existed for many decades, and will not be resolved by marketing. Clients will not pay for upscale design like they will for a life-saving operation or to stay out of jail. Until architects control the development process, they will be subservient to owners who pay bills and contractors who guarantee cost and completion date. There is an old expression about breakfast that says the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. Owners and builders are at much more financial risk than A/Es, while A/Es are often thought of as adding frills. It is important that registration laws be maintained, and that architects look for ways to add value to their projects.

  25. Volkert van beusekom on said:

    I am a building official in canada. I am architecturally trained and review architects drawings daily.
    I have noticed that for the most part architects have been removed by the owners as the project overseers. By the way it never ends well. But they do this to save the fees. In ontario for large buildings, architects and engineers are required to provide designs and review letters during the construction. A symple fix to a lot of permitting and coridinaton issues would be solved by requiring the architect to be the project manager as well.
    The professional associations should petition thier governments to require this.

  26. Interesting. I am an architect working as a project / development manager (not as an architect). My skills are those of an architect and yet there is a need for the work that I do in the context of project delivery precisely because the profession of architecture has allowed itself to drift away from client-centered needs. I am most sympathetic to these issues and frankly got into my line of work because I was unable to support a family on an “architect’s salary”. And yet, there is a problem within the profession that architects must come to grips with and it is entirely about serving the particular interests of their clients.

  27. paxton waters on said:

    I have been a registered architect since 1982. I have been registered in 24 states and Ontario, Canada. I personally done very well money wise and have been on my own for 18 years.
    The biggest problem with architects is the universities that keep graduating 3 times the number of architects needed in the workforce. So many architects loose heart after graduation or sell themselves short and work for nothing.
    Solution…… stop schools from taking more students…..About 60% less would do. That would NEVER happen because they value their jobs too much. Simple supply and demand.

  28. Rakan Ayyoub, Assoc. AIA on said:

    Its a matter of supply and demand, we should reduce the supply of architecture students by increasing the requirements to even get in the field just like doctors which use it to their advantage.

    1. No one can earn a Job in the field of architecture without finishing a 7 year professional degree in architecture with a grade point averge of 3.65 or above.

    2. No one can earn a Job in the field of architecture without passing the ARE with a very high grade just like the USMLE.

    3.To earn a Job you need a union for architecture matching jobs just like the american AMA, this ensures that people get jobs they deserve.

    4. After gaining a Job, you will make scanty money for about 5 years making at most 60,000 while you are in residency for a certain building type.

    5. You need to pass examinations for that building type with an extreme GPA to be able to work in that field, otherwise you will never work at all and remain as an Assistant.

    * this will reduce the number of architects in the USA by up to 75 %, this means that in a few years the demand for architects becomes very very high since no normal people can finnish all the requirement and thus the pay will have to increase by up to 300 %.

    JUST LEARN FROM DOCTORS, that how they do it. there is about 25% demand in the medical profession.

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  30. Stagparty_101 on said:

    Architects are not only the ones suffering in this problem. Engineering consultants also have these problems.The solution is plain simple and easy. Stop being a traditional (designer only) architect. Be a businessman, apply for a contractor’s license and become a contractor-property developer.

  31. Celso Nieves on said:

    I thought this is happening in my country only, Philippines.

  32. Architecture is the greatest profession.

  33. Gilbert Alemania on said:

    I’ve been in the profession more than a decade, but sadly, I am on the brink of giving up on this profession. So much stress and the comments on this article nailed the issues. Its kinda frustrating if you are of a natural talent. Issues raised in this article are very sad…..but also very true. God bless us all especially fellow-architects and the profession itself.

  34. Alick on said:

    Hello Everyone,
    I am very thankful for every contribution on this forum. It is interesting to note that this problem exist in both the developed and developing world.

    Here’s how l see things;
    First and foremost, I think Architects, we are our own worst enemy. A student graduating in architecture does not smoothly transition into a registered architect as they do in law or medicine. Secondly, professional registration bodies for architects don’t seem to serve the interests of their members. The architect’s cake has been so reduced by other players such as project managers who have substituted the architect’s as principal agent. The project manager has made many clients believe that they can help save the client a lot of money through value engineering. The architects and their professional body have failed to dispute this claim, which is often untrue, to their ditrement. Project managers are getting paid equal or more on the project for merly carrying a whip on architects and writing minutes. 90% of them can’t even read the drawings. How did they achieve this level of trust from the clients? They marketed themselves well. They spoke the words which the client wanted to hear such as savings, delivery on time and quality assurance. They were right on one thing, delivery on time, but when it comes to quality,it’s an architects problem. In addition to this, architects are often very weak in legal matters which is why other players would do their work with no legal consequences. Law exists, but is rarely enforced, as there’s no policing from the professional body itself. There is also the issue of individualism in the architectural profession. Architectural professionals don’t often adhere to gazetted nominal fee scales like lawyers or doctors do.
    There’s also a lack of clear government regulations on which category of building designs, are people allowed to buy off the counter and which ones can only be bought through architects prescription and enforcement thereof.
    In the light of all these discussions, it will be interesting to find out how Richard will manage to convincingly tailor a solution that will enable an architect retain that client from whom he will ask for payment for his first meeting and good payment for that matter.
    Regards to all,

  35. John Luther on said:

    The battle Architects face is not so much a disrespect for the profession, but a changing of the times. 

    In a comparison within the article of architects to lawyers and doctors, there are things set aside as legally exclusive to lawyers and others especially exclusive to doctors. On a residential and light commercial level, information regarding the incorporation needs for a new home or light commercial building are available to almost anyone who applies due diligence. 

    As a design – build residential and light commercial contractor, I have read the entire assembly of commentary from my perspective. I am commenting in the interest of the war problems, and in an effort to help a profession I respect that inspired me early in life to be who and what I am today.

    A few questions answered from my experience and perspective as examples:

    Q. Why do clients take elements of your design out to reduce the price and reduce the quality of your design work?

    A. Because it is – will be their home, and it is their money being spent to build it. If they can take out the domed Entry – Gathering Room and Barrel Vault Foyer that ties into the dome to save money, or pay for a significant portion of the Outdoor Kitchen they want more than the igloo CLG…….you have a happier client.

    If the builder listens to the wants, needs and preferences, and suggested this omission and redirection of funds, he is indeed a type of hero, perhaps remembered at every BBQ.

    Q. Why do builders, real estate agents and clients think you will drop everything to drive across town and give advice for free in the hope you might win a deal?

    A. Because builders and real estate agents do (almost) the same everyday, and the potential client may have been privileged to their visits and free advice, such that he – she has reasonable and similar expectations of the architect. Maybe “drop everything” was used by the author of this article to emphasis and cast more unreasonableness in favor of argument position, but to “drop everything” is not a common client expectation of the other “PROS”.

    Q. Why are Builders sometimes called Heros?

    A. Because in some cases – the assignment of status fits. As examples of many: called upon to review, comment and provide suggestions for plans by an AIA member, our company made alternate recommendations for the structural inner portion of brick facade columns where savings reached Hero status at an estimated $120.00 per column location x 26 locations – structural engineer approved the change.

    We have also redrawn AIA member plans after analysis and submission to the Homeowner. Why did the AIA member draw a inner hall located closet – bi-fold door washer and dryer space when the client asked for full Laundry Room with cabinets – sink – mud bench and exterior entry?

    Q. Why does the general public seem to avoid the participation of Architects?

    A1. I do not think it is a disrespect for the profession as much as it is a respect, and analysis that architects can be like doctors and lawyers. The avoidance is due to thoughts where fees can easily and significantly mount, similar to health and legal expenses.

    A2. Maybe a potential patient can not find detailed instructions for a knee operation, or client info in fighting a particular legal battle, but there is an immeasurable amount of help available in our world today for building a home or light commercial building.

    A3. AIA members market home plans for a small percentage of those from scratch, and there are capable home plan firms that provide base original plans at $0.60 per SF or less. These off the shelf plans, or conceptual original plans by an architect or designer often simply require tweaks, perhaps foundation engineering ONLY to local soils and conditions.  

    All things have and are changing rapidly. The public and target market have so much more in terms of truly reliable resources. I do not think that Uncle Sam has any intentions of laws which give exclusive rights as Master Builders to Architects.

    United we stand, divided we fall. It seems that Architects fighting for the acceptable, common and successfully performed duties of other industry PROS is as foolish as Japan isolating themselves, and picking on the biggest kid on the block in early December 1941.

    One suggestion I have made to clients using an architect, and promising the plans to our company when complete is to make our capacities a part of the architects planning – design process.

    As a builder, I buy everything from fill dirt and rebar to shingles and cabinet hardware, and know what the final clean maid service charges per SF. Would a client budget provision by the architect ONLY produce compliant planning better than if he and the client were to coop with the select builder on the front end as a part of a team?  United we stand, divided we fall.

    While the general subject is different, there is a real fight that is reviewed and applicable to the “war” on a more personal – individual  level at our Website Blog: Title: Small Business Survival and Success – Outside the Box.

    Remember, when you curl your fingers, and point your index finger at others in blame, there are three fingers pointing back at you. I would suggest any sense of entitlement, consequent reasoning and war is a waste of energy.

    There are bad architects who lack character to be truly successful, and the same applies to builders. Put your boots on and demonstrate the warrior within in making adjustments to the broad and strong flowing changes in our society. “If you say you can, or if you say you can not, you are right.” Henry Ford  

    Do not call it a war, but a “Strategy Conference: Adjustments for Survival in the Architectural Profession” (focus: high tech and resourceful society).

    Sorry. Some friends call me “Johnny”, always the name of the young boy at the back of the class causing trouble.

    • Phil Shields on said:

      interesting debate, I agree with the above respondent its a sign of the times, change is the one sure thing we can all rely on, as well as data Rubicon’s assessment regarding legislation. anywhere legislation confers monopoly, financial reward is assured, by law, doctors have it, as do lawyers, albeit their monopoly has been eroded somewhat in recent years. Architecture on the other hand, is unregulated, in the UK at least, high fees are not assured, but still attainable for the skilled operator working in the right location. Perhaps architects should be pressing for changes in legislation, although perhaps unlikely in the current climate, the architects role is not seen as essential to health and safely, albeit he carries responsibility in this area. In some countries architects have legal protection, I know from working in Hong Kong, if you’re not an architect, or engineer, you can’t submit plans for approval, and fees and salaries for architects are relatively higher.

    • Leslie Divoll on said:

      Right, Johnny.

      I like to work from day one with the contractor who will be building the project for all the reasons that you cite — but somehow clients have the idea that the builder and I would be in collusion to extract money through a no-bid process.

      My pitch to prospects: we would be value-engineering from the beginning; together we can allocate their budget in a way that balances design desires with construction reality; that Owner, Architect, and Builder would all be on the same team from the start.

      Any clues on how to find clients who are inclined to agree, and a more persuasive message?

  36. Richard Petrie on said:

    In that case you need to identify the value added features that they get by using you. Most people have advantages but do not explain them.

  37. Fokruddin Khondaker on said:

    In my State, Professional Engineers can sign and stamp the Architectural Construction Documents and they do it for a minimum or no fee at all as long as they get engineering design contracts.

  38. ProfessionalB on said:

    Client here. Architects are not doctors. And guess what, doctors should be questioned as well. Architects get a bad rap, because a large number of architects are completely arrogant, lazy, and think of themselves as being perfect. Why do you never hear a homeowner say they highly recommend the architect they used? Because too many architects do take budget, style, timelines or good communication into account. As an architect, you work for the home owner. They hired you to do a job, and sadly often times as a means to an end. Sadly that is what mine has become. He can not communicate. He thinks questions about budgets or pricing are objections. Some architects do much more than others, and they can bill you for it. But, do not be a prima donna. Maybe ask yourself why you are you being disrespected? Your job is to help a client create and see a vision through. If you want to be an expert, then you need to have your own arsenal of experts as well. You should know what things cost, generally. You should understand the scope of the work, even if you can’t draw it. If an architect is not good at communication, can not make schedules, can not express various scenarios and speak in non jargon lingo to a client – they have no business being in this business. Unfortunately for you there are way too many lazy and not great architects. If I could use the skilled carpenter who knows homes, but is not licensed, to work on my house, I would do it in a heartbeat. I hear your frustration, but it is the arrogance of this article that warrants a bit of disrespect, in my opinion.

    • Avatar photoRichard Petrie on said:

      Hey (anonymous)

      Cool comment. Thanks for taking the time to write.

      “Maybe ask yourself why you are you being disrespected?”
      I am not being disrespected.

      I am not an architect, not my bag – too much work and too many batty emotional clients for my liking. I’d be terrible.

      You should be aware this article was written FOR architects. If it was written for volatile homeowners who had unrealistic expectations or who had
      a generally disrespectful attitude towards the world it would be a different article.

      That is called …writing for your audience.

      You obviously had a bad experience. Clearly you hired the wrong architect.

      No doubt you had more than one option. But you choose one that was not suitable for you. I doubt he/she was your only option.

      Looks like your sweeping opinions of disrespect and arrogance are based on a sample size of one. Maybe your attitude had some influence on your project.

      “Why do you never hear a homeowner say they highly recommend the architect they used?”

      Huh? – over 50% of our architect clients business comes from referrals. Not sure what you mean here.

      My suggestion is next time, do your homework and pick and architect who better suits your stringent requirements. Get a referral from a friend and try treating whoever YOU select with a little respect. It works wonders.

      Thanks for your comment.
      – I like impassioned feedback.


  39. Mariana Pickering, LEED AP BD+C on said:

    dear moderator – I accidentally replied to the comment below the comment I intended… can you move my comment to nest under the thread with Charles Traylor?

    • Eric Bobrow on said:

      I’m not sure how to move a comment around, sorry…
      I do appreciate your thoughtful insights, and know that the world of architectural design encompasses a wider body of professionals who provide value in various parts and phases of the process. We call our work “Architect Marketing” to keep it simple, however I regularly refer to “bringing in clients to your architecture or design firm” to implicitly recognize that there are building designers who do good work and can benefit from these marketing ideas, strategies and methods.
      – Eric Bobrow

  40. Georgina Wilson on said:

    Thank you Richard for such a great article.
    This idea of educating our Clients (and indeed the general community where we can) is very much at the front of our minds in our practice. We are constantly looking for fresh and clear ways to articulate our value as architects and service providers. It’s not easy but a compelling challenge nonetheless!
    Georgina Wilson,
    Sydney Australia

  41. Data Rubicon on said:

    I posted this on Archinect as well after reading it from there.

    This debate has been very interesting, and many salient points were mentioned. I was looking up labour statistics, and indeed, the salary for architects is disappointingly low in comparison with other professions. Similar debates such as this have also popped up around the internet. Yes, architecture is facing a ‘silent war,’ and I think the only solution is, really, through legislation. The analogy between medicine, law, architecture and other professional disciplines, such as engineering, may be banal, but it really illustrates how professional practices can diverge in many different ways. The reason why medicine and law have become so ubiquitous and therefore high-paying is because of the modern society necessitates their presence. Looking back into the past, medicine used to be practiced by barbers and quack-doctors – people who dispensed rubbish as cures. Similarly, lawyers could be anyone ranging from the run-off-the-mill citizen to an established politician, but could practice rhetoric.

    For purposes of this, let us call doctors and their allied healthcare professions, ‘healers,’ and lawyers, paralegals, and so on, as ‘lawmakers.’ Architects, contractors and so on are ‘builders’. The reason why a development similar to medicine and law did not occur in the field of architecture is due to the lack of enforcement in the responsibilities of those who are builders. Basically, contractors can overstep their profession’s boundaries into the work of architects, and this achieves two things: (1) it reduces the perceived need for practicing architecture and with it lowers the economic demand, and (2) it eliminates the ‘prestige’ that so often accompanies professional degrees. Richard Pietre was right when he said that the public did not know acknowledge the responsibilities of the architect, which deals with public safety and health, responsibilities which are on par with medical and legal disciplines.

    Here is the gist of my comment. By the mid-1600s, the medical and legal professions began to undergo a kind of public standardization because quack-cures and legal nonsense did not stand in good stead with people. If buildings started to collapse all of a sudden due to poor construction, a similar development would occur as well. But, as it is with the nature of ‘architecture’, many people can build things that do not collapse easily. Of course, I am not saying that architecture is not standardized or regulated. On the contrary, it is a very regulated and mature discipline, in all sense of professionalism. But! The main difference is that the regulation was not precipitated within the ‘demand’ portion of architecture, that is, the public. If the law requires all buildings to have an architecture’s stamp and approval, this would have the same effect as removing all the quack-doctors and legal laymen who practiced a vulgar version of the art. And in effect, this would raise the economic prosperity of the architectural community.

    I have much respect for architecture, even as I stand as a prospective post-grad student still considering my options. All talk of architecture as ‘art’ is nice, and fluffy stuff is always good and appreciated only when the grit of reality is taken care of. Yes, when a profession and its subject matter has become economically elevated to be on par with its theoretical worth, then can we respectfully engage in speaking of it as an ‘art’. But on the whole, it is now impossible to use ‘art’ and ‘aesthetics’ as an impetus to increasing the monetary worth of architects, which should be way more than it currently is. People speak of medicine, surgery and litigation as an ‘art’ and rightfully celebrate it. There must come a time when the same praise should be heaped upon the architect’s eye for technicality and safety. But this can only come when society lays down laws that necessitate the architect, and not an ambiguous relationship between contractor and architect. I believe architecture is a cornerstone of civilization, much as the other professions are. Pietre is also correct when he says that architecture lacks backing, both in demographic representation and economic ability. The solution is not clear now, of course, unless heavy lobbying is exerted to influence the law. The necessity of architecture is not immediately obvious to most people, not as intuitive as licensing a medical or legal practice. So, I guess, we are still waiting for that moment.

    Some of you may not agree with what I think, but I look forward to it. Just my two cents worth.

  42. ronanski on said:

    better said than nothing!
    architects are seldom recognized here in our country
    especially architects who live in a marginalized society, i do care for
    a change of my country but i left helpless, i even struggle to
    survived.may be this is the sign of times.
    sooner or later technology will kill architects.
    but the best thing left in us is our “sanity” able to feel of being “human”.

    • Mariana Pickering, LEED AP BD+C on said:

      I’m an unlicensed designer, “canoeing without a paddle”, and working in the residential sector. I think it’s easy to forget that there are many reasons one may chose not to complete licensing. One of them is finding an architect business partner to complement his/her skill sets. We’re not all out to compete with and destroy the good name of licensed architects.

      I think many times the egoism of professional licensure can have negative effects on the possibilities for collaboration. Yes, the licensed architect carries the responsibility of signing and stamping, and should not be undervalued. But one person can’t know everything, and a true leader architect is humble enough to acknowledge the groundwork supplied to him/her by others.

      I follow all of the Architects Marketing group’s publications because I work in a team for which much of this applies. But I have to say that the arrogance of licensed architects is a thing to watch out for… not just from a collaborative co-worker point of view, but also from the perspective of the client. There’s a delicate balance we in the architectural industry must seek between self-valuing and humility.

      Luckily I work with a humble architect, leaving it up to me to drive our marketing and try to convince clients in the value of what we offer as a team. When we get new leads, I always sit them down and have a chat about what good design means… about how it requires studying human behaviour and understanding how our bodies and minds react to physical spaces. This (for me) took years of architectural training to learn, and is just as valuable as the technical information my architect partner provides. To our clients it’s important that we balance each other out.

      I think a bigger discussion – past the depleted value of architects as professionals (which, I agree, is concerning) – is a much bigger discussion about the fact that architectural DESIGN is under appreciated. As someone in previous comments said, everyone thinks they can design a house. Architects or architecture studios (with us lowly unlicensed designers included) are often contacted to supply the technical side of what many clients think they can do on their own.

      The comment below by Data speaks to this nicely.

  43. Charles Traylor on said:

    Well, Aloha Yawl, and I categorically disagree with most of the cry baby panty waist whining I am seeing in this discussion. Opportunity abounds out there. Ninety percent of what one has to do to succeed is, like Woody Allen said, just SHOW UP! Let’s look at a few specifics. Lots of architects gripe to high Heaven that there are so many “designers” and “drafters” out there, doing house plans on the cheap that there’s nothing left for architects to do. You know what? That’s pure snail frocky. Have any of those whiners hugged their designers and drafters today? Probably not. Look, if one gets to know most of the designers and drafters, architects are whining about, it will become almost unilaterally self evident that most of those “non-architects” are out there in the 10 foot swells, canoeing without paddles. They’re doing the best that they can, which is more than many of the wall flower shrinking violet bad mouthing (and either unemployed or underemployed) architects are doing. If one engages these common drafting and designing folk in strategic alliances to assist and advise them to assemble better documents than would otherwise be produced, and if one passes along superior skills sets to that same audience than that audience would have for themselves otherwise, then there can begin to be an emergence of a synergistic team of producers, who can team up with architect-leaders to take on bigger and more complex projects than those same architects would be able to tackle all by themselves. There are so many wonderful online cloud oriented tools to help in the process. I am amazed at the lack of initiative, ingenuity, creativity, commitment and perseverance, shown by gripers, who supposedly have been educated and trained to possess all of those exact characteristics supposedly in big black spades. Idiots! Morons!

    • Avatar photoRichard Petrie on said:

      You are so right, if any business owner has the right attitude AND ready to learn AND takes action then he/she can do well. Sometimes being on your own means, sole trader or small firm means you only see a narrow view of what can be done.
      Success does not happen by accident. Thanks for the attitude reminder. Richard

    • Edward J Shannon, ArCH/NCARB/LEED GA on said:

      Not sure what world you are living in Charles. I happen to know most of the unlicensed designers in my state. None, that I know of, would want to align with an architect unless it was to go after commercial work. In which case they would expect the architect to stamp their designs. I have been approached to do this.

      Have you worked in the custom residential sector? From a perusal of your website/portfolio, I would guess not.

      Architecture is a complex, competitive field. I applaud that you were able to find your niche and have a successful business. But, please, spare the name calling (idiots, morons) at those who haven’t.

  44. MOLLY on said:

    I wonder if we shouldn’t move out of the residential field and renovation of older residentials and leave that up to construction managers and just focus our attention on the commercial, industrial, multi-residential and public buildings, where we are fairly compensated.

    • Avatar photoRichard Petrie on said:

      Thanks Molly.
      I think there is good money in residential if you focus on the top 20% of the market.

    • Richard Morrison on said:

      I think there is good money to be made in residential; it’s just hidden in different pockets than commercial/institutional, etc. Most architects leave a lot of money on the table simply because it hasn’t occurred to them to take over aspects of the job, or because they don’t want to be bothered. Too bad.

      For example, money is often going into a kitchen & bath designer’s pocket because the architect has abnegated responsibility for this, and lets someone else do the design and get compensated. On a commercial job, the architect would be designing the casework and there wouldn’t be a separate cabinet designer, whose fees are often buried in the cabinet cost.

      It might be that architects should get involved with product purchasing like lighting fixtures, or window treatments, or other materials. (For a markup, the way interior designers do.)

      I recently did a kitchen where the Owner chose European premanufactured cabinets. ($40K) I got a 20% trade discount which I split with the homeowner. An extra $4K just for signing the purchase order, which the Owner was delighted to pay for saving $4K himself.

      Same issue with furnishings and lighting design. Architects need to adapt themselves to the market niche they are in. The money is there — it’s just that someone else is helping themselves to that piece of the pie.

  45. Richard Morrison on said:

    There are three major problems, as I see it:

    1- Architects have been selling “good design” rather than “value” for so long, that most cannot even articulate well what value they bring to the table. Most assume that “good design” has value in and of itself. (Ivory tower view.)

    2- In the residential world, unlike doctors and lawyers, architects are optional, with many cheaper alternatives. They are seen as an “additional expense” rather than as an investment that will pay off down the road. Until architects get across that, like a good accountant or a good attorney, paying for excellent advice will save the client money in the long run, they are are doomed.

    3- Many architects promote themselves as artists, with major self-promotion resulting from their created artifacts. Unlike doctors and lawyers, where a good client outcome is the mark of success, a well-published building (with awards) is the mark of success in architecture, regardless if that building leaked like a sieve and went way over budget.

  46. robert barone on said:

    A very considered article.
    Harry Truman once said, “the reason academia is so political is because there’s so little at stake.” The practice of architecture is much the same. In The States, in 1967 The Justice Department attacked the architects for price fixing. At the time the standard fee was 7% and you chose your architect based on expertise in building type, location, existing relationship etc. All other of the five original professions had a similar fee structure and still do, but the architects were small in number and lacked political clout so they got hammered. Wounded the architects cowered and their tail is still between their legs and everyone continues to whip them. For twenty-five dollars the AIA will sell you a 1967 AIA Owner-Architect Agreement. A very telling read indeed. You’ll note that the aforementioned document has “Shall” everywhere. The current AIA Owner-Architect Agreement says “will” this is huge in the legal world.
    I believe that soon in the US, the profession will be usurped by engineering firms, construction firms, developers and even large advertising/marketing firms. This is already happening in the design/build field. The construction manager gets the client and the architect is treated as a sub-contractor with enormous liability. Who in their right mind would be a lackey and take all the blame? Preposterous.
    Architects have such little power they even let the information industry steal their name. Look in the job listings for architects and you get page after page of IT positions before you come to something resembling the profession. The AIA and NCARB are self-serving anti-professional organizations. They don’t remotely resemble the AMA, ADA, and ABA who champion their respective professions. The AIA and NCARB only tell the architects what they can’t do, shouldn’t do and then they provide a maze of restrictions to thwart licensure and practice.
    Not to mention schools with professors who have never practiced making them perpetual graduate students teaching what they were taught 30 years prior. No other profession does this.
    Realtor’s charge 7% to sell a property and the average property sells every 7 years. The architect of that property charged 4% and in some states is liable for 21 years after the first claim. Now who’s the idiot?
    The article eloquently lays all of this out and as I see it, the only way to bring respect back to the profession is to let it collapse and die, which it’s doing. Then and only then can it be built again under The Master Builder concept, where the architect is in complete control of a project.

  47. Edward J Shannon, ArCH/NCARB/LEED GA on said:

    I agree with the many frustrations of architects practicing in the residential sector. There is a phenomena I call “The Curb Appeal Façade and Stage Set Interior” Many are building homes that are generated by a floor plan. These homes only have detail on the front façade. The interior is then a collection of rooms that often times have no relationship to each other. These spaces are often gleamed from images off of Houzz and Pintrest. Most of these clients have more confidence in their builder than the architect (or in many cases, non licensed designer). They also have confidence in their decorator and K/B designer. Although the back and sides of their homes are bare boned, many will spend well over $100K on landscape. The house is a container or a shell. The more square footage the better!

    Fortunately, there is a group of residential architects who are working to change this mindset. This is a newly formed professional society called ArCH: Architects Creating Homes. The mission of ArCH is to bring together a group of American Licensed Architects who focus on residential architecture, professional excellence & achievement, Client value & service. ArCH wants to advocate for the residential architect and convey the value of using a licensed architect for a home building project.

    If you are a US licensed architect who designs homes. Check out ArCH!

  48. Kareem E. on said:

    Great wordings, we Architects do see the obvious but we do not take productive-adequate action, we are hopeless poets so-to-speak!
    Will make it short: Architects need to joint on a ’round-table’ and come with joint decisions and philosophy on how to approach this deadly issue (businessmen and finance do that all around the world, why not Architects?).
    Architects became a commodity, an accessories.
    We can talk from now to another century to come, if that round table will not take place let’s call it “Common house of Architects”.
    The next generation will may say to their children “once upon time their was a something called a Architect”.

  49. Collier Ward on said:

    “Those who tell the stories rule society.” – Plato.

    At the risk of oversimplifying the issues presented here, I believe that Architects can shape our society (and our economy) by the stories we tell.

    Clear, jargon-free communication can set a vision that others want to attain. This happens with our existing clients in conversation and with future clients via blogs and other marketing. I also believe it must happen at a larger cultural scale through entertainment media.

    Architectural Storytelling is a fledgling movement whose time has come. When the untold drama and joy of designing and constructing buildings is accessible to the general public – through TV, books, films, web series, etc. – then our work will be understood and our value will increase.

    Architectural Storytelling is meta-marketing. It’s promoting the “brand” we know as Architecture. It has never been done before; but our circumstances demand, technology will foster it, and our culture – our potential clients – are hungry for it.

    “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram (or STORY) once recorded will not die.” – Burnham

    If you have a novel in you waiting to be written (I’m crafting mine when I’m not practicing Architecture) then let’s discuss these things. Your Architectural Story may be part of the solution!


    • Avatar photoRichard Petrie on said:

      Agree Collier. Had not heard the Plato quote but I often quote ‘who ever tells the best story wins’.

      Its true –
      I have a client Christopher Colby who has developed a great story. We might feature it one day.

  50. Mike Faine on said:

    Fantastic comments and all written from the perspective of many years practice. I often ‘envy’ my structural engineering colleagues who have the authority to sign off on the structural system, at both the design and construction phase. At least that gives them a very strong lever to exert influence and to be paid well for their services. It would be great to have a similar ‘lever’ like that! Nothing like that in the local legislation (other than for apartment buildings in NSW). Maybe that could be a solution?

    I think architectural design has become such a devalued field that everyone thinks anyone can do it. The proof of that particular pudding is evident in just about every suburb I drive through where the standard project home designs dominate the landscape. The really good architectural designs always seem to be only for the ‘rich and famous’ and that may also help to skew the general public’s impression of architects and architecture (at the residential level).

    The trouble is, it is still a job that I like to do and I am always astounded by the creativity of so many good architects. Maybe we all need to blow our own trumpets very loudly?

  51. Robert Sawyer on said:

    As a Licensed General Contractor and Architect, I can tell you that most people respond to notions of perceived value. For eons the construction community has ridiculed architects for being idiots without any real working knowledge of construction, which is true. It’s not something that needs to change either. There is a natural order to things. The contractor deals with much larger sums of money, and therefore controls everything. (Hang on, let me finish!)

    What needs to change, in my opinion is the public’s perceived value of architecture, and it’s processes. For example, I thought many years ago that my homespun architectural contract with it’s simplified provisions would be beneficial. However, I found out ten years later that all I was doing by not alliterating all aspects of the work was devaluing my product and services. Once I began to circulate the standard AIA contract, I found a noticeable higher regard for all that my thought process entailed. This translated to a greater respect for that process. Out with the old, in with the new.

    I’ve got a doctor friend who sees patients for ten to fifteen minutes. His clients bring him cookies. He has had a single client give him $10,000.00 gift certificates to Carroll & Co. of Beverly Hills for the last half dozen years, as well as getting paid for the service on his usual billing scale. I’ve often wondered how scraping a mole off of someone is more important than prodding safe and economical shelter. I believe the question is more important than the answer. We have to ask ourselves in the A+E industry, how do we stem the tide?

    Architects have to stop talking about contractors in a negative light. It reflects very poorly on the professional. Owners truly believe all that they are told until somebody starts pointing a finger, then all contracts become suspect. They don’t know who or what to believe. It’s usually a tugging (insert other word here) contest. The outcome may appear to benefit the architect, but in the long run whether true or false, the contractor will spend more time with the owner, have more of their money, and gain influence over all they meet. Educating them all is a must.

    By taking a professorial role, admitting where you are weak, allows for a more free-flow of information, and a smoother running project. By continuing this relationship over time, each of us can become stewards of the industry and help stem the tide. We can no longer afford to be talked about as neophytes when we pull out of the driveway. Our commitment to education extends to the owners that we serve. It will raise both up to a new standard which will end the backsliding of the profession, which is exactly where we’re at: low tide.

    • Avatar photoRichard Petrie on said:

      I had a client take me to the rugby world cup final but $10k a year gift is a different level. Good comments.

    • Gunilla Rommerskirchen on said:

      I absolutely agree with you. Very well said!
      Have had the same experience myself and have also become a contractor to both learn every little bit of construction and to get influence over the whole building process.
      As architects we ask to be paid for our time, but as builders we are paid for a product. That is much easier to understand for the client.

  52. Vaughan Maybury on said:

    The areas of expertise that architects have has been eroded over many years by engineers, quantity surveyors, project managers and draughters. In NZ almost everyone thinks they can design their own home and that they just need someone to do the drawings for the building consent (and mother-in-law will chose the colours).

    My suggested solution is to move architectural education to an engineering base so that architects can undertake structural and other building science based design work which is well outside the knowledge that clients believe they have. The study of architectural design would become post-graduate/masters level.

    An advantage of a broader range of professional skills is the ability to earn income from a wide range or opportunities.

    Vaughan Maybury

  53. Chuck Kottka on said:

    I’m not sure how practical it is to look for “better” clients. The people in charge of the building dollar pocketbooks cannot be defined by our profession. Some will be difficult, distrustful, accusatory, uncommunicative, and only concerned about the bottom line. However, they can be educated and inspired. I think the real question is, “How do we MAKE better clients?”

    • Eric Bobrow on said:

      Great point Chuck. I Think you’ve hit it head-on. I think we can both attract clients that are better to work for (we all know there are both types), and educate all clients to help them understand better the value they are getting by working with us.

      • Lomiata Niuatui on said:

        Thank you Chuck for the question “How do we MAKE better clients?” and Eric for the “educate all clients to help them understand better the value they are getting by working with us”.
        The educating/awareness direction (as a marketing bullet) is probably the key.
        I have been in private practice for 24 yrs in a developing 11,000 soul nation as the only architect but has only done 3 design works. I had to become a construction contractor to actually earn money. Projects that would require arch services are given to overseas architects (they are not even advertised locally) or to foreign firms by donor countries.
        After reading your article(s) since joining, 3 June 2014, off the bat, the marketing bullet is awareness of your skills and the value it (the skills) brings into the project. The marketing strategy will have to address the issue of not being seen as promoting yourself over others.

  54. Roderick Anderson on said:

    I think that you are correct in the undervaluation of the profession as a whole. Many times I get to an initial meeting and a client comes with a floorplan they took off a $9.99 magazine of “500 homes” or something like that. This kind of publication should be eliminated, since then these uninformed clients don’t understand why I would charge them for one design while they can look at 500 for $9.99 !!

    Definitely education is part of the equation, but also some other architects are also to blame. Many do a simple sketch for free, hand it off to a draftsman who then makes an interpretation of that sketch and that is shown to the client as a “proposal”…. and do this in the intent of trying to land a job. Then, you are sort of forced to land in the same arena, since the client comes and says…. “I already got this proposal from this other architect, why should I have to pay you to do something for me, why don’t you also draw something up and I will choose then one I like best” They end up creating these “informal competitions” where they don’t exist.

    I have to constantly be arguing to clients and trying to tell them what is all they will receive by hiring our services, and have to end up making a strong point in all of that so they end up finding a value in our work.

    I agree with Craig’s comment in that the main battle is in the residential market, but I also find that in other fields it also happens. Developers who have dealt with other architects previously already have a “number in mind” of what fees they will pay for a certain project. Then even if you provide a better set of services and have an added value over the other guy, then the fees are already set by the client, and if you are OK with that fee then they allow you in the door for consideration, if you charge something higher then they don’t even want to talk to you. I find that these developers of larger scale projects then already have a “relationship” to some larger firms where the project is then handed off to a particular team and handled many times as part of a cookie cutter kind of solution that they use over and over. They are already used to this kind of work and have a set expectation.

    Recently a developer called us up and said they had interest in us working for 3 of their new projects. We ended up flying around in a helicopter to view the sites and get to know the areas, and then we would go for a meeting with the owner. This sounded great until we got into the meeting, where then he said he wanted us to work on all 3 projects, but he wanted us to then do 3 designs of homes for each project and send them in, and if he liked anything then we could meet again. Evidently we did not even spend a second on this, but I am sure that somebody else did and sent in some crappy floorplan they had done some years back.

    I agree that we must take a stand somehow !! Having known Eric for a few years now, I’ll join in on the battle if I can.

  55. John Tolhurst on said:

    One: Architects are generalists, not specialists and that is why they don’t command the high fees.

    Management Consultants are another area of generalists, and those that get paid well are those that specialise within this field.

    So, architects need to specialise in one aspect of the design or technology.

    Two: the modern world is far to complex for one person to have all the answers, so specialise, and then, form work teams according to the demands of each particular job. If you can’t work in a team to resolve the design challenge, then the claim of ego and self expression displacing client needs is proven.

    I spent 10 years of my adult life pursuing architecture, and the next 25 purusing management consulting. I always work in teams, I have my strengths, or specialities, yet I am still able to provide the generalist perspective, organise and argue material.

    • Avatar photoRichard Petrie on said:

      Hey John

      You are so right here.
      The money is in being the specialist. Wealthy for example are magnetically attracted to specialists not generalists.

      Not everyone can afford a specialist but when you attract those who can you get paid what you are worth.

      Here’s a short video explaining the power of moving up the power pyramid


    • Jake on said:

      Managing client needs, budget, design, consultants and construction within a (usually compressed) schedule is a specialty like no other!

  56. Craig Taylor on said:

    The main problem sits in the residential market. In other markets, commercial, industrial, multi-residential architects can hold the position of valued professional, although the increasing role of the project manager is eroding that position.

    In the world of residential architecture, you are correct in that it is a battle that we are losing. We are not respected like doctors or lawyers because we are not perceived to be ‘required/necessary’ as are doctors or lawyers. The mindset of the public is this: if you’re sick, you HAVE to go to a doctor and pay whatever is asked, you’re health is at stake. If you are in legal trouble, then you NEED to engage a lawyer, there’s no alternative and it is imperative.

    However, if you CHOOSE to build a house, then you have options. Firstly, I can design my own home – who knows best how I want to live other than me? How many architects meet a client who says, ‘I’ve drawn this up already, you just need to tweak it a bit’ or ‘I downloaded this cad program and I designed this up last night…’? Architects compete against drafts-people, home designers, interior designers, colour consultants and builders, all of whom say they can offer the SAME service at a lower cost. Why would I spend additional fees on an architect that I could spend on my house. Architects also suffer from the perception that we are smug, arrogant, self important and that we view a client’s project as an opportunity to indulge in our own personal artistic endeavour.

    The final nail in the coffin is reality television where design and renovation not only is undertaken by novices but it is done instantaneously. There aren’t too many reality medical shows where amateurs diagnose and then perform an operation on a patient in an afternoon. Architecture has been made to look easy, quick and within the grasp of anyone. The battle lies in having architects respected as are lawyers and doctors. If the public is sick they think “I need to see a doctor”, we need them to think “I want to build a house, I NEED an architect”. But how do you create that mindset?

    1. Change the mindset from an architect being an expense, to being an imperative. The house build will be the most expensive spend in most people’s lives, wouldn’t you want a professional assisting you with that? As professionals, we carry professional indemnity insurance, don’t you want that safety blanket? As professionals, we go through a rigorous, lengthy and continual process of qualification, education and training that is overseen and regulated by professional standards, don’t you want that? We can provide services throughout the whole process – design, approvals, documentation and administration all in the interests of the client (where is a builder’s interest if he is designing as well?), wouldn’t you want someone to do all of that for you? And on top of all of that, guess what, we design buildings! We consider where the sun is, where the breezes are, the views, your needs, environmental factors, planning codes, the spaces, the feel, the livability, the aesthetics, materials, budget….you don’t want that?

    The question is how do you get cut through to the individual client and how do you do it globally? How can I independently sell my profession to improve my business and how can the position of architects be elevated once more?
    The more discussion the better!

    Craig Taylor
    Sydney Australia

    • Denise Shaw on said:

      Wow – Craig! You nailed it!

    • Joseph on said:

      Craig, you aced that comment. I really hope the public can appreciate our profession soon.

    • Gunilla Rommerskirchen on said:

      I’ve just read an article / answer that you wrote in June regading our role as architects and why we are not respected (and paid) for our knowledge and skills as we think we deserve. Well, I can’t agree more with your comments, to every one of them.
      It was particularly interesting to read that we all face the same situation wherever we live. I actually thought that this was a typical Swedish phenomenon, so in a way I’m both relieved and appalled to know that this exists everywhere.
      Of course we should all, individualy, do our best to make the public aware of our capabilities and what they will get for their money by emplying us and particularly what they risk by not doing it. But it must also be the mission of our architects organisations to educate the public about our profession. To bring up the subject again and again, both internally and externally.

  57. Bertrand on said:

    I agree with your analysis of the existing situation. In France, i think the profession had for a long time a inclination towards a superiority complex : Clients don’t understand my creation! I call it “the Beaux Arts Academy complex”. I think it’s explain a part of the situation.

  58. Chris D Coincon on said:

    I whole-heartedly agree with your synopsis. Architects ARE worth as much as doctors and lawyers, in every moral and needs sense. But, you’re right – WE haven’t been doing the good work up front to educate the public as to the need and advantage of working with architects. Most people (clients) who have new projects, are ALWAYS thinking about their bottom line, a.k.a. “the cheapest thing I can build”. It really hurts me to want into an initial client meeting to discuss his needs, and the first thing out of their mouth is: “how much do you charge”? Not: “this is what I need – can you help me get there…” Their first concern is the money. Which is understandable, but history of architect-client relations has shown more negative scenes than positive. As you said, this makes the contractor look like a hero, swooping in at the last minute to save the day. Just because he actually builds it, does not mean that he fully understands WHY it needs to be built that way. Architects need to do a better (although I think a fairly good job now…) job of educating the general public, and of portraying architects as those capeable of creating beauty, functionality, cost-efficiency, and PEACE, all at the same time. Maybe the general public is incapable of understanding these concepts, but “they can be taught”.
    Anyway, I’m on the front lines as well, starting up my own firm from scratch, and loving every minute of doing it.
    Keep pushin’, keep showin’, keep talkin’.
    Chris D Coincon, Architect
    Covington, LA

    • Enoch Sears, AIA (@BusinessofArch) on said:

      Chris, just wanted to respond. Great comment. The onus is on us. Keep up the good work on the front lines!

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