The Business of Accessible, Authentic, and Equitable Architecture

If you couldn’t tell from the recent posts on here, my thoughts have been almost exclusively focused on how the architecture profession can make itself more authentic, accessible, and equitable. Much of what I’ve written about recently are thoughts and ideas that have been on my mind for a long time now. Recent events have been a great motivator to get these thoughts out of my head and into articles. I’ve been thinking about a few other areas of practice, mostly related to the business side of things that we could positively impact, so here’s a list that may inspire some ideas for you or me later on…

Business Models

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how the basic, core business model followed by firms (which revolves around wrangling work and getting it going, then keeping it going so you can invoice and cash flow while you wrangle more work) might contribute to inequality within the architecture profession. There are problems with this business model anyway, and we’ve explored some of those in earlier articles. Truly confronting and finally dealing with inequality in our industry will likely force our collective hand in creating new business models or mimicking those of other industries where some sort of disruption has occurred. I’m hopeful that alternative ways of making an architecture business profitable will also enable more sole proprietors and small firms to compete with larger firms in ways that they can’t today. Maybe change will even encourage more architecture professionals to start their own practices where they might not have otherwise chosen that path. This is where my mind always drifts back to technology as a means to enable new business models (doing more with fewer people for less money — stuff like that), which in this case, could make tech a great equalizer.

Project Delivery Methods

Something else that comes to mind when thinking about better business models is project delivery. I can imagine a future where some form of integrated project delivery, which today kind of seems like it’s exclusively for super mega AEC corporations and their super mega clients, could evolve into a means of project delivery that allows small firms and/or sole proprietors to band together to form project teams capable of competing with much larger firms — where they can act like those big companies when it comes to project delivery. Getting newer and smaller practices competitive with larger, established practices is vitally important to architecture becoming for accessible and equitable, as it’s no good for the industry to consolidate and be dominated by a few big, bland corporations.

Compensation

Unionization in architecture is a topic that excites emerging professionals and sends established firm owners into fits of rage. Regardless of how you feel about unionizing architecture professionals, it’s important to remember we wouldn’t be talking about this topic if we were fairly compensating everyone like Mr. Philips did (actually, we don’t need to go that far) and we weren’t abusing overtime work. For every firm that’s doing the right thing with compensation and work/life balance, there’s another that’s run by assholes who fuck over the people that are making them money. In between those two extremes, there’s a lot more people who hit glass ceilings, feel stuck at some level in firm hierarchy, have work/life imbalances, or are watching people who look different from them earn more and/or get promoted faster.

Compensation is a topic that should be closely tied to the conversation around architecture education. There’s an increasingly bad ratio of time and money spent on architecture school versus initial earnings once one joins the workforce. I don’t think schools will bring down costs since they essentially have a monopoly, which is one more reason why we should be reintroducing apprenticeships as a means to learn — give the schools some competition, force them to lower their prices, and get that ratio back to where it needs to be relative to compensation.

Fair and equitable compensation may very well be the first issue of equity and accessibility we must address, simply because it positively impacts everyone already working in the profession and big change starts from within. The ideas and conversations out there on this complex subject have a recurring theme around the need for transparency. It’s important for staffers to be able to see how they can progress in an organization and what kind of pay they can expect when they get there. Lots of professions are looking at this topic, but what if architecture took the lead and in doing so became the most transparent profession, the one setting the example?

Relevance

Ahh, yes…the ongoing debate over the relevance of architecture and architects. I can make this one short and sweet. It’s well past time to give someone other than old white men a shot at making the case for architecture to: the youth, the business world, and the public at large. ‘Nuff said.

Next Up…

For the next post in this unofficial series I’ll bring together all of my recent articles on accessibility, authenticity, and equity in some final thoughts on how the architecture profession reinvents itself.

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