pros· per· i· ty (pro-sper-i-tee): n. the condition of being successful or thriving; esp: economic well-being.
How do we as architects define prosperity? For most of us, our definition may not be that different from that of people in other professions. We aspire to be well compensated, have balance between our work and personal lives, be respected, and make a difference in the lives of those who use the built outcomes of our designs. While the order of priority may differ for each of us, all factors probably apply. Prosperity is important to us both individually and as a profession: The future of the profession relies on us being successful and thriving as individuals if it is to endure.
We all know that our profession has a bit of a complex. Often ashamed to talk about profit, many of us find ourselves pushing our design time beyond the allocated budget as a sacrifice to be praised. We have been trained to sacrifice all else for design. Most of us did not enter the profession because we wanted to get rich; we entered it because we aspired to create places and impact people’s lives — or simply because we loved it. That’s not a bad thing. But what is wrong with being dedicated to architecture and having financial success and a work-life balance? Nothing. We just may need to adjust a few things.
In a 2009 article written for the Journal of Architectural Planning and Research about the challenges in the architectural profession, the author Roger Tijerino wrote: “The problem is that instead of critically discussing its weaknesses and strengths, the profession is often depicted as a glamourous occupation whose members enjoy prominent professional status along with compensation that reflects their high social rank.… The popular perception is that architecture ranks with medicine and law in terms of personal compensation and prestige. Even though architects know that this is no more than a myth, the profession itself enjoys it so much that, rather than shattering the image, it goes along and embellishes it.” Tijerino addresses two main issues: One is how others perceive us, and the other is how we perceive ourselves. We cannot impact the former until we address the latter. Is this something that we want to do? If so, how?
Since the mindset of our profession begins with the training in academia, adjustments in curricula could be a place to start. As a small business owner, I would have greatly benefitted from business or marketing courses. Even if these or other related courses are offered, there would still need to be an adjustment in culture. Until architectural education values other important aspects of our profession on a par with design, students will struggle to prioritize them.
The future of our profession also relies on attracting new people. Being known as a not-so-well-compensated profession that requires practitioners to work a lot of overtime is not the best draw. If students do their homework prior to choosing a career, they will find architect ranking 70th out of 100 on one list of top careers — and not ranked at all on other lists. If students still choose architecture after becoming aware of these facts, we know they are doing so out of passion for the field. Wouldn’t it be great if we could reward that passion with the compensation it deserves?
Architecture is known for requiring long working hours on an ongoing basis, and many people in the profession are now taking exception with this expectation. You may have read about the unionization efforts at SHoP Architects in New York. Another group, The Architecture Lobby, states that “as long as architecture tolerates abusive practices in the office and the construction site, it cannot insist on its role in fighting for public safety, environmental health, or an equitable society.” Both unionization and lobbying for workers’ rights are a sign that some have had enough and are willing to fight for change.
What can we do now within the current climate of the profession to address prosperity? We can begin with setting priorities, and both the national and state AIA components are doing just that. The AIA national board has created a statement entitled “Where We Stand” that includes the topic of economic opportunity. The statement addresses the challenges of narrow profit margins and increasing costs, and advocates for federal policies to support our businesses.
At the Texas Society of Architects, “Prosperity of the Profession” is one of five goals in our strategic plan. The goal states: “Firms will thrive through the promotion of the value of architectural services and foster and retain a diverse and well-prepared workforce.” We aim to increase firms’ ability to anticipate and respond to changes in the architectural profession to help their businesses be successful. By having set this goal and objective, we can define efforts to help Texas architects and firms find their version of prosperity. Do you have ideas? We are here to listen to your thoughts on this important subject. Together we can make the changes that will help us thrive.
Eva Read-Warden, AIA, is the 2022 president of the Texas Society of Architects and a principal at The
Arkitex Studio in Bryan.