Opinion

Alternative Practices in Architecture

Alternative practices in architecture has been a topic of conversation for some time, this was highlighted in a recent report entitled ‘the Future for Architects‘ published by the RIBA in 2012. The problem however is not recent.

The need to develop alternative practices dates back to 1390 and was documented in a book on Western Architecture, entitled ‘De Architectura.’

The earliest of Architects established their role as a patron and subsequently were patrons to the construction trade. They were, as the original translation of the term Architect suggests, Chief Builders.

Over time the role of the Architect moved into a more literate society and concentrated on the construction of buildings. Consequently, the role of the Architect became more introverted and specialist. With the establishment of consumerism the changing responsibilities of the Architect was to focus on pre-occupation.

Changing fee methods in Architecture:

Pre 1982 – Fixed fee scales.

1978-1990 – Mandatory fee scales, followed by recommended fee scales and subsequently indicative fee scales.

1980-1990 – Fee bidding.

1990-2003 – Percentage fees 0% to 11% of construction cost.

2008 – A report indicated a reduction in demand for architects services of 40%.

2012 – A survey suggested that the majority of fees paid to architects accounted for 4% of construction cost.

Source: The future for Architects. RIBA (Pre 1982 – 2008). Building Design survey Architects demand return of fee scales 29 November 2012 By David Rogers (2012)

In 2012 David Rogers concluded that in order for Architecture services to remain relevant it was imperative for the industry to diversify, retrain, and adapt in order to establish new areas of employment.‘De Architectura’ brings to light that changes within the Architecture industry occur by means of trying to reach economic stability. It can also be noted that the industry has been economically retrogressive by separating into various disciplines including military, marine, timepiece, construction and more recently software.

In addition to this divisions are further sub-divided into specialist roles including concept, project management, design, supervision, inspection and consultancy, yet diversification does not alter the percentage of fees available to Architecture services. It is important to note that the Architecture industry is constantly developing in knowledge of aesthetics, people, environment, materials, machinery, and above all possibility.

Given the declining fees available in Architecture what are some of the current strategies for increasing income?

1. Work an additional job: For the 1st 6 years of my Architecture career I worked for another company. I did this in order to save money and allowing me to move out of home and closer to work – at the time I was travelling 4 hrs each day.

2. Move onto another industry: People are moving into better paid roles associated with Architecture such as property management or industrial design. Others move away from Architecture entirely.

3. Teaching: People are taking on teaching roles either full time or additional to their job in order to supplement their salary.

4. Seek funding: People move into research and development with funded grants from the government or other bodies.

5. Freelancing: People are working on freelance projects in addition to their job, typically leveraging their skills and knowledge obtained in architecture, including graphic, writing or other.

6. Services Reduction: By reducing the amount of services carried out, savings can be made on the cost of production, insurance, office, equipment and other.

7. Production of Ideas: People are moving into idea production rather than service production.

8. Volunteering: People are volunteering or working for political dictators, exchanging income and service fees for accommodation, travel, food, water and other privileges.

9. Welfare: This sounds extreme but approximately 35% of the US population seek welfare benefits.

So what is the current consumerist solution?

Since the establishment of the modern bank, the solution to alleviate the gap between income and liveability has been to obtain a bank loan and pay off debt with interest over time. 

This current consumerist philosophy is ending following the economic failures of 2007 to 2010. During this time the World Banking system accrued more debt than capable of sustaining value. Subsequently the ability for businesses and the general public to pay for Architecture services was impacted. 

In addition to this, the depletion of global energy, resources and nature is causing a significant review of industry requirements. In the future, complete exhaustion is predicted and the welfare economy will worsen. Depletion will cause the amount of money in the economy to be established according to the increase of population and environmental change. Architecture, like any other industry must be capable of adapting. 

It is predicted that adaption will occur through the reduction of services, until eventually the role of the Architect will be only the production of ideas.

Is the future of Architecture therefore a repository of responsive solutions to the society it serves? 

I would love to hear your thoughts on the future of Architecture and what you think it looks like. Please leave your comments below or feel free to email linda@archi-ninja.com

Discussion

One comment for “Alternative Practices in Architecture”

  • TFO

    Other than these economic drivers, I think there is a paucity of cultural ‘need’ for architecture. As the wealthiest societies increase investment of their time in virtual experiences, the need or purpose of real space takes on lesser and lesser importance (I will lump some real spaces into this as well: i.e the interiors of Las Vegas casinos, Disneyland, etc.). Here in the US, it feels like a chicken vs. egg scenario….did the plutocrats start shaping demand for these things as a tool to pacify ‘the mob’ or did the people’s demand drive a market response? Either way, people are essentially numb to the effects of spatial relationships to their well-being.

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