Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.
Two things happened in the past month that have me questioning the value of our work as Architects. To be specific – the value of my work. The first was a client telling me he expected my fee to be about half of what I proposed. Yes, I did laugh out loud.
The second was attending the ribbon-cutting for one of my projects where my firm was not acknowledged in the usual shout-out from the client. I laughed a little at that one, too.
My firm is certified as a WBE in New York State (a woman-owned business), and I was part of a larger team for a project on Buffalo’s waterfront. We were responsible for the architectural design & drawings for a small but highly visible project, another piece of the puzzle that is the revitalization of this city.
At the official opening, attended by colleagues, clients and VIP’s, the entire design and construction team was thanked…with the exception of my firm. Must have been an oversight, right? Of course it was. Afterwards, I talked to the speaker and introduced myself as the Architect for the project. Weeks later, it continued to bother me, not because I was looking for recognition, but because only the Architect was left off the list.
With the client who was expecting half the fee, it was only the Architect’s fee that was questioned, not that of the Engineers (whom I recommended for the project). On top of that, they gave me a list of the drawings that the CM thought were needed. So the expectation was that my job was to crank out the drawings (and stamp them, then take on all the liability for it).
This is part of a bigger issue, one that we have been talking about for a long time. I’m not a drafting service – I’m an Architect. There’s a big difference, and we know that. But it seems that a lot of other people don’t. Whenever something like this comes up, it makes me question the perceived value of our work. How do we better communicate that to our clients and to the public? Why don’t people get what we do? Why can’t we get paid decent fees?!
Promoting the value of Architecture, and of Architects, is one of the driving forces behind the AIA’s “I Look Up” campaign. Meant to raise public awareness about Architecture, the campaign invites people to pay attention to their surroundings – both the buildings and the spaces in between. From the website: “The American Institute of Architects (AIA) encourages everyone to ‘Look Up’ and see what we can create together. Then, imagine what America could look like when you partner with an architect to co-create its future.”
This is reminiscent of the excellent campaign from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) to bring recognition to Canadian Architects’ work, acknowledging who created it just as you would for a piece of music or a work of art: Every book has an author, every song has a composer, and every building has an Architect.
Give credit where it’s due. Architecture shouldn’t be different in that respect. But it is.
Are these campaigns reaching their intended audience? It doesn’t matter what we think of each other’s work, how many times we use the hashtag #ILookUp, or how many awards we hand out to fellow Architects. What really matters is how the work is perceived, used, inhabited, and loved – or not. Are you making a place better? A community, a neighbourhood, a street, or a room? Are you communicating the value of that work, and of the service that you provide as a design professional, to someone other than your fellow Architects?
Every building has an Architect – in fact, a whole team of talented people – behind it. Architects create the places within our communities where life happens. One thing I know for certain is that has value.