Why?

Name me an illness
You call me a sin – never feel guilty
Never give in.
Tell me why? Tell me why? Tell me why? Tell me why?

Jimmy Sommervile & Bronski Beat from “Why”

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This time I am not going to be deeply analytical. I am not going to produce answers or to research dilemmas. I’ll be naïve and trivial. And I will ask you some questions. 3 simple questions…

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1. Why we are everything… and yet we are nothing?

Architects are truly Renaissance people. Perhaps the last profession on Earth requiring from you to know everything, to do everything, to be in charge of everything. Strangely no one is aware of that. Public has no idea of what architects are doing. Public thinks that architects are cute guys who are drawing some pictures,  are doing quick drafting & then are going to the glitzy ceremonies to collect awards for being creative and cool. But for us, the industry insiders who know how architectural profession works this is such a nonsense.

Architects are responsible for the entire project from the first “napkin sketch” till the last detail on the construction site. As I sarcastically pointed out in my Top10 misconceptions… – doing creative sketches and building models is not what our profession is all about.

We, architects, are the single authority managing the entire project.

We are responsible for making sure that all technical systems (mechanical, electrical, structural and at least a dozen of others) are intact and are perfectly coordinated with the general concept.

We are responsible for getting all of the administrative issues resolved: it includes municipal approvals, private agreements, urban design synchronization and at least a dozen of other clerical issues.

We are in charge of at least a dozen of ecological standards.  (I’ll stop to mention “dozens” but be sure it applies to the following as well).

We are resolving the transportation and parking problems. We have to determine that safety standards, building codes, fire norms are properly applied. We are making sure that social issues are not forgotten and that handicapped access routes, children playgrounds, senior citizens areas are set up properly. And of course we are the creators of the project’s financial success (see my next question, please). And sure, as hell, we do produce those creative sketches, 3d models, but also… thousands of the working drawing sheets which are so conveniently not mentioned in the Hollywood flicks about sexy architects. This is just a small part of what we know and what we do. Every fucking day.

So why the public has never heard of that? Why people think that all these issues are somehow magically resolved by themselves? Every little project is a huge combination of the utterly complex matters. Those matters are perfectly managed & flawlessly resolved by the Architect. We are the only ones who are doing that. Not the engineers, not the owners, not the agents, not the builders. It’s us. We never get a credit for this.

Why we are everything… and yet we are nothing?

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2. Why we make them wealthy… and yet we remain poor?

Behind every successful man is a smart woman. Everybody knows it. Today the situation, thanks God, has changed. Women are not “behind” us anymore. Well… at least “the situation” is much better than a hundred years ago. Women fought hard and they deserve every moment of their success. And trust me one day we are going to be behind them… You know what? We deserve it too.

Here comes my funny analogy. How come that no one knows that behind every rich developer is a smart architect? It might be funny but this is so true. We are the brain of the project. Forget about the numerous project issues I have listed above. The major topic for the client,  for every client – is how to make the project financially profitable. Development is neither a charity nor a creative research. Development is a tough dirty business. Thus modern architect “must” always keep client’s financial interest as a top priority, before any technical aspect. The most interesting point: architect is not only coordinating main financial strategies with the other issues, in fact architect is the one who creates the very concept of “how-to-make-money” from the project. Developers have land and some starting capital (usually borrowed from the financial institutions) – architects invent the project. We are the force originating all those GFA, GSA, GLA (General Floor Area, General Saleable Area, General Leasable Area…) So later it can be marketed & successfully sold for the big bucks.

We must know not only how to create safe and pleasant project, but to make sure that everything we design sells well. Actually I am wrong it goes the opposite way. We must create projects that are highly saleable and also we need to remember about some safety and aesthetics…

All I am saying is that we are not “service providers”. We are not like a shirt cleaning shop or an ice-cream café. We are the ones who design the very concept of the product that makes our clients ultra rich. Do we get a single penny for this, besides our pathetically low professional fees? Tell me.

Why we make them wealthy… and yet we remain poor?

My third “why” is different. I planned to publish it here as well. But then I decided that it is not quite right. These first two questions are about our relationship with the outside world.  And please understand, I am not bitching about how good we are and how they don’t appreciate us. Our industry must take a good look in the mirror and to think what are the reasons of my “why’s”. Nevertheless these are not strictly professional but rather general public issues. The third “why” is more “intimate”. Of course the public interest is always welcomed but we, architects by ourselves are the root of the problem in my third part of the “Why” trilogy. So I decided to separate it into the next essay… (Here is the next essay >> )

And meanwhile maybe you can explain me what’s wrong with us being poor and nothing?

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P.S. If you are too freaking scared of facing these serious “why’s” – relax. Here’s a great remix from the legendary 80s track by Jimmy Somerville called “Tell me why…” (but this is a “why” from another group of people). Relax, life’s good… just ask some questions from time to time.

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P.P.S. Architects have listened… And architects answered.

This essay has generated about 400 comments on LinkedIn arch. forum where I posted it. 

From the most interesting responses I have built the following 4 essays:

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1. Why? Here’s why… Part I | see here >>

2. Why? Here’s why… Part II: Evolution or Adaptation | see here >>

3. Why? Here’s why… Part III: Taking care of business | see here >>

4. Why? Here’s why… Part IV: Face it, architects | see here >>

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Comments
8 Responses to “Why?”
  1. I like to be architect… but… You are right, sometimes I fill myself like a slave…

  2. Anne Whitacre says:

    Architects are poor and ignored because they confuse “creating art” with “being in business and making a profit”. I can’t count the number of times I’ve worked on teams where we never billed the client for some effort or another to “make it right” when we didn’t make it wrong in the first place. First rule of business: bill the client for everything you do. If they change their mind 6 times, then they pay 6 times for the final product. If the contractor wants the bid documents issued in 47 bid packages, that will stop as soon as the client gets the fee proposal for the architect to do all that separating and disjointed work.
    Lawyers do this. they bill at 10 minute increments. You can change your will forever, and you’ll get a bill.

    As long as architects refuse to bill for the time they put into a project, owners and contractors will think we are “too arty” to be “bothered” with things like money, and they’ll ask us to do all sort of time consuming things that are irrelevant to the essential project.
    And of course, to do that — to bill like an attorney, you have to actually be a little bit confrontational with people who are not dazzled by graphicsl

  3. Jeremiah says:

    my comments on this post were so long that I had to put them into a blog post of my own. So here you go, my man! Try not to have a heart attack when you read it. ;-)

    http://bitchinarch.wordpress.com/2010/12/07/why-is-there-so-much-buzz/

  4. sumeru roy chaudhury says:

    For the information of all those who are interested, most of the assumptions contained at point “1. Why we are everything… and yet we are nothing?” do not apply to architects in Central Public Works Department (CPWD), a Government of India’s Department under the Ministry of Urban Development & other State PWDs of the Union of India.

    There the (civil) engineers are (i quote from the referred article) “the single authority managing the entire project.”
    They are “responsible for making sure that all technical systems (architectural, mechanical, electrical, structural, landscaping and many others) are intact and are perfectly coordinated with the general concept.”
    They are “responsible for getting all of the administrative issues resolved: it includes municipal approvals, private agreements, urban design synchronization and at least a dozen of other clerical issues.”
    The architects role is supportive. And of course they are the protector of the project’s financial commitments
    Thus, the architects in CPWD & PWDs hardly gets any credit … and they remain nothing?
    The system is working “successfully” over decades !

  5. Hey, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your website in Firefox, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer,
    it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, awesome blog!

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  1. [...] tries to explain essentially why we as architects kinda suck these days.  Read the whole article here.  I’d like to offer my own comments on the questions he poses here because it would take too [...]



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