Monday, February 7, 2011

Have you hugged an Architect lately? Many are feeling a lot of pain.

Ever since the Internet made it easy to find information (and many thanks to Google for making it oh-so-easy), I’ve made it a habit to visit web-sites of A/E firms and blogs devoted to Architects to find out “what they are saying” about their industry. After all, if one is in the reprographics industry, isn’t one’s business tied to the fortunes (or famines) of our customers? Should we not spend at least some time to understand trends and business conditions that are affecting our customers?

Arup, an international A/E firm. The headline on Arup’s main web-page says this:

We are an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists offering a broad range of professional services.” Arup is based in the U.K., has offices in many countries, and has 9 office locations in the U.S.

Recent news article about Arup found on

Arup cuts 670 jobs in UK

18 January 2011 | By David Rogers Both full-time and temporary staff go following review

Arup has got rid of (i.e., has terminated) 670 posts (i.e., staff positions) at its UK operations with nearly half the casualties being full-time employees, following a shake-up at the business. In September, the firm announced it had put 600 staff on a 90-day consultation in the wake of the coalition government’s decision to scrap or put on hold a series of public sector projects including the Building Schools for the Future programme.

Now the engineering-to-architecture business, which employed more than 4,000 people in the UK across 17 offices, has confirmed that 670 roles have gone as a result of the restructure. The company said 280 permanent roles, including five architects, had been axed along with a further 230 temporary and agency contracts while 86 people who have left the firm have not been replaced. New UK boss Robert Care said it had tried to mitigate the final numbers facing the axe by posting at-risk employees overseas. The firm said it had found posts for more than 70 people throughout Arup’s offices across the world.

As to the article about Arup, I found that article when I read another article (the one that appears below). Actually, I found a link to the article about Arup in the “reader comments” section that followed the article below. Here’s that other article, and you read this article, you will see that I’ve posted some comments posted by Architects who chose to comment on that article.

Will We Ever Get Out of This Hole?

December 27, 2010 By C.J. Hughes (from

For architects, the Great Recession hasn’t really let up since its official start in December 2007. Countless projects are stalled or canceled, including Santiago Calatrava’s Chicago Spire — now a 110-foot-wide void. We investigate what’s in store for architects in the near future and beyond.

“If the slew of Internet posts, letters to editors, and comments to reporters are to be believed, the economy has put the architecture business in such a deep funk, it’s like a proverbial doornail: dead.

And there’s plenty of long-term statistical evidence — about unemployment, a lack of projects, tight credit markets — to back up that prognosis. Besides, architects who have lived through previous downturns often say that this one feels different in a not-so- good way.

Yet an alternate reading of the tea leaves suggests that what may really be happening is that architecture is not keeling over but molting. Increasingly, it is becoming a multidisciplinary profession that will benefit generalists over experts, however painful that transition might be, according to employed and unemployed designers alike.

“I don’t think it’s dying, but I do think it’s taking a different direction,” says Paul Mendolia, 60, of New York City. The 35-year practitioner was let go from a firm in 2009. He has since been hired back as a freelancer, though at a fraction of his former wage, for tasks like filing paperwork with local building departments.

In Mendolia’s view, the only chance he has to land steady, dignified work again is to become more proficient with modeling software, which seems to be a requirement of the few jobs that are advertised. Though classes can be prohibitively pricey, he says, “if I don’t get up to speed with CAD [computer-aided design] and the rest of it, I think I will be left behind.”

Joblessness persists in the field: Some AIA leaders put the unemployment rate at 20 percent or higher. And more gloom is spelled out by the Architecture Billings Index, compiled by the AIA. Since January 2008, the index has cleared 50 only twice, in September and November of 2010 (anything less than 50 suggests an industry in contraction).

The next generation of architects may be in a better position to weather slowdowns if they act as their own clients by becoming developers, too, says Vishaan Chakrabarti, who runs the real estate development program at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.

“Architecture is by no means dead,” says Chakrabarti, 44, who once worked for Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM), though being successful now requires more than just making sure a structure doesn’t leak or fall down. Business savvy is key, which might explain why 55 of his 103 students, a recent spike, have architecture degrees or are pursuing them. When Chakrabarti was a student, he says, “it was sort of a badge of honor to be stupid about money, but no longer.”

That holistic spirit can be realized on the professional level as well, according to Bill Sharples, 47, a founding partner of the 14-year- old New York firm SHoP Architects, which recently created three other stand-alone businesses. These include a two-year-old construction arm that is hired by other architectural firms as a subcontractor.“Before, we were doing [pattern-design work] in-house, and we weren’t getting any fees. So we decided to get paid for it,” says Sharples about SHoP Construction, which was profitable this year and will be handing out holiday bonuses.

In fact, Sharples credits his diversified revenue stream — he also has green technology and design software businesses — with helping SHoP bounce back quickly from layoffs that cost them 30 employees in 2008. Today, the firm employs 67 people, he says.

Some sectors, such as housing, may still be R.I.P. for a while, especially in certain U.S. markets — Nevada, Florida, California — that have too much “overhang,” says Bradford Perkins, chairman of Perkins Eastman. Those woes contributed to his firm’s axing of 20 percent of its staff in late 2008, says Perkins, adding that this recession dwarfs the previous three he has worked through since the mid-1970s.

But Perkins Eastman will be hiring again in 2011, fueled largely by overseas demand, says Perkins. He predicts that other major firms like SOM, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, and Gensler will begin to boost their staffs, too.

The foreign projects that Perkins is most focused on now are senior centers in China, which by 2050 will have 300 million people over the age of 65, he says. Also, his firm, which has six offices overseas, has been busy designing schools for expatriates in Hanoi, Shanghai, and Beijing.

“It is a cyclical business, but people didn’t see this [recession] coming,” Perkins says. Studies in the mid-’00s showed there was an undersupply of architects. “Unless all the research prior to the recession is completely erroneous,” Perkins says, “I remain cautiously optimistic about a recovery.””

The article above prompted 8 pages of reader comments. One thing’s for sure, Architects are not apathetic about sharing their views when something they read in an article strikes a chord. Here are just some of the comments posted by architects who read the article

Anonymous wrote:

I’ve worked as a design engineer for almost twenty years, so I apologize if these comments seem naive, but I see many parallels to my industry.

I tend to think both sides are correct. The best architects are probably those who are experts at producing physical models and experts at using BIM software. The experience building physical models probably trains the mind to think better in a three dimensional world. Additionally, the ability to use BIM definitely makes designing much more efficient, allowing for more through, efficient, and better designs.

I sense many of the older professionals have a negative perception of BIM because the learning curve is steep. Furthermore, many architects who have moved up to program management or principal positions are not adept at using this technology and believe learning it is below their “pay grade”. They love the technology when they are employed managers or owners because it increases productivity, thereby increasing profits. Once the downturn hit and they found themselves out of work, they hate it because they realize that experts in this technology have an advantage over them when it comes to finding new work. As a result, they feel as if they are being left behind in a profession for which they have given so much.

I have had job opportunities to move into higher management, but have made the decision to always stay technical and become expert in the newest software applications. In my field someone who is very good technically is compensated nearly as much as managers, but will always have many more career opportunities even during industry downturns.

Anonymous wrote:

The only thing that will get this profession growing again is real sustainable demand. The current state of the profession is not the fault of politicians or bankers. Politicians have never created sustainable demand for anything useful, and bankers will not loan capital unless they believe they will get a return on investment. Everything is driven by demand, and there is obviously no demand for more buildings in our society (at least in the US), at least for probably the next five years. Vacancy rates are too high. Would you loan your own capital so a developer can put up another project which will sit empty, then default on the loan? I’m sitting in Silicon Valley and there are brand new buildings everywhere, which have never been occupied for years.

I’m also curious as to why architect always feel like they deserve the same salaries or respect as other occupations such as law and medicine? No one forces anyone to become an architect. Compensation is based on the value added to society. Any occupation which deals with ones personal freedom (law) and health (medicine) will always be compensated more than design related occupations. It’s just a simple fact of economics.

Anonymous wrote:

I am an Architect and have been since 1982. That said, by the standards expressed in these comments, I’ve never been much of an Architect. I do basic work… nothing that would ever get into a magazine, nothing that could ever be nominated for an award… let alone win one. My designs, such as they are, are best described as ‘competent’ and ‘workman like’ Yet I’ve managed to have a career and make a living in this profession and hope to continue to do so for a few years yet.

All through 2009, and 2010 I did so (As I have detailed in these ‘pages’ before) by finding two clients that are by and large feeding off the general misfortune and malaise in the economy. This was repeat work and I have done very well with them and they with me. Now a bit of advice and a bit of good news:

If you have a license, and have not found a way to make a living… no matter how small of one, I suggest that you are not trying. Always seems to be some work out there. You won’t like it much… at this level you have but two choices for clients: those that buy Architectural services every day, and know just how much they will pay… and not a penny more. Or ‘civilians’ that have never ever done this before and have not a clue. Enjoy.

Now the good news: in just the last 45 days… since Thanksgiving, the work and the inquiries have picked up here on the very bottom of the market. The little guys, seemingly… are getting back into the game. Small Mom-n-Pop businesses, 2,000 sf 4,000 sf strip center stuff. This is noteworthy for two reasons: we have not seen this type of client since mid-2008. They have been gone, out of the market. Second, to come out and get moving during the holiday season is unheard of, even in the best of economies. That’s telling… everyone wants to get moving on things.

spratt wrote:

I am 60, thankfully still actively employed , know all the 2D, 3D, and illustration software and use it profusely. Not all older architects are computer illerate. I can't think anyone still moving ever used a t-square- I know I certainly didn't.

The only firms that seem to be doing o.k. are those with international ability. The small firm with only local work in architecture or engineeringing is in the deepest trouble and likely can't hang on until things turn around. Even for firms with foreign presence, things have changed. After the Dubai crisis, fees are not fortunes in the Middle East that they once were. I feel sorry for the people graduating now- we had a bad recession in the early 90;s and many young people left the profession. The one person every firm that has work is looking for is the 10-15 years of experience person. They are in very short supply because so many left the profession back then.

Anonymous wrote:

The problem with BIM is getting paid to do it. We have been using Autocad in our small office for 16+ years, and some form of Cad for 20 years. We haven't found that BIM- Revit saves any time , it takes us more time and my engineers want to charge more. Same for "green" architecture. I am afraid that all this just ends up being more work for no more fee. Something that has been going on for a while where we have to provide ever increasing documentation, details,Energy studies, cost comparisons, code information,ADA provisions, fire studies for the same fee structure.

Here in Atlanta the unemployment rate for architects is 60%.

Anonymous wrote:

Yes, "the times, they are a'changin".

Architecture has changed in the past 30 years with the onset of AutoCad, and "program/construction project managers". Architects were respected, and Contractors usually felt like second-class citizens. Somehow, that all reversed, and the good old days are past us now.

Building Information Technology (BIM) is the wave of the future, which requires actual knowledge of systems and structures. The Architects who incorporate this new technology will be the survivors.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the entire world as we know it is changing. Imagine how fast the new technology will take us in the next decade or two. Keep yourselves educated and learn as much as you can now.

Just a point: The Architect was paid 9%(of construction costs) for a $1,000,000.00 project that the Realtor sold the following year for $2,000,000.00 with a 6% commission. The Architect received $90,000.00 for services, while the Realtor received $120,000.00. And the Realtor has no Liability... Do what you love to do, not just for the money.

Anonymous wrote:

I'm sitting in Japan as I write this, and can report that things look similarly daunting here--maybe more so. There is a schism which has been growing for more than a decade, with plenty of tall buildings going up in Tokyo, benefiting contractors and developers, but with very little involvement of the traditional architect. (Detailing is being handled by the contractor and major planning and massing decisions by the developer.) The firms that have awards, fame and media exposure are hungry, and much of their staff poorly paid (if paid at all). The youngest have almost nothing we might call architecture to point to: a house, a table, a balloon. The "successful" ones are working for cultural capital in a world where that is an increasingly fickle and feckless reward system.

As long as we ignore the technical and economic demands on architects, that is not going to change--at home or abroad.

Anonymous wrote:

Telling young architects to be their own client and developer too...jeeze. Gensler has been running hire adds here but I wonder how many people out of the 1/3 total staff they laid off from 2008-2010 got called back? I think we, who are bound as employees in architecture offices, have realized there is no loyalty left in this profession.

Anonymous wrote:

To the contrary of what Bradford Perkins said, how could you not see the big recession coming? Every asset bubble has been followed by a bursting; that being a housing bubble, what group was most likely to suffer, than construction-related professions? It wouldn't take but a few minutes to stare and chart the Case-Shiller housing prices to know that things were really crazy...internet bubble crazy.

And to the notion that SHoP and Vishaan Chakrabarti have the positive idea of diversification, the fact remains that there are few winners and mostly losers in a large-scale recession. In part, their ideas make a whole lot of sense, but in a broader perspective, one should not discount equal parts luck and well-connectedness that results from strong marketing strategies.

As demand and supply goes, there is a wide supply of low-cost outsourced CAD monkeys and self-taught designers around the world, willing to undercut American professionals and young workers. As I look today on the list of torrents, I can see clearly as anyone else, that there is no shortage of "free" information about drafting, building typology, detailing, CAD, 3D and design guideline books, as well as accompanying "free" software. Combine "free" information and "free" software with inadequate trade balance or inequitable monetary valuation controls (price controls), you can see the future on sites like

The economy will recover, but in the process, beware, for the paradigm may have shifted.

earlmiranda wrote:

Try 40%-50% here in Charlotte, North Carolina. I agree with the gentleman's comments about low-cost outsourced CAD monkeys and self-taught designers. I personally have all the 3D and CAD skills, but I had to write a book on it to get compensated for my skills. Like one of the gentlemen before me, I now file paperwork for building departments. It's not bad work, but it is more demanding if you don't work for an architectural firm. Yes, I saw the real estate bubble coming and I jumped ship six months ahead of the bust. On the other hand, I am also licensed as a real estate broker. As the gentleman in the article has said, I'm still diversifying my employment opportunities. Truth be told though, architectural education needs to change. Architecture is the only profession taught by primarily non-licensed staff. Recent graduates may know how to design, but they are poorly trained to be useful to licensed professionals. They may know how to rock an I-Phone, but they don't have a clue how to find clients, meet client's needs, or manage client projects. Until this changes, the architectural profession will eventually die out.

Anonymous wrote:

20 % unemployment? Where? Not in this country. The true unemployment rate among architects is not a statistic that is kept anywhere but the anecdotal evidence suggests much higher unemployment. Most firms never tell the truth about how many employees they have on staff due to fear it will scare clients away. The truth? Most firms are a shadow of their 2005 selves. Principals working for 30% of former earnings are the lucky ones. Best employees working for a fraction of former earnings is truth. Less essential employees now working in other unrelated fields, out of architecture probably permanently. Only Good news is that the remaining architects will have less competition for awhile.

Anonymous wrote:

The profession has been rotting from the bottom up for a while now. Glad you guys finally noticed. There's only so many museums, campus buildings, and transit centers to go around. When the final hospital bubble bursts then what? The profession stuck it's nose up at everything else and now everything else is gone. When 9 out of 10 homeowners call a contractor to add on to there house or build one anew, it is he who hires the architect now. I would love to see the statistics on retail and commercial as well

Anonymous wrote:

Undersupply of architects? I always thought the mid nineties to 2008 was the age of stupidity but this just proves it. When the next crash comes (and it will) the architects that still have jobs in traditional firms will be goners. If BIM business savy green design builder developer decorators that also design logos, teakettles, and end tables are the future of architecture we will truly be in unchartered territory. Hell, why don't we all work nights at supercuts and design clothing on the weekends while we are at it? We are witnessing the swan song of traditional architecture and the shift to something new.

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