Problems in the architecture industry are not new; the same issues recur and cover the common areas of:
- Implementing new technologies.
- Earning an income.
- Managing people.
- Managing resources.
No doubt, the builders of the pyramids faced problems with the block builders turning up a day late and the client changing their mind about the paintings.
It may seem like challenges in the architecture industry are a modern problem, but they are the same issues with a modern twist.
1. Technology Specialists
There was a time when an architect was the complete master of the whole building. The client deferred to their expertise and expected them to design, implement, and manage the entire project.
Now clients have different ideas about what they want from their buildings and engage other specialist designers like:
- Acoustic engineers.
- Sustainable technologists.
- Electronics engineers.
- Specialist trades – for example, cladding or complex air management systems.
The architecture industry’s challenges from the entry of other specialists are that the design team has more work.
The conflicting demands of the design to accommodate other technical requirements result in multiple revisions.
This conflict can cause increased time costs in redrawing to accommodate other specialist designers, reducing the available budget for architectural services.
The budget splits across more teams, and there are difficulties in scheduling project tasks.
Architect firms can counter the effects of more specialists on the design team by presenting a package of services using partner firms to cover all the technology specialists and investing in project management systems to increase communication and improve work schedules.
Plus, firms can concentrate on adding a specialist string to their architect’s bows so they can diversify into consultancy on other architects’ projects and keep more of their client’s project spend in-house.
Principal architects can also hire or encourage more in-house architects to become LEED-accredited, considering the benefits of LEED accreditation and certification for building professionals and buildings, respectively.
2. Project Managers
Previously an architecture firm would complete a project from concept to finished structure.
Clients are increasingly taking project management in-house or buying in a “project manager” separate from the architect.
The loss of the project management role for architects is a loss of an income stream.
Plus, it is a loss of control; you rely on someone else to ensure the project is delivered as specified.
It then becomes easier for the project manager to blame everything that goes wrong on the architect while making inappropriate demands or decisions about changing materials and construction methods.
Project managers pose risks to the architect’s income, reputation, and ability to deliver a design concept that works for the client.
Many problems in the architecture field result from an increasing reliance on project managers who lack specialist skills in the design or construction aspects of a project.
In cases of architects-turn-project managers, the issues of reduced role and fees and trust deficit in the eyes of project owners remain.
3. Reducing Fees
Architects with a celebrity brand command high fees, but most other architects find that there is aggressive pressure to do more for less.
This issue relates to clients using competitive bidding to encourage architects to race to the lowest price.
Challenges in the architecture industry include balancing between bidding for fair remuneration and losing out on work.
The best way to counter a low fee culture is to promote the value offer for hiring the firm at a fair price for the effort involved – easier said than done.
Small firms lose out in a price war because larger firms have deeper pockets.
It is a harsh business lesson, but if the only thing you have to offer your clients is a below-cost fee, then you won’t be in business for much longer – sell your value, not the shirt off your back.
Proposed solutions include industry-wide efforts in the imposition of minimum-fees for architectural services – which is nothing new – but with more effective implementation and guarding against their violation by the powers that be.
4. Unrealistic Graduate Expectations
Every year, architecture schools fill up with new students and throw out a flock of fresh graduates onto the labor market.
The recent graduates work as interns and gain the experience they need doing intermediate work in architecture firms.
This process is the same business model as plenty of other professions – graduate – gain experience, and a percentage reach the top.
Some students believe their degree is the key to earning a lot of money as soon as they graduate. They pick their degree for perceived salary potential instead of choosing a subject they enjoy.
An architecture degree is hard work, and the effort you put in does not give you the same reward as, for example, a medical degree in the first few years after graduation.
These hopeful graduates enter the firms, don’t enjoy the work, don’t get the rewards they expect, and they leave to go and find a job that suits them better in a different field.
While they are trying architecture work in the interim, they give clients and employers poor value.
The resulting dissatisfaction from clients drives the move towards employing other specialists to cover parts of the architecture work and devalues the fee structure.
The answer for architecture firms is to recruit a high standard of students – really push hard on their love of architecture and focus on professional development.
But again, not easy when firms do not directly create the pool of graduates from which they choose.
It is a critical job that starts in architecture schools at the admissions evaluation stage; love for the art should be above all else.
Academia and practicing architects play an interdependent role in minimizing the gap between study and professional practice.
Fresh graduates with a passion for architecture will enthusiastically embrace their opportunities.
Plus, in the interview process, be blunt about an architect’s expected earnings to discourage those whose only interest is the salary.
5. Unrealistic Client Expectations
The idea that the customer is always right and is entitled to everything they ask for has driven a shift in the way people approach buying architectural services.
They expect complex building design and work involving multiple specialisms for the same or lower fee as for a more straightforward structure.
Educating clients into the mindset that they get what they have paid for is an uphill battle when most people demand extras.
Many architecture industry problems come from needing to manage client expectations with clear communication of what their fee covers.
Otherwise, you are doomed to always disappoint your clients by failing to meet their (unrealistic) expectations.
Demanding clients can now express their unhappiness to the world in a few angry seconds.
6. Carrying the (Legal) Can
Architects are talented and creative people – they also have professional liability insurance.
Increasingly in cases where structures fail, the aggrieved party will cast their net to include the architects (and engineers) who designed the building as being at fault for the original or substitute specifications failing to perform.
Plus, an architect on a project may feel pressure to sign off on areas against their better judgment. After all, the paymaster wields considerable power.
Managing your legal liability means keeping your eye on the ball and staying on top of best practices, like limiting your liability to the value of your fees, if possible.
Professional indemnity insurance is a necessary cost of being an architect and part of your risk management landscape.
Challenges in the architecture industry include the litigation risks beginning to outweigh the rewards.
7. Too Few Hours in the Day
The overworking culture starts at the degree level and spills over to an architect’s working life.
Younger professionals increasingly turn away from the architecture profession that expects long hours at work because they value personal time more.
Plus, if you receive a salary for five hours and work ten, you will be working for half pay.
Long-term challenges in the architecture field are that the client expects to get more work done in less time for less money – resulting in an overworking expectation and devaluing the architect’s time.
It is also one of the main contributing factors to the female to male architects ratio imbalance.
The answer is a combination of managing the client’s expectations and negotiating fees that cover the actual hours necessary.
It can lead to a change in culture because younger architects value their time more than earlier generations and reduce cases of burnout for architects.
These tasks fall in the hands of Principal Architects – in established and new firms – so they do not contribute to the devaluing of the industry and make it even tougher for the next generation of budding architects.
Easier said than done, but it is where the Principals’ skillful negotiation comes into play.
8. Squeezing in Professional Development
Architects have a heavy workload, and construction technology, materials, best practices, and legal regulations are always developing and changing.
Professional architects need a minimum number of development hours and need to stay on top of new developments.
The challenge lies in squeezing in one more thing on you of an already overfull schedule – all the best time management skills can’t create an extra hour in the day.
Every architect must work out their priorities for how they balance their professional needs with their bloated workload.
9. Lengthy Construction Projects
Unless an architect has contracted only for design, they often administer or oversee the construction process.
The construction process requires ongoing input from the architect and is the single longest phase in a project.
Many changes – most of them unexpected – happen during construction, and they require additional time and resource commitment.
Compensation for the hidden architect input is not a new issue, and negotiation and management are challenging parts of any significant construction project.
Reducing the length of a construction project using modular technologies is perhaps one way forward for reducing the impact a four- or five-year project has on an architect’s work by decreasing the construction time for a project and freeing up time to source for more projects.
10. Business Management
The biggest challenges in the architecture industry are the management process that covers:
- Billable Hours.
- Tracking projects.
- Tracking resources.
- Coping with delays.
- Client changes.
- Site issues.
- Paper trail.
- Estimating project hours.
The best architects get into the field because they love the process of creation.
These creative, artistic people then meet the challenges of organizing the project with paperwork, negotiation, and plenty of management issues and firefighting when clients change their minds, or contractors cause delays, or internal employee architects produce sub-standard work for reasons discussed above.
Problems in the architecture field may seem new and overwhelming, but dealing with clients’ expectations and unwillingness to pay high fees has always been challenging.