Architects need to make more money so they can create projects that capitalise on the value of what they do, writes Emily Booth
Shutterstock man with cash
Architects have a difficult relationship with money. The latest RIBA Stirling Prize win – the most hotly debated and discussed outcome in years – sums it up. What does a (pretty much) unlimited budget mean for architecture? Crafted perfection or schemes that are overthought and overwrought? What does Fosters’ Bloomberg triumph say about architecture’s role for ordinary budgets and everyday people, and how wonderful design can change their lives? With this Stirling win, there is a message here going out to the wider world. On the cusp of Brexit, it’s a big-budget reminder that UK-based architects are world-class, and Great Britain (especially London) is open for business, big-time.
On the flip-side, and away from the billionaires and would-be billionaires, the latest salary survey from 9B Careers is another indicator of the tension between architects and money. Broadly, salaries have remained pretty much static for a decade. Women – still shockingly, still persistently – are paid less for doing the same job as men. The survey even finds that architectural salaries have dropped for many (both men and women) at the beginning of their careers.
Do architects recognise the monetary value of their efforts, so they can charge the right price?
And all this in a seemingly buoyant jobs market. It should be a sellers’ game. So there’s a message here too: the market does not recognise the value of what architects do. Unpick that a bit further: do architects recognise the monetary value of their efforts, so they can charge the right price?
Markets are supposed to be dispassionate (although they rely on confidence and are fuelled by greed). So, perhaps, this conundrum requires a dispassionate, accountant-like, line-by-line response. Just where is the practice revenue coming from? How could it be increased? What else can be charged for? Setting the appropriate fees, for starters, sets the value of what architects do. Why shouldn’t architects secure the principal designer role? Nobody knows their projects as well as the architects who designed them. Why should clients or contractors hire any number of specialists to do what architects could do? While it requires a little extra training and focus from architects, this could reap many financial rewards for their practices.
Not everybody is going to be able to push the business of architecture in the way architect and entrepreneur Jo Cowen does – although her thinking shows just what an innovative, bold approach can achieve. And everybody should listen to her words from the AJ interview: ‘Now, architects really are seen as just a component – a critical component, but just a component – of a bigger development machine.’
Money unlocks time and possibilities and influence. Architects need to make more of it: to be seen as more than ‘just a component’; so they can create projects that capitalise on the value of what they do.