Architecture’s culture of unpaid overtime may be embedded but it needs to be challenged, writes Will Hurst
News that large numbers of architects are working long hours of overtime without pay is hardly a shock. In fact, confronted by the results of AJ’s landmark survey this week, what was most striking about the response of leading figures in the profession was their utter lack of surprise.
But just because we see this working culture all around us doesn’t mean that quantifying it and considering it is pointless. Working 10 or more hours of unpaid overtime a week - as many architects do - is unhealthy and unsustainable and should not be allowed to become the norm. Unfortunately, it’s also understandable in a profession that has responded to the recent recession largely through low fee-bidding and speculative tenders for work. In other words, unpaid overtime is a symptom of a larger problem.
To adapt David Cameron’s comment this week about the state of the Eurozone, red warning lights are flashing on the dashboard of British architecture. Demand for architects’ services collapsed during the recession and hasn’t really recovered, while supply - in simple terms the number of architects in the game - has not fallen to match. This point was made in a thought-provoking and rather gloomy article on the state of the profession published by The Economist to mark the awarding of the Stirling Prize last month.
As Alan Dunlop argues in our news feature (page 14) overtime is also a bad habit you probably picked up as a student of architecture andwere then unable to kick when you entered the world of work.
The solution to all of this is for hard-working architects to begin to change that mindset by becoming more business-savvy and overhauling their creaking business models. AJ is planning to play a small part in that endeavour by introducing a new business section next year designed to help with practical advice on how you and your practice can thrive in 2015.
Where is the RIBA?
You might have thought our survey would be of interest to the RIBA, but despite AJ sharing the results with the institute more than 24 hours before our deadline, no response had been received as we went to press.
Of course 66 Portland Place is in the midst of institutional turmoil. This includes governance problems so serious it has appointed an independent lawyer to untangle them; and the latest flaring up of its eight-month-long row over Israeli settlement building.
The latter is entirely self-inflicted given that the institute chose to send a delegation into the heart of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts while failing to convince both sides of its evenhandedness.
Wherever you stand on RIBA Council’s controversial resolution in March that sparked this row, fact-finding trips to foreign conflict zones are probably best left to the UN. The sooner the RIBA can focus on its stated role of promoting British architecture and supporting British architects, the better.
Unpaid overtime needs to be challenged