Are Architects Still Worth It?

(Photo: REVIVALthedigest)

A reader named Marc Krawitz writes in with a question. Does anyone have an answer for him?

I’m a recent architecture school graduate, and just wondering:

Given laws in America that don’t specifically require an architect to stamp drawings (as opposed to Europe), are architects economically valuable to a housing and building market/culture that strives for bottom dollar and cheap/fast returns?  Assuming that hiring an architect has a positive impact on a project, is the time and financial investment on the part of the client worth it in the long run?

Related: Michael Graves writes about the death of drawing in architecture.

 

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  1. Stephanie says:

    The question of whether its worth it will be answered by your client based on their own values. There will always be people who appreciate good design and fine craftsmanship. The architect is in the service profession, not the mass manufacturing profession.

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    • James says:

      This of course assumes that the architect is willing & able to produce good design. Even a glancing acquaintance with the field is enough to provide numerous examples of quite-famous architects who’ve created unlivable housing.

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      • Terry says:

        …and that is assuming, of course, that “livable” housing is what they have been hired to create and what they are striving for. I am a builder that works closely with designers and architects. Many of the most successful projects that we collaborate on with them are meant to be a part of a conversation (conducted with three-dimensional artifacts instead of words) concerned with the development of more environmentally friendly materials, the integration of technological advances – or the exploration of better ways to define “livability” for an ever-changing population. Trying to evaluate the success or failure of those endeavors at a “glance” is a losing proposition…

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  2. Joe says:

    Why would a law requiring an architects stamp make the architect valuable to the client?

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    • Roger says:

      Residential construction is probably the area that least needs architectural input. While higher end custom homes will use architects either for custom designs or modifications of standard plans, a lot of homes are built to standardized plans without enough change to require an architect.

      I can testify to the value-add provided by a good architect. Years ago, I had an office/warehouse building built. Various design-build contractors proposed site plans, floor plans, etc. that were generally poor use of the space and not responsive to our needs. We hired an architect to do a site plan, floor plan, and elevation concepts. He had the professionalism to study our work flow, our expansion plans, etc. We went back to the contractors, found one that could translate that work into a reasonably-priced building, and built it. Money well-spent.

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  3. Mat says:

    Yep. I’m working with an architect for a large remodel project now. There are going to be people that don’t see the value, but overall, most contractors aren’t going to be able to deal with complex structural calculations, and how to tie things together in an aesthetically pleasing way. Not to mention the details that most people don’t even think about (heat loss calculations, ventilation, etc).

    I should also point out that your assertion that the housing market is based on cheapest return is incorrect. I am specifically paying extra during my remodel to make sure it’s done ‘right’, where ‘right’ is both structurally correct, and that the design is something I will be happy living with long term.

    In the end, even if it’s not actually worth it, my architect will still get paid :)

    Mat

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  4. Paul says:

    In my few years on the design side of the construction industry, I’ve learned that the primary value of architects & engineers is in risk mitigation & the fact that professionals carry errors & omissions insurance. Anyone can slap together a floor plan. Not anyone can pay for it if halfway through the construction process the builder realizes that the walls won’t hold the roof up.

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  5. Tobias Gilk says:

    A difficult question to answer because the services an architect provides are confounded…

    There are the ‘pragmatic’ services: code-compliance, building permits, zoning hearings, blueprints, etc…

    Then there are the ‘functional’ services: useful design, cost-effective design, and, yes, the artistic element.

    The value of the ‘pragmatic’ elements of architectural services can fairly be determined with some hourly rate and the amount of time these tasks will take. Their utility is that they’re checked-off in the process of getting the building built. My next door neighbor could come over to my house and tell me that my front porch isn’t in compliance with the set-back requirements in the latest update to the municipal zoning ordinance… but so what? What was important was that it obtained the approvals that were in force at the time. Due to ‘grandfathering’ of buildings for code and zoning, there is zero lingering value to me, as a homeowner, of the pragmatic elements of an architect’s service.

    Now, for the functional elements, this is a different story. There is a lifelong benefit to me, for as long as I occupy my house, to how well it allows me to live the life I want to, if it reduces my utility bills, if it warms the cockles of my heart to see it as I pull into the driveway.

    I think that if we’re talking about the value of architectural services, it needs to include both the somewhat easy to calculate ‘pragmatic’ value, coupled with the more subjective and life-long benefits of the ‘functional’ portion of the professional services.

    I doubt that anyone has hired Eric Owen Moss, or Frank Gehry, or Zaha Hadid, because they had a project that was in desperate need of a building permit. An architect distinguishes themselves from their peers in how well they provide (or market) the ‘functional’ services.

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  6. Scott says:

    I have no idea why Europe requires a stamp for architectural drawings, here it only needs the structural engineer’s. Perhaps in Europe architects are also certified engineers? Doubt it, they are two very different skill sets and having been married to an SE for years, I can attest they are strictly numbers kinda people. If you have a project, think of the architect as a head coach. They hire the structural engineers and work with contractors and can act as a liaison with the building owners. There is great value in that.

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  7. Jeff says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  8. Logan Reed says:

    Buildings over a certain size still need the stamp of an architect. Architects have to prove what their value added is in most situations. With the combination of Revit, energy modeling, etc. this is increasingly quantifiable.

    I also recently graduated with a degree in architecture (grad school, undergrad was econ). The field in general and competition are both brutal. Architects seem to wear many hats though. Most do something in addition to architecture: furniture design, interiors, teaching, art, websites, etc. More so than other degrees people seem to be comfortable with architects getting involved in things outside their field (ie. urban farming).

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    • Michael says:

      Question what kind of work your into now because you said that you have minor in economics, is that correct?

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