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.

 


Gordie

The "American Dream" post-WWII ruined residential architecture. Cost became the most important aspect with the result being disposable houses. The odd result of the huge housing crash and likely end of the mortgage tax deduction is that maybe folks will think more about what they build because it's not just ATM machine you can live in.

Architects are a good thing for building design, but Americans need to be reintroduced to their value (perhaps we need an HGTV show called "Architecture Emergencies!).

Commercial construction will always have a need for architects, but that can range from exciting to mundane.

Good luck!

EBL

It is worth it, only based on the talent, skill and competency of the architect. If the architect can combine a unique vision for the building (think Frank Lloyd Wright) with the ability to coordinate the other trades and disciplines (arch - tech), then the architect performs a valuable service. Your question answers itself when you say "[a]ssuming that hiring an architect has a positive impact on a project..." That is unfortunately not always the case.

It is not (nor should it be) a function of government requiring an architect to save the architecture profession. The only purpose for building department review is for public safety (aesthetic issues involving historic preservation, etc. happen--if at all--in zoning review). Most building departments in the United States require an engineer to stamp drawings for structural safety if they deviate beyond simple single family homes. An architect stamp is usually insufficient to pass review on anything complex. That is because most architects are sadly not competent to do civil and structural engineering. Fewer still can do electrical or mechanical design.

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Constantinos Charalambous

The requirement of stamping in Europe means that there is a very limited number of architects with a licence to stamp. The market is very dissimilar to the one in the US. Licenced architects are paid a lot more than unlicensed ones and the latter usually work in architecture companies where partners have the right to stamp.

In the case of the US differentiation of service is a lot more important than in Europe.

www.everyday-economist.com

JimL

I'm reminded, from a long back in the days when I began studying TV repair, my brother called a repairman to fix his multi-image and skewed TV picture. The repairman nudged the ion magnet and charged $40.00 for the effort. My brother was irate. "$40 to adjust a little magnet", he asked. "No", replied the repairman. "$1.00 to adjust that and $39.00 for knowing what to do."

I have dealt with city construction by-law enforcement standards and needed an architect to tell me so many things I would never have considered, weight considerations, where to join joists, among them.

I think they're still needed.

Richard Wetzel

I'm a registered architect and an owner in a commercial construction company. First, I'm not sure what you mean by "don't require an architect to stamp drawings." Almost every municipality (which generally issue building permits) require a sealed set of architectural drawings to obtain a permit. There are some exceptions, such as single-family homes and simple commercial structures in rural areas, but in general, an architect is legally required to design buildings to protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public.

But I think your question is bigger than the legality of an architect's existence. And my opinion is that yes, we unequivocally need architects to design our built environment. While I certainly have worked with clients that do not appreciate the value an architect brings to the building process, the vast majority do. They understand that the training and experience of an architect is required to grasp the needs of the project's end users and to translate those needs into a solution that not only meets space and budget requirements, but hopefully lifts the human condition. And most understand that a well-designed building brings value not simply by the square footage it encloses, but by providing a custom solution in a (hopefully) beautiful package.

That begin said, some architects are not always the best listeners. They have been known to pre-suppose a solution without regard to the client's needs, budget or schedule. Dialogue is very important in the design and construction process, and dialogue is a two way street: The client should appreciate the training, expertise, and talent an architect brings to the table, and the architect should fully understand the client's goals for the project. Otherwise, the architect may set themselves up for disappointment.

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D.Z

Focusing only on the design aspects kind of glosses over the fact that an architect (at least here) will also offer you guarantees on the building and be ultimately accountable for whatever faults it could have.

In turn, they can follow/manage the day to day construction, look for the right contractors, etc.

If you don't have too much time or building expertise and can't be hassled to be on your contractors' collective bottoms day and night, there's a tremendous value in having someone do that for you. This is at least my experience here, in Europe.

Paul pawelski

I know this may start a fight, but... A lot of the reasons listed for needing an architect listed are actually covered by having a structures qualified Civil Engineer with a PE. The question then becomes whether an Architect or a Civil Engineer provide more value for the money. Just like whether a designer or a Mechanical Engineer should be hired to design a device. A competent engineer with some sense of aesthetics is often the better choice. Either engineer or architect, the longer either are in the field, the more they will act like the other.

Terry

or, to put it another way, there is no such thing as "one size fits all." Some projects would benefit more from an engineer with an architectural bent; some from an architect with an engineering bent; some by a designer - or just the homeowner themselves. It is humorous that everyone is treating the very general (and juvenile) opening question as one that contains a valid premise...

Peter

“Exactly what would you say - you do - here…” The Bobs, from Office Space

I present my thoughts to not to vent or complain, but to serve as a wake-up call. I ask that we mobilize to correct a deficiency that affects that way too many people; The answer to the question: What do Architects do?
As a licensed architect and a longtime reader and general supporter of this newspaper, I have enjoyed many interesting articles generated by architectural critics and our own local reporter Elsa Brenner, that appear in the Real Estate, Home and Garden and Arts sections. However, the article, ‘Skipping the Architect: Wise or Otherwise’ by Steve Kurutz published on June 20, 2012, was a thought provoking and slightly disturbing piece.
Not only does this article fail to promote the value of the architecture profession, it may have set it back. I have been saying for years that most of the architecture, building, and construction related TV shows, though entertaining at times, are inaccurate, full of timeframe holes, and lack permitting and architecture and design related logistics. Those TV shows and this NY Times article portray architects as a non-needed luxury expense and not what we are: an essential part of a successful (and legal) project regardless of scale or budget. Anyone that has worked with an architect knows this to be true.
Most Americans do not have a grasp of what architects do and exactly just how valuable we are to society and to individuals alike, whether or not they have ever personally utilized their professional services. Much like lawyers and doctors, architects are one of the few professions that continually influence the world around us. However, unlike lawyers and doctors, architects have long struggled with the ability to properly and humbly convey what we do, how we do it, and our successes and accomplishments.
As a practicing architect and a director of our AIA WHV chapter, I could not simply read this article and move on. Given the recent state of the economy and specifically regarding the slow down in the design-building industry, no time in recent history has it been more prudent to reinforce that part of the American Institute of Architects mission statement for continual positive promotion of the profession. Strong architectural support, proper education of the public and improved government and banking measures need to be put forth to vastly improve the planning, architecture and engineering fields.
As we live in the age of social media, where it is easy to give and receive information, I sent the article link to several architecture groups via Linked-in. I found out that many people share my thoughts. Within a few days of posting, I received 43 messages from 6 different groups. Below are a few selected comments as they appeared within each group. I am aware that AIA National has a robust marketing plan in place, and I am anxious to see what they can do for us. Perhaps, the support should start with each of us at the local level and in concert with our own chapter to better assist ourselves, the AIA and the profession in general on this important Public Advocacy issue.

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Sarah

I wish I had hired an artichect to design our hosue to our liking rather than picking one out of a catalog. We learned the hard way.

almanry

Architects are a must for commercial and municipal projects. in legal terms, the Architect represents the owner of the property being improved. The Lender looks after its own interest (and its profitability), the general contractor looks after its interest (and profitability), the Architect must be present to protect the owner's interest. Municipalities and businesses aren't in the design or construction business and don't know the business. They should concentrate on their business and pay the Architect to oversee design and construction for them. Many a project has finished badly when the owner relies on the GC or the Bank to watch the project for him.

anthony c

Asking if architects are worth it is like asking if travel agents are worth it. Most people buying tickets online to visit relatives dont need a travel agent. But if you are taking a multicountry trip with a large group of people, who want unique or different experiences, a travel agent suddenly becomes very useful.

Most people just need a place to live. They live in semi customized tract housing. One or a few architects got tremendous leverage designing the houses that get repeatedly built. At the other end of the spectrum are fully custom homes with interesting materials and architectural interest rather than just a big box. In either case an architect is valuable.

fabio

Architects spatially arrange, some for program or function and others to manifest a new concept..which is affected by political and social agendas.
Architects modify, re create the things thats werent designed properly. A good architect connects design with user and gives interstitual context. Architects can never be made redundant, because they will always exist. they need us, we need them. like when the photon engineered the Star, it designed the universe. Great architects didnt download ideas off google, they were given this unique ability tocreateand move space.

Konrads

I think that a house has a few separate qualities:

Safety - must be safe to live, provide protection against elements.
Cost-effectiveness - must not be very expensive to maintain.
Aesthetic value - must be morally and aesthetically pleasant to live in. Not be ashamed to invite guests.
Investment object - must keep some value or hopefully even go up.

The 1st two could be done by a structural engineer - obey the building code and do a bit of thinking when choosing materials.

The two later are the domain of the architect.

Andrew Brodie

If you need to ask this either:
Your course isn't equipping you for your life in design,
You've not been listening
You're in the wrong business.

Think hard. There's easier, better paid , safer ways to make a living than architecture that you may be wise to consider.