Expectation and Worth

Welcome to my final bit of unsolicited advice! We’ve finally reached the end of this little bunch of information, so I hope some of it has been useful. This last segment is going to be a mix of some factual information and a more personal interpretation. The idea is to make you, dear reader, start to think about these things early on, as it will soon become apparent that us architects tend to discuss these things ad nauseam.

They are important aspects of developing your own professional career but not something we tend to be taught. To be honest, I don’t feel it is something that can be taught so much as decided individually. From what I can tell a lot of newer students have already started thinking about these things since you all have blogs and podcasts and design companies already! But if not, maybe this will help. Today we are looking at what you’re worth, and what’s expected of you.

What’s expected of you (us)

As architects, we are considered professionals. This means we have to act, well, professional. This could be a rather subjective criterium, but fortunately, the kind folks at the ARB have put together a nice list of things we have to follow in order to be upstanding members of the profession. You may have come across the bulletins the ARB posts every month about architects being fined or, in particularly severe cases, removed from the register. This is a result of those architects not following the ARB Code of Conduct. The full thing can easily be found on google, but to save you precious seconds, here are the basics:

1. Be honest and act with integrity

2. Be competent

3. Promote your services honestly and responsibly

4. Manage your business competently

5. Consider the wider impact of your work

6. Carry out your work faithfully and conscientiously

7. Be trustworthy and look after your clients’ money properly

8. Have appropriate insurance arrangements

9. Maintain the reputation of architects

10. Deal with disputes or complaints appropriately

11. Co-operate with regulatory requirements and investigations

12. Have respect for others

Do all of that, and you will be a perfect model architect. If you join the RIBA, they have their own Code of Conduct, but it is pretty much the same, just laid out differently.

As you can see, the majority of the Code is common sense. Be sensible, conscientious, and obey the law, and you have already met most of the requirements. However, once you get to practice you may start to notice that sometimes things get glossed over slightly. You may begin to feel that your practice does not fully consider the wider impact of their work, or they may agree to do work for someone which is technically illegal. Probably the most common example of this is when a client in a listed building wants to carry out work even though they have not been granted listed building consent.

Many architects will warn the client but ultimately agree to the work on the grounds of “trying to mitigate the damage” or “if we don’t do it someone else will anyway”. Potentially valiant goals but ultimately this is illegal. I mention this because we younger architects have to decide whether we are going to carry on with business as usual, or try and change things for the better. Throughout my education, I heard architects complaining about low fees, or lack of respect for architects, or having to give more and more control of a project away to other consultants. This may be true, but if we want things to change we have to act correspondingly.

We, new architects, need to think about whether we are willing to work for a practice that agrees to perform sub-par work or do lots of work for free hoping it could lead to a paid commission. These are all things that are covered by the Code of Conduct, and yet lots of practices ignore them. If they didn’t we probably would not be in the current situation of practices under-bidding for work or fighting over free competitions on the off-chance that we get to work on an exciting new project.

We have to maintain the reputation of architects. If we all refused to enter free competitions, nobody would expect us to do it anymore. Cambridge recently pulled a tender bid after lots of architects complained that no fees would be paid if the project did not pass the feasibility stage. This is great! We are expected to be professional. I think that “professionalism” is a spectrum, not a singular point. Lots of new young architects are exploring new ways to use their degrees, often in ways that are not expected and rarely in a way that falls under the Code of Conduct. They are still architects. We all are, and we can all change what is expected of us, for the better.

What are you worth?

Finally, I am going to discuss the arguably most subjective part of my little list of 10 useful things. This links into what is expected of us as architects, but in a way is much more important. At some point during your architectural career (if you haven’t already) you or someone you know is going to complain that architects do not earn enough money. Given that anybody starting an architecture course now is likely to end up with a student loan bill of around £60,000 by the time they finish their Part 3, which accrues interest at a ridiculous rate, I would say this is a fair complaint. We may not have to actually pay the loan off (contrary to what Student Loans try to claim) but it is still not a pleasant concept to have over our head.

According to the RIBA Business Benchmarking Report, as of November 2019, the median salary of a newly qualified architect is £34,000. Salaries in London are higher than outside of London, but obviously, the cost of living here is higher. At present, almost 40% of my salary goes towards rent and bills, and I live with my partner in an arguably relatively cheap flat. If we stick with it, after 5 years of being a registered architect we might move up to around £40,000. Considering the time, effort, and money required to get to this point, it is understandable that everybody is disappointed with how much most architects earn.

This is exacerbated by the public conception that we all make bucketloads of cash when really architecture is still a profession for the privileged few. Over the last year alone there have been multiple reports about how underrepresented BAME members of the profession are, and how difficult it can be for them to complete their studies. For this reason, among many others, it is important to begin thinking about what you are worth. I don’t know the answer, but I do know it’s more than everyone thinks at the moment.

The University of Melbourne and Architeam Cooperative recently carried out a study on the effect of architects on renovations to houses. They found that homes designed by an architect doubled in price over roughly 10 years, while non-architect designed homes increase in price by about 170% (instead of 200%). Every Australian dollar spent on an architect resulted in the property gaining $11.40 in value over 10 years. This shows that without architects, people would make less money! Yet clients (especially private ones) do not understand this and waste time trying to cut fees early on, only to encounter costly issues when they reach the site.

Jason Boyle recently wrote a couple of articles on LinkedIn entitled “The Broke Architect?”, where he analysed findings from informal polls he carried out last year. The verdict was, unsurprisingly, that architects don’t charge enough. He laid things out far better than I did, so I would recommend reading them.

Despite all this, despite the fact lots of people don’t understand the value we provide and the fact the only way to make be rich in architecture is to “be born rich or marry rich” as Philip Johnson said (or to be a partner in a large practice), things are looking up. It is becoming more and more common for architects to branch out and do something unique with their degree, from designing artistic jellies as installations for major brands to simple development.

There are also people playing with the format of an architecture practice, like RESI and HOKO Design, who are simplifying things for private clients and demonstrating that you can automate and rationalise processes. Like I said at the end of the previous segment, we all need to decide what we are willing to accept. It is much less common to have to work all-nighters for no pay than it used to be (though sadly it still happens), largely because younger architects refuse to accept that they should simply because their bosses did. There is growing evidence of the benefit of employing an architect, and more people are design-conscious. The trick is going to be continuing to demonstrate our relevance, which, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint) probably starts with us younger members of the profession.

I know this last segment is a bit more conceptual than the others, but it is becoming apparent that it is an important part of our education, yet there is no set answer. Since the abolition of the RIBA pay scales, we have to figure out what we are worth by ourselves. Many older architects bemoan this fact, but I find it exciting. Lots of architects are proving how amazing our qualifications can be, regardless of the sector we end up working in. It is only a matter of time and persistence before these changes across the board.

I hope some of my rambling, broad strokes advice has been useful to somebody, and I am indebted to Sana for letting me write them. If for some bizarre reason any of you think I could share more, let me or Sana know.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.