The Architecture Lobby is an organization of architectural workers advocating for the value of architecture in the general public and for architectural work within the discipline. From the bottom up, we resist the acceptance of low wages based on the assumption that architectural firms themselves make little profit. From the top down, we reject thinking that accepts marginal profits for our expertise.
The myth that architects have it all—professionalism, creative freedom, autonomy, civic power, cultural cache—lasts until your first day of work. Even then, you don't immediately get the full picture; surely the bad compensation, crummy hours, and lack of power over design decisions are temporary, the dues you pay, right? Fast-forward to several years later, when you have your own firm or become a partner and you still lack reasonable compensation, work crummy hours, and hold little power over design decisions. Along the way, you may have adjusted your thinking. “Architecture,” you can say, “isn’t a career; it’s a calling!”— meaning the lack of money and appreciation is justified.
Architects were hit particularly hard by the 2008 economic crisis, photo via
But eventually it becomes impossible to feel good about the profession: architecture graduates with $100,000 in debt begging for internships that pay little more than minimum wage, honored to be working 15 hour days, seven days a week; principals of firms that work for wealthy private interest trying to prove that their meager fees aren’t compensation for hubristic self-serving experiments; young architects hoping to move beyond bathroom renovations to suburban additions.
We can retrace how all of this happened, how the profession over the years limited risk and liability and, with it, reward and responsibility; how in turn, the profession became known for only design. All of the intelligence that is brought to a project—zoning analysis, demographic scrutiny, material wisdom, procurement expertise, spatial adaptability, organizational expertise, manufacturing acumen, sustainability education, heat, lighting, and acoustic analysis, cost analysis, etc.— disappears from the ledger when we are paid by (the size of) the piece. We want to be and should be part of the knowledge economy, not the production economy.
In order to redirect the public’s perception of what architects do, we need to reconceptualize our value. And in order to reconceptualize our value, we need to rethink architectural work. We need to be reminded that we do work, that we are part of a global labor force that has fought for and deserves fair pay, legal benefits, regulated hours, and termination policies, even if our architectural internship system eradicates this association. We need to walk away from contracts that don’t allow us to share in the profit of a building’s success. And we need to prove that we know that the building’s success is determined not by its publication photos but by its 40-year habitability.
In order to redirect the public’s perception, we also need to redefine the way media showcases us. If they got our previous message to showcase us as designers, they can now showcase us as keepers of sustainable spatial intelligence. Every submission we make to the media needs to privilege intelligence and long-term commitment to the built environment. Every article in every journal and newspaper discussing only form should warrant a letter of protest. Every commentary that mentions a development, a proposed project, a community plan or a new public space without mentioning the architect, designer, planner or landscape architect involved should warrant a request for correction/elaboration.
The Architecture Lobby survey that is being distributed here gathers information that provides evidence for ourselves and for the public about the nature of our work and where we do and do not place value, where we could and should demand respect.
–The Architecture Lobby