03 Apr 2018

WWIT — Convenience Kills!

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I didn’t need a crystal ball to see the end of the architecture profession. Technology and outsourcing routinely undermine “old” professions while sustaining others. What was I thinking (WWIT) when email communications killed the fax machine? I thought, “I like the convenience so I’ll gladly use email.” What was I thinking when website sales threatened traditional retail outlets? I thought, “I like the convenience so I’ll shop online.” What was I thinking when streaming technology obliterated video rental? I thought, “I like the convenience so I’ll stream media.” None of those transformations occurred suddenly. A consumer’s desire to control — On Demand as the industry calls it — slowly transplanted the antiquated technology. Likewise the consumer’s desire for convenience telegraphed the end of the architecture profession. What was I thinking as I watched architecture die?

Architecture’s decline began when the profession started because architecture evolved from a few talented hobbyists (arguably, Imhotep) who needed something built but didn’t know anyone who could do it. Out of necessity, the entrepreneurs did it themselves. That phenomenon is how business is born, but it’s also how better businesses create new markets and supplant inferior ones. A few modern examples of convenient architecture-killing business ideas include cookie-cutter design, cheap design programs, DITY TV shows, generic titles and 3D printers.

Cookie-Cutter Design:

Home made cookies take great time and effort, but pre-made, pre-cut cookie dough is a convenient and speedy alternative. Similarly, good design takes time but cookie cutter commercial plans and tract-home subdivisions are a convenient and speedy alternative. Pick a plan, pick a site, build a project. From client straight to contractor! Everyone should want and many do want a ready-made alternative. Cookie cutter design is a nail in an architect’s coffin.

Cheap Design Programs:

Low market cost and prolific availability means low barrier to market entry. Sketch-Up, Punch Home Suite and Home Designer Pro are free or reasonably priced design programs available to any weekend designer. None of these budget programs rival Revit, Vectorworks or AutoCad but the short learning curve, visual appeal and low cost encourage hobbyists to design a project. How does a client get what (s)he wants? (S)he designs it! You’ve seen owner plans. I’ve seen owner plans. Prepare to see many more. Cheap design programs are a nail in an architect’s coffin.

DITY TV Shows:

Reality cannot compete with the glamour of the magic TV screen and time lapse imagery that makes a complicated design and construction process look effortlessly simple in 30 minutes or less. Flipping shows and This Old House cast architects as unnecessary cameos and repeatedly “prove” the best way (and secretly expensive way) to develop a flip or remodel project is to problem-solve on site. Who needs to plan or design? All you need is a good editor to cut out the problems and enough ad revenue to reimburse the mistakes. DITY TV is a nail in an architect’s coffin.

Generic Title:

Doctor Love is not a doctor and a software architect is not an architect but if a customer wants love and software they will buy it from the “doctor” and “architect”. A google search for architecture jobs results in more false-architect positions than true architecture jobs. What happened? It’s simple. Architects created a title but did nothing to secure a market. A complacent profession watched while unrelated software developers, golf course designers and cheap software professions commandeered the “architect’ label to create a market for themselves. Those new markets have nothing to do with architecture, but the public neither knows nor cares because the software developers, golf course designers and cheap design program companies serve them. How did architects respond? Architects responded with complaints about copyright and title protection, but did not secure a market for traditional and necessary architecture services. A nebulous title is a nail in an architect’s coffin.

3D Printer:

Time is precious and it takes precious amounts of time to construct something from scratch. The device that revolutionized the plastic whistle industry promises to enhance or eliminate other industries. A 3D printer can print everything from a plastic whistle, to car parts, to buildings and maybe even human organs. This device grants the modeler total control over the manufacturing process. Imagine how many plastic whistles one can print without having to cast a mold. Imagine how quickly one can produce car parts on demand without an assembly line. Imagine how efficiently a modeler can print a building while skipping a lengthy design-bid process. Imagine how many lives one saves reducing organ transplant wait times when the industry can print a new heart. A 3D printer secures a design and production monopoly for the printing company and a 3D printer is a nail in an architect’s 3D-printed coffin.

Convenient Shortcut:

All of these game-changers have a common attribute. They are convenient shortcuts that expedite production and ultimately circumvent an architecture process. Each technology introduces design flaws but the flaws won’t matter to the customer.

It won’t matter that design programming, site-sensitive architecture and construction foresight won’t happen because it will be convenient and the customer will have control.

It won’t matter that clients will design buildings that can’t be built, don’t fit the site, ignore codes or cost too much because it will be convenient and the customer has control.

It won’t matter that 3D printers build exactly what’s modeled even if it’s wrong because it will be convenient and the customer has control.

Customer convenience killed the fax machine, it killed retail and customer convenience is killing the architecture profession.

Save The Architects:

The business world is simple – supply a product people demand and make money doing it — stay in business. Cookie-cutter design, cheap design programs, DITY TV and 3D printers didn’t attack architecture businesses. These industry game changers attacked the design profession. If the architecture profession isn’t thriving, it’s  surviving, but is it worth saving? There’s no fund-me site, angel investors or government subsidy to save the architects. What was I thinking when I joined the architecture profession? I thought I picked a profession that was part of the big three in human survival. People need food, clothing and shelter to survive. I provide shelter. I’m the number three most important item for human survival, but maybe architecture became too inconvenient.

Now I watch as my profession limps at an unsustainable pace because convenience kills. So I ask myself what will i do next? Hmm, maybe I will generate speculative designs and join the cookie-cutter market. Maybe I will align with a popular DITY TV show focused on the design part of those speedy 30 minute projects. Maybe I will partner with 3D printing construction companies as their exclusive modeler. Or maybe I will teach architecture. After 28 years of architecture practice, I already know some architecture and teaching the subject will be convenient. WWIT!

Review these other fine articles to learn what Architects are thinking.

Architalks Entries

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
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Cormac Phalen – Cormac Phalen (@archy_type)
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Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
what were we thinking: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
WWIT — Convenience Kills!

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
“what was i thinking?”

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
What was I thinking?

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
What Was I Thinking? (Learning from Your Mistakes When Starting a Business)

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
What was I thinking?

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
What was I thinking!

Architalks Credits

This is another entry in Bob Borson’s blogging brain-child titled, “ArchiTalks”.

The #ArchiTalks goal is to inspire blogging architects with similar educational and professional requirements to opine on the same topic and simulpost their response so other architects and a broader audience can enjoy the rampant thought-diversity within the architecture profession

Select the links in “Architalks Entries” below to read how architects responded to the “What Was I Thinking?” topic.

image/video credits:

  • cover; crystal ball – WRS


About the Author

Your Architect is Eric Faulkner -- an architect licensed in Texas & Oklahoma with 32 years experience in design, construction observation and life.