Value vs. Commodity

( January 6th, 2008 )


We’re going through some very important exercises at work. The goal is a real and unflinching assessment of the state of our industry, architecture and design, and the role we play in that industry. The goal is to seriously challenge notions of status quo, and to question accepted practices. Hard questions are being asked. Tough answers are being put up on the white board. None of us disagree. But, what are we to do with this information, with these confirmations?

We are to change.

Actually, we have already been changing. We know that architecture has become a largely commoditized business, that the value provided by many architecture design firms has been slowly and consistently eroded in the United States over the last 20 to 30 years. Architects have allowed this to happen, and it has happened as issues of liability and responsibility have come to dominate project realities. But instead of embracing this and accepting the challenges, architecture has retreated behind drawings and plans and allowed others to step in and manage the process of building, of making. A long list of other trades were only too happy to step in and take on the historically traditional role of the architect, that of a master builder. Allowing this has effectively removed architecture from the value stream of building. Many, many firms now exist to produce drawings. They are production houses.

What we are finding is priority is the importance of reinserting ourselves into the making and effectively taking back the control of the value stream. We know that we must do what it takes to become the most relevant and influential force in building culture, this much is clear. What is unclear is exactly how we will get there, and I suspect we will continue to challenge and explode traditional notions of design and building. Embodied in this is the reinvention of our firm around core goals of design excellence, as we define it, and the reconnection of our design to implementation, to execution. Architecture is a strategic move, and that move will not be successful if architecture does not protect the value and integrity of the idea, the idea power, from inception through implementation.

While I have framed this discussion around my immediate industry, the reality is that it is powerfully meaningful for a diversity of creative professions who face very similar challenges.

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