President's Corner – April 2012

April 22, 2012


Dear Colleagues:
As practitioners of architecture we all believe we know a lot about business.  But unfortunately hanging your shingle does not make for an astute business person.  Most schools of architecture don’t offer business classes as part of their curriculum. If you were clever enough to have taken some business classes you’re ahead of the game.

I’ve met a lot of aspiring architects young and not so young who even though they are licensed and want to have a practice of their own, don’t really know when or how to take the leap of faith into the profession of architecture. Not knowing what to expect and how they will pay their bills or feed and support their family.  It is not uncommon that most small firms survive month by month, hand to mouth, living off savings and credit cards hoping for a commission or waiting for a client to send a check that is long overdue.  This is no picnic! Where can architects go for help to better understand and deal with this predicament?

AIA-NJ is busy planning an incredible seminar that will be given this fall on the Business and Ethics of Architecture, spearheaded by Larry Lam, AIA and Stephen R. Whitehorn, Managing Principal of the Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc. This will be a fascinating and highly informative seminar on understanding business and making a business of the practice of architecture. You will be given the tools and understanding of what where and how to deal with, accept or decline prospective clients. Understand what a business plan is and how to use it and so much more. We are coupling this with a session on the ethics of architecture given by Lawrence Powers attorney and partner of the firm Hoagland, Longo, Dunken, Dunst & Doukas. A precursor of this session was given at the AIA Leadership Conference last fall. It was attended by the Executive Committee, Section Presidents and the AIANJ Board of Trustees and it was absolutely exhilarating. We expect nothing less this fall. Place, time and dates will follow soon.

Most people (non-architects) who venture into business have a business plan and expect to make a profit. Something most architects know little about. We are in a service business and provide design documents that we create from our imagination.  We start off with a blank sheet and ultimately provide places to live, work, shop, eat, learn, worship be entertained or incarcerated. In other words we turn dreams into reality. This is a fascinating and highly honorable profession unlike any other.  That is why we are architects, not interior designers, although they understand the concept of business better that we do.

You see, I believe it all starts with a little kernel when we’re born. It is the “altruistic” gene that we as architects possess and it is the one common element that exists in most all architects.  This is the concept that with good design we can fix the world and make it right. Even as I write these words, I believe this to be true.  The desire to make the ultimate design that will unite all and bring peace to the world. So, let’s do this design even if we don’t get paid for it, right?  What is wrong with this depiction? Nothing, but you won’t last in business for very long and or will probably die alone and broke.

Young newly licensed architects are clamoring for a chance to illustrate to the world how fantastic a designer they are at any cost or even if there is no fee at all.  Just to get this one project under their belt. Does this really pay in the long run? I too was a young architect.

A few things and the final word that I feel are noteworthy: As a practicing architect licensed by the state, we have a responsibility to our clients to maintain high standard in design as well as knowledge of the building sciences, all the codes, ecology along with the responsibility for health, safety and welfare of the public. I believe that if you choose to go into your own practice you should have an office, home office, a trailer, boat, I don’t care where, only that you maintain it and are physically there providing services on a full time basis. I am not a believer in having a full time job and practicing on the “side”.  In my mind this is not a viable or responsible way to conduct business. How is it possible service your clients on a part time basis or for that fact be responsive to the firm or institute you work for. Certainly you are taking time from your employer to do you own work, whether it is fielding phone calls or posting to facebook, twitter or some other social network. You are stealing time and not being responsive to your client, your employer or your self esteem.

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