The Great Design Recession

My very first post on this blog was published on July 29th of this year. It can be found here. It speaks about a few things, but it expresses my concern for talented students of mine not being able to find work…along with alot of other people. Five months later, things don’t seem to look a whole lot different in the general market. Our industry is getting hit with an unemployment rate of double or more the national average. Plenty of firm leaders aren’t seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Or if they are, they know things will be very, very different when it all settles.

The AEC industry was one of the first to get hit in 2007, and looks to be one of the last to recover. The primary reason for this is simple: money. Until the banks start lending normally and the private sector starts taking risks, things will not recover fully. Federal money to fund school, infrastructure, and government projects are simply a band-aid right now that only a few parts of the industry are able to benefit from and are not a sustainable option at many levels.


This rant stems from an article from Architectural Record that was published on Monday – it can be found here. Even the founder of my old firm is quoted, and then beat up a little in the comments section at the end.

I say all of this to stress the importance of one segment of that article:

“Yet an alternate reading of the tea leaves suggests that what may really be happening is that architecture is not keeling over but molting. Increasingly, it is becoming a multidisciplinary profession that will benefit generalists over experts, however painful that transition might be, according to employed and unemployed designers alike.”

I’ve never liked the idea of an ‘expert’ in architecture anyhow. Many firms will pigeon-hole staff into be very efficient at one type of task on a project – it makes sense financially for the firm, and its job security for that person – until that role disappears. Architects are supposed to be the ‘master builder’, aren’t they? That’s what the word stems from. Yet, our modern day landscape of the profession doesn’t have many of those. Knowing how to design, how to build, and how to be a business person all factor in. Get broader – find new mediums, take opportunities that present all different kinds of challenges, and widen your skill set.

Though things appear dim, don’t be fooled. There are jobs to be had, work to be done, and money to be made right now. Don’t let the flashy project images of chic design firms get you short sighted. That design firm path that schools teach you is not the only way to happiness in the design industry. In fact, its quite the opposite at the moment for many. Just as you are being taught to be creative in the studios, you also need to be creative in how you approach work. Take your other skill sets, business smarts, and passions and find ways to express yourself, stay busy, and make money all at the same time. It may take you to places you never imagined once you had your heart set on that big firm job – but it may be all for the better.

1 Comment

Filed under Design, Pittsburgh

One response to “The Great Design Recession

  1. I was looking into Architecture Schools tonight, and I think I came across the article you are talking about. There is a quote in it that fits the topic of your survey about Business Classes in Design School. It says, “Architecture is by no means dead…though being successful now requires more than just making sure a structure doesn’t leak or fall down. Business savvy is key…”

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