Architects in The United States Today

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While career mobility has always been a unique feature of the American economy, contemporary cultural mores have made it even easier for people to change career orientations during their working years. This is particularly true of the white-collar worker or the professional. In the professions, one increasingly finds doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other highly trained individuals working outside of their profession, as that profession may be defined in its strictest terms. A person with several talents and motivations may be better equipped to cope with rapid changes in technology and resultant fluctuations in employment opportunities. As noted throughout this book, the environmental design and construction industry has its fair share of advances and changes in the technology and economics of the industry, with the consequent difficulties of employment opportunities. Within the industry, however, those trained and experienced in architecture have qualifications that will allow them to move into any of a number of disciplines embraced by the design professions and construction industry.

In the 1960s, 90 percent of the licensed architects in the United States were engaged in private architectural practice. In the late 1990s, that percentage dropped to the mid-80th percentile, with architects migrating to other interest areas such as government, industry, educational institutions, and research. These figures indicate significant shifts from private architectural practice into such related design disciplines as urban planning and into other work environments-for instance, public policy agencies, development, research, writing, teaching, and industry.

We will examine the details of private architectural practice-what it is today and what it is likely to be when you enter practice some six to eight years from now.


The private practice of architecture is a business in every sense of the word, and the practicing architect is a businessperson as well as a professional. The architect's primary motivation for entering practice is a professional desire to practice the art and science of architecture. However, the practitioner also expects to manage a practice profitably and ethically, thereby gaining a place in local public affairs as a successful businessperson and respected citizen. This requires constant attention to the scope of the practice-that is, to a number of general concerns affecting the content of practice and the conditions under which the profession is pursued.

Content of Practice

The first and most dominant concern is for the nature and quality of services the architect provides the client. The details of these architectural services will be discussed later in this chapter. However, note that the primary objective of the architect's services has always been, and must always remain, the union of function (the planning and relationships of spaces that meet human needs) with structure (the method of enclosing or defining space) and with beauty (that quality without which no space can qualify as architecture). This unity is what we call design; it is the very essence of architectural services.

Secondly, the architect in private practice is concerned with professional responsibilities already discussed. The prime focus is the responsibility to protect the public interest through the design of buildings and the spaces between them.

The architect's third broad area of concern is the efficient management of a practice. The architect responds to this concern for architectural design and for the services to various clients. A practice provides the architect with a base from which to render such services. The strength and viability of this base, the practice, depends upon sound business administration and management.

These three broad areas of concern for the content of practice- quality of services, professional responsibilities, and management of practice-are essentially the same for any professional in private practice-whether the practitioner's vocation is medicine, law, engineering, architecture, or another similar vocation rendering a personal service to the public. All of them are necessary to succeed. However, the conditions under which an architect practices or renders services are somewhat different from those of other professionals.

The Conditions of Practice

To begin work, the architect signs a written agreement covering the services to be rendered to the client. The doctor, lawyer, or dentist rarely, if ever, enters into a written agreement to render professional services. Written agreements between an architect and the client are necessary and desirable for a number of reasons. The process of designing and constructing a building involves large sums of money and months of work, and original intents and objectives can become confused or lost entirely unless initially set down in writing. Further, building design and construction is an incredibly complicated process, little understood by most clients. A written agreement clearly sets out for the client's benefit just what it is that is being stipulated and purchased.

Once the contract is signed, the architect depends upon a vast array of diverse talents in rendering services. Obviously, no single person is equally expert in architectural design as well as structural, mechanical, electrical, acoustical, landscape, and the dozens of other design disciplines involved in creating the typical contemporary building. Therefore, the architect depends on expert consultants in rendering services to the client. Yet, through a written agreement with the client, the architect alone is responsible to the client for the quality of the design. Consequently, the architect enters into written agreements with many consultants, covering their services to the project.

Other professionals may collaborate with related consultants to service their client. A lawyer may suggest, for instance, that a client engage an insurance consultant, or a doctor may call in a neurologist to consult on a particular problem. However, in most such situations the consultant is engaged by and is responsible to the client; there is no written agreement between the prime professional and the consultant.

In designing a building, an architect deals with tremendous sums of construction money-other people's money. The architect's services determine how these sums are allocated to the various parts of the total building project
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