“Habits are cobwebs at first; cables at last”–Chinese Proverb

It is so annoying when I hear people—in the profession—speak of Architecture in the following terms, trying to explain away the issues related to the profession that are, typically, self-induced.  Many of these issues are right there in front of  them, yet, they are somehow just out of grasp.


 “I just do not understand why other professionals do not have to deal with some of these issues?”

They sometimes make statements, such as:

1. “It is a profession, but it is not like Law or Medicine..Not as high paying…not for all the school required.”

You are correct, it is not  like Law or Medicine, BECAUSE, Lawyers and Doctors have standards that they set,

standards—that they will not waver from.  For example, Lawyers are not disgusted to hear that another Lawyer is making more than them. They think, “Good for him/her, I need to raise my fees too!”  In Architecture  there are not only firms but also employees of the firms, who will ask for a low-wage to obtain the position (or in their heads they think it helped them to do so) and then sit and squawk that others are making more than them.  If “Person A” asks for the going wage for their experience and ability level and “Person B” does not, the firm is not going to say, “NO, NO, please, let us pay you fifteen-thousand more than you are asking for!”  Of course not!  They simply think that they got a good deal on that particular employee, and that-is-that. 

In practice, many firms try to undercut other firms by getting into a contest, not of who can do it the best — but– who can do it the cheapest.  You never hear a Doctor saying,  “How much did Dr. Smith say he will remove your Appendix for?  Well, I will do it for half that amount!!!”

2.  “The clients try to tell us how it is done and then sometimes they do not even pay!”

 Chasing own tail “Well, they haven’t paid in a while but we’ll just keep drawing!”

Like the old saying goes, “People will only do to you that which you allow them to do.”   The difference is, that when someone calls a Lawyer, the Lawyer says, “Sure, I will be happy to meet with you to discuss your case; I charge $450.00/hour. Bring a check for $450.00, we will meet for one hour and we will see if I will be able to help you.”   Lawyers could also say, “Come in and I will sit and give you my ideas all afternoon, for free, and then, you decide if you want to hire me.”  Moreover, later that evening they could whine to friends over a beer, “That is just how it is in Law, people use us.”  They do not allow it to happen. Architecture just did not evolve into a profession that this happens in-it is that way because people who practice Architecture-allow it. They conduct their business and firms as-if the product is not worth much and may or may not be given away. You want people to treat Architecture like the profession – that it is?  Set the tone. Set the standard. Set your boundaries.  If people squawk at paying a retainer then that is a qualifier-they were not serious, anyhow. It is similar to dating-everyone is not for you and you are not for everyone. Do you think a Lawyer keeps working when they run out of retainer? Doctors have office fees, the bill is due whether they find anything wrong-or not. People’s rebuttal to this is, “Well Architecture is not that way.”  Right!  Because many Architects have allowed it to be, “Not that way.”   Contrary to the two-examples above, if most Architecture firms get a call, they will say, “A possible job in Los Angeles? Sure, we will fly to you, pay for the flight ourselves and take you out to dinner  when we get there and, then, you can decide– after we meet– if you want to hire us. *But we will go $5,000.00 in the hole…. while you decide.*  vs. other professionals and non-professional business people who will say, “Sure, pay my ticket, put me up in a hotel and “x” amount per-day, etc…”  Until Architects start valuing their own self-worth and the worth of others in their own profession, things will not only-not improve but continue to degrade to something comparable to drive-thru Architecture.


“Your Wall Sections and Enlarged Details are in the bag, sir.”

Architecture is supposed to be a professional discipline in which Art meets Science, not, where bad business people meet arrogance.  I have always been amazed by how many firms set a price but, yet, are then afraid to charge for additional services– even though– it is specified in the contract.  The Scope changes and the price remains the same. Obviously, this cannot be.  For example: If there is an equalateral triangle representing, “The Project” with “Scope” located at the Incenter/Incircle and “Fee”, “Time” and “Quality” resting on each of the three respective lines (legs) between the vertices, it is only common-sense that when scope increases, the legs between the surrounding vertices will have to grow in proportion.  How can scope increase and the other factors remain the same? More work is going to take more time and, time, with regard to business = money.

alarm clock and money

“It is going to take more time, but instead of charging the client for the additional service, we will  take it out  on the people who do the drawings. They will have simply have to work overtime without pay, so we can recoup our bad business decisions.” 

 If the scope increases and the deliverable date stays the same, then, naturally, extra-time beyond a 40-hour week is going to be required, thus, the fee will have to grow in proportion.  If the scope increases and the time and fee remains the same then, obviously, the quality is going to suffer. The triangle will then become of distortion of its former self and will take on the shape of a Scalene Triangle with “Fee” on the shortest leg and “Time” on the longest leg and “Quality” on the remaining leg, obviously, not good for business.

Another quagmire that a few firms get sucked into is, the hiring of the self-proclaimed, “Marketing-genius”.  This one has always been a puzzle to me.  These people seem to prey on the naive, desperate and unsuspecting firm-owners, although, logically, it is hard to understand how someone could get duped into this ploy?  They tell the firm owners that they are an, “expert marketer”.  Years click by and no results come, yet, the firm owners still believe that one day…they will.  The oddity about this is this: Professional marketing people, at the high-end Architecture firms, work on commission, not salary. The simple fact is that, someone—who claims they have the ability to bring in multi-million dollar deals—would not settle for a salary; they are going to demand a percentage and, thus, become rich from it, while also making the people they work for, wealthy.  When a “Marketing-genius” accepts a salary, it is quite telling of their true intention/ability.”   They end up milking some of these firms for close to $500,000.00  in salary, over several years, while bringing in a small fee or two that does not even cover one year of their salary, before some firms catch-on to the ruse. It is becoming less and less prevalent, yet, still shocking to see!  When the curtain is finally pulled back they soon realize it was just hot-air and smoke.  A lot of levers being pulled, a lot of fog and sound-effects.


“I am the great and powerful OZ!  Hey, wait!!  Who pulled back the curtain?!?!”

The people who run firms complain about these issues, give away their product, make promises to the client that defy the laws of space and time and, then, take it out on their staff when they are unable to create a Galaxy in the time it takes to create a Solar-System, and for half the cost.  If people do not wake-up to the obvious, there are going to be firms going Supernova and leaving a black hole where they formerly existed. 


 Once you enter the singularity, space and time cease to exist.

“Our Marketing-genius has us heavily invested in a portion of the market that others simply cannot see!” 😉





14 Responses to ““Habits are cobwebs at first; cables at last”–Chinese Proverb”

  1. liz griffore Says:

    wrote so excellent ..I do think you should check into writing some articles professionally,

  2. Archiminister Says:

    Thanks for your kind words; I am glad you enjoy my writing. 🙂

  3. ashish Says:

    thats simply gr8……..!!

  4. Janipur Says:

    Very well written- I think you should look into writing articles professionally as well.

  5. Archiminister Says:

    Thank you! 🙂

  6. Cool Hand Says:

    Did I ever tell you you’re my hero?

  7. Archiminister Says:

    No, you have not but-Thank you! 🙂

  8. In researching the differences between the professions of Doctor, Lawyer and Architect more, I have found that the medical and legal professions are different because of the Clients. The clients going to a doctor or lawyer NEEED to go to them due to an illness , possibly death related, or a legal matter that could lead to jail time or a lawsuit involving $$.

    These clients are in a desperate situation and do not have a choice, live or die; go to jail or stay free. In either case, the client will be willing to PAY whatever it takes to stay alive or not go to jail. NOT the case with architects.

    Our clients come to use because they want to, not a life or death situation. Hence their desire and need to shop around and negotiate price. It is not realistic to compare the professions.

    • Archiminister Says:

      Your research was short and not very well thought out— if that is the case— and appears to be based on fuzzy logic. You align Doctors and Lawyers as though they are like professions and that is the reason they are practiced differently than Architecture. I cannot think of two more disparate professions.

      Your statement is flawed in a few major ways:

      1. Not all Doctor’s practice life or death situations. People seek out Doctors for many reasons, other than life and death situations, including cosmetic/aesthetic, sports improvement, vision correction, etc.
      Ironically, the highest paid-Doctors are for elective procedures.
      2. The only functions of Lawyers are not to keep people out of jail. People hire Lawyers for wills and probate, Family Law/Divorce, Copyright Laws, Patents and the list goes on and on and in these scenarios would also be free to compare price.

      Moreover, according to your statements regarding the above referenced professions–what makes a Profession expensive–in your mind– is whether or not it is imperative to existence (your logic), i.e.: life-or-death or something people HAVE TO have, thus, Lawyers who do not keep people out of Jail and Doctors who do not perform life-or death situations, undercut and give their services away? I hardly think so. Buildings that we live, work and play in are not imerative to existence??? What about Dentists? Do people shop for the cheapest Dentist? Did you select your Dentist based on which one is the cheapest? Dentistry is not a life or death situation.

      3. And the biggest flaw of all: There is competition-in ALL of these professions. Barring an Emergency Room type of situation, even Cancer patients have the time and right to shop provider. They shop based on quality-not on price. So do people obtaining the service of Lawyers. Trials rarely happen the next day, even after a Crime is committed. The basic fact is the aforementioned professions have standards that they have held fast to and have not wavered from. The public has come to understand that these services come with a price-tag.

      We, as design professionals, have done a bad job at educating the public on what Architecture is and why it is important. Most people think it is, “Drawing a plan.” Because people do not understand exactly what an Architect does, the value, and exactly what they get with the service– they only know to shop price, similar to a person who cannot read and would buy a book based solely on price, since, to someone who cannot understand what they are paying for it would not matter if it was “Shakespeare” or “Dick and Jane.”

      The blame ultimately lies with us and our professional affiliates and organizations. We have done a poor job of educating the public of what Architecture is — and what it is not. The answer to this is not to undercut and get into an eternal contest of who can do it the cheapest. If we want people to respect the profession we need to start respecting ourselves. It is a Profession, one that requires a license to perform. If we want people to value what we do then we need to start behaving like the other licensed Professions. If it is no big thing then why is it licensed? It is important and a NEED, in many cases much more than a Plastic Surgeon!

      • Christopher Says:

        I still don’t think you’re understanding these other professions you highlight.

        There is a malpractice suit if you’re not a doctor and you do a doctor’s work. I’m fairly certain that while you can represent yourself in a court, you probably wouldn’t hire someone else to represent you if you knew they didn’t have a degree in Law.

        However, the inverse is true for Architects. Since the beginning of Architecture people have always thought they could be just as good an architect as someone who claims to be a professional.

        Further, while people need to get an architect to sign-off on certain scale/types of projects, they don’t actually need him/her to draw up and organize all the parties involved.

        Plenty of other people in the design/construction business are more than willing to do the work of an architect with a significantly rate. And what can we do? We can’t outlaw personal drawing. We can’t stop people from thinking about design.

        Therefore, architects can’t mark up their prices without either having established high standing in the profession or willingly give up many jobs for lower wages.

        Another thing about architecture is that it isn’t as cut and dry as doctors or lawyers. Doctors either heal you or they don’t. Lawyers either win the case for you or they don’t. BUT in the end, architecture–like it or not–is still an interpretive business. There isn’t any it’s GOOD or it’s BAD. Even professionals can’t collectively decide if a structure is good or bad.

        Further, business decisions like the ones you cite are obviously not true for the majority of architects. Most would not pay their own travel expenses. Most would not hire a non-functioning marketing expert. So while your blog post certainly makes a charged point, I think it’s too polemic in its approach.

  9. Steve Says:

    Great way to look at the profession of Architecture. The baby that doesnt cry (Ask for what he wants) doesn’t get fed when he’s hungry. ( A little corny, but a valid old saying) I’m sure the Architects that do actually value their work and not comprise, make a good amount of money! Thanks for the great article.

    • Archiminister Says:

      Thanks Steve, Great points you make! I appreciate your kind words. You are correct, people get what they ask for. Just today I was talking to an Architect that I know who was trying to dispute what people make for contract work. He said, “I don’t know about that…” Apparently not! Unbelievable! In any field the Government suggests that 30.00/hr is the MINIMUM anyone should do contract work for since a contractor pays close to 40% tax. Many people enjoy this because they charge more and can write off items– with the flexibilty– of being self employed. Currently, in this recession, people are contracting for around 40-50 per hour, in Architecture. This gentlemen was angry because he just finished a job that he made a VERY low wage on and then (take 40%) off of that-WOW. Another example of people undervaluing themselves and their services. His excuse was “…This Economy…Lucky and thankful to get it…” He set the price and of course people are not going to argue to pay him more! He is actually adding to the bad economy and driving wages down, all due to low-self esteem! I told him what our colleagues are working for and he became angry. He then doubted it, “How could THEY be making THAT when I am making THIS?” It never dawned on him that all people are not going to work for what he agreed to work for, therefore, in his mind he is outraged that others are making more! Thanks again for your comments! 🙂

  10. Archiminister Says:


    I am understand the other professions I am describing – just fine, since I have education in one of those professions, as well as, Architecture – which is what my training is in. You mention getting an Architect to “Sign-off” on things of a certain size? Sorry, that is not the way it works, it is illegal for an Architect to “Sign-Off” on work that was created by another person and not under his or her direct supervision (i.e. someone that is not in their employ). Currently the only things available for non-licensed people to do individually is Single Family low-end residential. And while you are correct that you cannot stop people from “thinking about” design-thinking about design and being hired to do it AND getting paid for it under a legal contract is another matter, completely. Yes, people would not hire a Lawyer without a Law degree and similarly no one hires someone who is not an Architect to design a building 1. It is not legal to do so and 2. No one with any sizable amount of money to invest in a building would do so, Your comments in whole reflect a poor understanding of the practice of Architecture.

    And again, you are incorrect about that the Architect does not organize the sub-disciplines, the Architect actually hires the sub-disciplines, organizes then, approves their work and they are accountable to the Architect as well as the owner (See AIA Document A201 Conditions of the contract, for further information).

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