“Five Years Later: Being an Architect under the ‘New Normal'”

After a long absence from his blog, the always-thoughtful Corbusier posts some ruminations about his profession during the current period of economic recession and structural change in many industries. Long but worth reading.

8 thoughts on ““Five Years Later: Being an Architect under the ‘New Normal'””

  1. Interesting. Thanks for sharing this. Aside from the architectural specific details, a lot of this applies to many other industries and careers.

    Both drafting and cutting cardboard models are time-consuming and labor intensive, the kind of things that younger workers were expected to do when fees were generous and deadlines were longer, freeing older professionals to tend to more managerial and business development roles

    The same thing applies to the new digital tools.

    The young naturally learn BIM and allied parametric modeling tools much more quickly than the old, and within a few years become the gatekeepers of vital information about all technical aspects of the project. Older types, who were just barely getting up to speed using 2-dimensional drawing programs (e.g. AutoCAD), haven’t quite grasped how the new BIM tools work, much less understand the time and skills required to make it work effectively.

    The young naturally learn it because they are more capable and better positioned to apply their attention.
    Older workers either move into leadership positions which require more varied tasks, or they leave.

    This really puts the squeeze on the young, who now must learn in a couple of years what used to take decades in learning how to put buildings together

    I doubt it. Kids these days are smart and capable but they aren’t ten times smarter than the old timers. What has probably happened is the demand for the digital deliverables is far more upfront than what they dealt with in the old days.

    All that has happened is the goal posts have moved up. I see this a lot and it’s confused often with progress when it’s really just rejiggering of expectations.

    If these firms could get some “old timers” together, give them a clear mandate, provide support, and most importantly time, they would learn these new tools.
    They’d be more valuable than the neo-interns the firms think they have to get to do this work because they have the added benefit of career wisdom and tribal knowledge.

    THEN, the mismatch between the young and old would disappear and accurate management would emerge.

  2. Ah, I wrote that right after I read the BIM part. I see he addressed my concerns in his next section.

    I used to have a passing interest in BIM. It’s been awhile but here was the prevailing attitude just before the crash:


    “Older employees either endorse it or must step aside.”

    “If you’re over 45 in this field, you’re a dinosaur. Your job now is to do what you can to ensure that the next generation can do the best job possible, even if that means just getting out of the way”

    (I’m not even going to mention the part about keynotes from Vilaraigos, who presided over LA’s de-industrialization and financial ruin, or RFK Jr who is just plain nuts – OK I just mentioned it).

    It’s all too typical – overhyped technology was valued over people.

  3. My guess is that in most technical fields the skill variation between high-talent and low-talent individuals dwarfs any skill variation between individuals due to age.

  4. Jonathan,

    Thank you very much for linking to my recent blog post. Given the realities of being an architect these past five years, it’s been very hard to find the time to blog. I hope you’ve read some of my previous post from the past couple of years, which have been written in the same lengthy manner. I think you would like my recent posts about my experiences in Europe, which confirm a lot of the conclusions promoted by Chicagoboyz.


    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I do think there has been a bit of an overselling of BIM, and it’s taken some time for architects adapt to it. Part of the reason the transition to BIM hasn’t been as quick as some of the prognosticators at the AIA convention predicted is that it doesn’t really fundamentally change what architects are expected to know about buildings. BIM is just the latest way to package the information that we’ve always maintained on our own, whether through drawings, models and spreadsheets. The observations in my blog were based on my own experience rather than what architecture journals and lecturers talk about, since most of what they predict never quite pans out.

    I’ve learned far more about how to be an architect from my older colleagues than anything they taught me at architecture school. I wish mandates could be made clear and maintained in such a way as to ensure that experienced architects are utilized effectively as mentors to the young. It just seems to run counter to economic challenges of running an architectural firm. I’m constantly sensing a push for smaller teams that are cheaper to employ, and for older architects to wear even more hats than they do, including doing their production, just so that the firm can make a buck.

  5. Hang in there man,
    getting proficient with BIM just takes some exercising of muscle memories. The real knowledge is already embedded from your experiences. It’s just a matter of relaying and redirecting.

    It seems now that the smoke has cleared, the one benefit smaller firms have over the big dog engineering conglomerates is maneuverability. While it takes hard work as you say, moving from smaller niche to smaller niche encounters less “friction” than if a big splash project doesn’t pan out.

  6. Jonathan,

    My guess is that in most technical fields the skill variation between high-talent and low-talent individuals dwarfs any skill variation between individuals due to age.

    That’s very true, as long as you include motivation and willingness to learn within the term “talent”. Unfortunately, some otherwise-talented people lose those qualities as their careers progress.

    The author talks about architects who think they’ve “paid their dues”. Well, I’ve got news for them: in any technical field, your dues are never paid. Experience counts, but only when applied to the current generation of tools. That’s painfully obvious for me as an engineer, but apparently some architects didn’t get the memo.

  7. Corbusier,

    Always a pleasure. I hadn’t read your blog in some time before I found your recent post. I’ll certainly read more. (I enjoyed your post about visiting Paris, BTW.)

Comments are closed.