Tag Archives: LAWYERS

THE INFURIATING MYTH OF AN ARCHITECT’S WEALTH

April 9, 2021

The Brady Bunch, a sizable family to support as an entrepreneurial architect (1969 to 1974)

It’s a popular myth that you see in TV and movies, that an architect is rich. From Mike Brady supporting a family of eight (nine if you count Alice) to the architect duo of Richard Gere and Sharon Stone, from charming Tom Hanks to Steve Martin playing an architect twice, the world seems to think architects are wealthy—rolling in money.

Know this: we are not. Not at all. Not even close.

left: Sharon Stone and Richard Gere in Intersection (1994); middle: Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle (1993); right: Meryl Strep and Steve Martin in It’s Complicated (2009)

We are regular people  with a regular job. We don’t have those fancy clothes, driving those nice cars, living in big homes, as one might believe from the prevalent urban legends of who an architect is.

Poon Design team from archives (photo by Poon Design)

Yes, we are rich in our artistic rewards and in the opportunities to chase our creative dreams. But no, we are not affluent. My question is this: Why don’t we have lots of money?

I compare our design industry to doctors and lawyers, who have similar paths of required higher education, rigorous state requirements for licensure, and even responsibilities to public safety. But for anyone who knows the statistics, architects aren’t just not rich, some are living at modest middle class incomes. Well, at least not starving artists. But when compared to doctors and lawyers, architects are compensated at a fraction of our professional colleagues. Why?

Probably a doctor, not an architect, showing up in his/her $3 million W Motors Lykan HyperSport for a day on the yacht (photo from smf-blog.com)

The work of an architect is not valued as it used to be, as say in the Renaissance, when kings and queens rewarded architects handsomely to design heaven-reaching cathedrals that would last centuries. Perhaps architecture today is too abstract to understand. People know that when they hire a plumber, the pipes get fixed. But if you don’t understand what design is or what an abstract idea is—then from architects, you are only getting random lines on a piece of paper. And how much money is that worth?

Curson and Pico Mixed-Use Project, by Poon Design

But with star chefs, you would never call the recipe for a Michelin-rated dish, merely random scribbles on a piece of paper. I have had clients say that they don’t need a design, just the drawings. I don’t get that. That’s like saying I don’t need the fascinating epic of the Harry Potter saga. Instead, just give me random ink on pages.

Add to this how reality TV (here and here) has inaccurately shown that you can approach an architect and ask for three designs, for free! Would you ask any professional for free work, such as your doctor, dentist, accountant, or lawyer?

One critical thing to note why architects suffer: The typical fees paid to an architect rarely compensate for the work that needs to be done when designing a building. For example, if an architect gets a fee of $100,000, we all know right from the start that $120,000 is needed to do the work. You might ask: Why not just do the work of $100,000, since that is all you are paid to do? It is not that simple.

Architects drafting and slaving away (photo by Michael Neatu)

Partly, the work is dictated by the client’s indecisions and endless changes over the course of an unknown number of meetings, coordinating the work of structural and mechanical engineers always behind schedule, getting city approvals that can take months and even years, administering construction and resolving all the unforeseen conditions, and the other hundreds of spinning tops and fires that burn brightly. In part, we are also driven by our artistic ego, and we will design a project until it is great, not stopping at the amount of fee that is allocated.

So, who is the blame?

San Diego Civic Theater, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA)

THE ADVERTISING OF ARCHITECTURE: THE ARCHITECTURE OF ADVERTISING

May 4, 2018

(image from knowyourmeme.com)

Lawyers advertise. So too do dentists. They run commercials; they have ads online and in print.

Architects don’t typically advertise. Are we more principled and virtuous, then to succumb to the pandering of advertising?

Better Call Saul advertisement from the television series, Breaking Bad (image from amazon.com)

PART ONE

Some celebrated architects avoid the illicit exploits of marketing altogether. Frank Gehry’s company barely has a website. In a world where online presence is the most prevalent form of branding and outreach, Gehry offers a mere single page website, not the predictable encyclopedic collection of project images, the self-indulgent bragging rights of awards, and the prestigious list of clients.

Peter Zumthor on the other hand, is even more severe and reductionist. No website. Online, Zumthor is only mentioned in Wikipedia—and probably not of his doing or by his choice.

Poon Design business cards, unique design per staff member, (photo by Anthony Poon)

Architects commence their advertising through an old school tool, the business card. But why is that? Prior to a face to face meeting, architects spend months communicating with a client via email and text. The clients already have our information in their computers. Yet, when we finally meet in person, we exchange this absurdly ancient form of introduction, the small piece of cardstock that contains all the contact information that our client has already has.

My library of architecture books (photo by Anthony Poon)
left: Lecture at Yale University (photo from architecture.yale.edu); right: Louis Kahn, 1972 (photo by Robert C. Lautman)

Architects also advertise by having books written on their work, or less common, writing a book themselves and have it published—as I did. Alongside books, architects also focus on inclusion in the latest and trendiest of magazines and blogs. Though a sales-y endeavor, an architect can man a booth at a trade show, such as an industry convention. Having done this, my role was akin to desperately selling hot dogs at a baseball game. We can also teach, hopefully at a high profile university, generating community contacts and national exposure. Though social media is rampant and popular, I have yet to reap any substantive rewards. Meaning, besides likes, winks and shares, I have yet to reap actual clients and contracts from social media.

(photo by ShutterStock)
Networking and being out there (photo from healthliteracycentre.eu)

I believe the best form of advertising is simple: be out there. “Hitting the pavement” is an outdated slogan, but the theme is relevant to advertising: make relationships, establish rapport, meet and greet, shake some hands, and as declared with conviction in the 1992 film, Glengarry Glen Ross, “A.B.C.! Always Be Closing!”

PART TWO

upper left: really, ping pong in the office? (photo from salesforce.com); upper right: Amsterdam advertising agency themed as an indoor picnic (photo from fashionarchitecturetaste.com); lower left: really, a slide in the office? Ogilvy & Mather Jakarta (photo from officesnapshots.com); lower right: another staircase as an amphitheater and social area, Wieden+Kennedy (photo from retaildesignblog.com)

Much of the architecture created for advertising agencies makes me nauseous. I am tired of seeing those cliché images, i.e., during some random client meeting, an impromptu ping pong game breaks out, or someone skateboards through the office to hip hop music. The architectural forms comprise silly colors and patterns, funny shapes and angles, and the overused idea where a staircase is an amphitheater and social space. These are theme park ideas.

From our clients, it is fact that no one uses the air hockey table in the board room, and no one takes the fireman’s pole from a cubicle down to the yoga room.

Countering this, if I were to identify a cool design for an ad agency, I would direct attention to Mad Men.

Mad Men stage set (photo from Interior Design)
© Poon Design Inc.