Tag Archives: MONEY

WHAT IS ARCHITECTURAL SUCCESS?

April 5, 2024

Lincoln Studios, Santa Monica, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

As an architect, are you successful? How should we measure success?

(photo by S K from Pixabay)

Making money is an obvious gauge, but there’s more to life than a paycheck.

Good design should count for something, but design is subjective. So success might look towards an architect’s accolades, like design awards and national honors. But there must be more than bragging rights and industry fanfare.

FAIA Investiture Ceremony, 2022 AIA National Conference, Chicago, Illinois (photos by Olive Stays and Poon Design)

We architects enjoy seeing our name in the headlines, as well as photographs of our work gracing magazine covers and online features. But is this the result of being a successful architect or having a good PR agent?

A portfolio with depth—with projects big and small, local and national—is surely a critical marker of success. Victory might also be evaluated on one’s international projects, evidence of a world traveling architect who jets off to yet another country in demand.

(photo by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay)

Often, the success of an architect is simply having a happy client. And the more clients, the more successful this architect must be. How many new clients did you close this year? But keep in mind that quantity isn’t quality

Design Roundtable, founded by Anthony Poon, at EYRC, Los Angeles, California (photo by Design Roundtable)

Success should come from both collaboration and being part of a team, as well as leadership and managing a team. One’s contributions to the industry should count for something, whether a thought-leader, teacher, community service advocate, or respected professional.

Poon Design Inc., Los Angeles, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Perhaps, success is identified with the entrepreneurial path, being one’s own boss, having one’s name on the door, and having 10 employees or maybe 100. Or success can be within a corporation with an architect reaching the top of the company ladder, being named partner. Or perhaps doing either quietly under the radar without the need for the spotlight of conceit is worthwhile.

Poon Design Inc., Los Angeles, California (photo by Grant Bozigian)

As a struggling (starving) artist, can an architect be successful? Being part of a creative journey, searching one’s soul for answers, or mining the world for abstract ideas—such ambitious endeavors might be a measure of success regardless of the outcome.

For many, success in architecture comprises the simple things: being challenged and learning new skills.

Poon Design Inc., Los Angeles, California (photo by Grant Bozigian)

Happiness is often one of the more authentic measures of success. I believe most architects are happiest when getting to design, to be creative, to think back to how as a child, they could build things with Lego. It is about being part of open-ended travel through an existence of glorious ideas and imaginative designs, and then seeing such a vision come to fruition.

(photo by StockSnap from Pixabay)

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)
© Poon Design Inc.