Please. Stop the Reinvention Talk.

You may have seen the latest in the Reinvention Discussion – it’s an article on the DesignIntelligence website by James P. Cramer, called “Competing for the Future.” It starts out by intoning “Beware the unimaginative and the Luddites who portend the end of the profession, and open your mind to a future of relevant possibilities.” 1

Please.  Stop the Reinvention Talk, or do a better job of convincing me that the profession of architecture must be completely reinvented.  I am willing to listen, but I’d like to hear ideas that are more concrete than those I’ve read so far.

I am not a Luddite.  I am not unimaginative.  I am probably a cynic, but I do offer solutions (skip to the bottom for solutions).  The profession of architecture needs revitalization, not reinvention.  

Owners (the people who need buildings built) still have the same needs they have always had; owners need some entity to listen to and interpret their needs and ideas for their buildings, and to translate those needs and ideas into instructions to build the buildings.  Although technology has changed many things in the last several centuries, this particular need of owners has not changed.

Architects are the people who are best qualified to interpret the needs of owners and turn them into models, perspective drawings, diagrams, and plans that help owners explore and confirm their needs.  Architects have been the people who are best qualified to produce the drawings and specifications that serve as the instructions to build these buildings.  Notice that there are two parts to this; these are two of the fundamental components of being an architect.

Architects are no longer the only people fulfilling the needs above.  Owners are relying less and less on architects for all their needs (programming, master planning, schematic design concepts, placemaking, design development, construction documentation, guidance during bidding or negotiation with a contractor, and construction contract administration).

Some architects are not able to effectively meet these needs.  Other entities have stepped in to fill the voids.  (These others include, but are not limited to, “placemakers,” green building consultants, and Construction Managers.) 

We architects don’t need to reinvent ourselves as something else, and try to sell owners on something new that they may not need or want.

If we architects want more work, we must do a better job of meeting the needs that owners already have, that we used to meet, and no longer do. 

Owners’ needs haven’t changed – the profession of architecture has.  We have stopped being able to most effectively meet all of the needs of owners.  Some may argue that owners have additional needs, over what they used to have.  Some will argue that buildings are more complicated than they used to be, and we need more help.  These things are true.  But architects can get that help from consultants and keep it all under the umbrella of the design team – we don’t have to get that help from the contractor part of the team.  We have to prove our value to owners, and they will stop looking elsewhere for the services that we have traditionally provided.    

The Construction Specifications Institute can help architects meet the all the needs of owners that architects used to meet.  As I’ve mentioned here before, CSI’s Construction Documents Technologist program is a good start.  The CDT program can help architects develop a better understanding of the construction process, better construction contract administration skills, better construction documentation abilities, and better means of communication with the contractor on projects.  This is basic stuff, people.  This is stuff that architects used to consider to be of primary importance… and then they didn’t… and then other people started doing the work that architects used to do…



1.  Here’s that article on the DesignIntelligence website: 


Facilitating Competitive Bidding for Construction Products

Architects and interior designers often make carefully coordinated selections of products based solely on their appearance.  Many of the products so thoughtfully selected have no equal – nothing else has quite the same appearance, and if a different product with all the same characteristics (except for color) were used, the carefully coordinated color scheme would be ruined.

In these cases, a sole-source product is specified, and no substitutions are allowed.

Is this important?  Sometimes, yes, it’s important.  Ask this question another way:  Is this important to the Owner?  Has the Owner actually charged the Architect with creating a unique look that is decided upon early in the project, and cannot be changed?

Why does this question matter?  When only one product is specified, and no substitutions are allowed, the supplier of that product sometimes increases the price, and may decrease the level of service.  This price increase is passed on to the Owner.  A decreased level of service (due to a lack of incentive to keep people happy, since the deal is already done) may cause schedule problems during construction.  The Owner may be paying a heavy premium for the luxury of selecting colors during design.    

Sometimes only a very specific plastic laminate will be acceptable to the Owner, because of specific furniture finishes that they’ve contracted for separately.  Sometimes only specific ceramic wall tiles and solid surface countertops will be acceptable to the Owner, because of a corporate identity they must maintain.  In these cases, the direction not to allow competitive bidding has come from the Owner.

But sometimes, the Architect, for his own reasons, is trying to create a very specific look that can only be achieved with one manufacturer’s tinted glass color (although 2 others may make a similar color with the same performance characteristics).  Does the Owner care about this extremely specific appearance?  Maybe not.  Has the Owner been notified that the choice of one specific manufacturer’s color of glass may increase his construction costs, for the benefit of the Architect’s portfolio?  …  [Crickets]…  Probably not.

When the Owner doesn’t have product preferences, if we, as design professionals, are to best serve the interests of the Owner, we should encourage competitive bidding, by specifying several acceptable products.