Russell A. Davidson, FAIA, 2016 AIA President
Photography: Carl Bower Russell A. Davidson, FAIA, 2016 AIA President

Is the architect more like the conductor of the orchestra or the soloist in the front row? This metaphor has been debated over the years by theorists and practitioners alike. I would advocate that the best answer is “both.” If we keep to music metaphors, my answer is that we are the lead musician in a jazz band or, in the rock genre, a “jam” band: We know where to take the tune and allow others ample opportunity to play their parts, but we are also the conductor, responsible for pulling the whole ensemble together.

Why does any of this matter? In the constant battle to show the public and our clients the value of what we do, and to get adequately compensated for that effort, we need to better explain the full range of the architect’s role in the community and for each client’s specific project. If we successfully portray our role as one that leads and coordinates the complex process of solving a community’s or client’s problem, we will be seen as more relevant and ultimately more valuable. The balancing act of how to present this needs to alternate between what you or your firm does uniquely as the architect, and what you or your firm does as the leader of a team of professionals. The personal branding that adds value to your involvement should boost the collective value of the team process that you will orchestrate. It is this coordination and leadership that is often cited by clients as the ultimate value of the architect’s involvement.

The fluidity of the process is another important aspect of why only the architect is best-suited to be the lead player in the ensemble. Clients first seek architects for their excellent design skills but come to realize that design is only a part of the value from which they are benefiting. For a project to truly benefit from the architect’s design acumen, architects need to lead a process that involves a complex team of collaborators.

Inevitably, projects will evolve, and the architect should orchestrate the team to ensure that the client’s needs are met and the original design goals are realized.

I welcome others’ thoughts on how to best communicate the value of what we do, so that we can benefit from our collective wisdom on this topic ( In the meantime, keep leading the band, invite your collaborators to make their contributions, and bring it all together. It is what architects do best.