Elizabeth Chu Richter
Photography: Carl Bower Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, 2015 AIA President

It’s time to reset expectations regarding the financial return for our work. To attract the best and brightest—and keep them—employers need to offer emerging professionals a return for their work that approximates the value of their education, experience, and creativity.

What gets in the way? Uncertainty about revenue, one quarter to the next. It’s easy to point to clients and other members of the design and construction industry. But, before we hand the responsibility of our prosperity to others, we need to ask what factors may have contributed to the situation.

As participants learned at last July’s Entrepreneur Summit, architecture students are typically exposed to very little about the business of architecture. They are supposed to pick this up in practice, post-graduation. But given the competitive global market, can we afford to allow prosperity to be an afterthought?

We have to get over thinking that reasonable compensation is something secondary to what it means to be an architect. A well-managed practice is an art, as well as a science. Keeping a sharp eye on business doesn’t lessen the dignity of what it means to be a professional.

The fear that any discussion of fees will earn us unwanted attention from the Justice Department has made us gun-shy about advocating for policies that compensate architects fairly. Take the 6 percent fee cap on federal projects. Imposed almost 80 years ago for the procurement of AE services, the cap is inconsistently applied across agencies and is outdated. Further, for design/build competitions, architects may need to provide up to 40 percent of the design up front.

The AIA is pushing back. We have the right under the First Amendment to petition government to redress a grievance. We’re working with agencies like the General Services Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers to revisit regulations and procurement policies, while developing an education program for firms and the government. These efforts will have impact beyond the federal level as we shore up the value of our knowledge and skills.

For those who still feel reluctant to talk about how we’re compensated, let’s be clear: To unleash our potential, we have to be financially robust. There’s a lot we can do, working together to create the conditions for prosperity. However, we must also rethink what we hold up and value within our profession and the academy.