Behavioral scientists might say that these altruistic attributes aren’t generational, but rather that this generation is beginning to benefit from our increased understanding of human motivation. In his best-selling book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2011), Daniel Pink writes that the carrot-and-stick, hierarchical model of business is outmoded as a way to get the most out of employees, and is being replaced by an approach that understands “our innate need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and the world.”
So what does this mean for architecture? “Employers should expect a group of workers that respect their employer but view them as one part of their toolkit to realizing their best selves—rather than the sole source for understanding, connection, and evaluation of opportunities,” Gerber says.
Knowledge transfer is fast becoming the most vital need as the Baby Boomers who helm many firms look to retire in the coming years. Harrison, who also sits on the Executive Committee for the AIA Large Firm Roundtable, says that leadership training of Millennials and knowledge transfer among Boomers and the subsequent generations is a topic of great concern that requires ingenuity.
“When things get tight economically, there is a strong tendency to go back to the basics and rely on the things and the people that have worked well in the past,” Harrison says. “But if you wait to take on the challenges of leadership transition, all of a sudden you are going to wake up with that first generation retiring and not be prepared. We see this all the time in firms around the country.”
Perkins+Will established a Leadership Institute in 2007. Each year, 15 emerging talents are tapped for extensive leadership training. Another fundamental change to the practice, Harrison predicts, will be the flow chart of responsibility. Firms will move away from the hierarchical model, where experienced leaders helm divisional teams, to a more inclusive approach that invites younger associates into key roles. “We are flattening the organization and talking about a broader notion of client engagement,” he says. “We are putting younger people on the front lines.”
This is a valuable strategy in attracting and retaining Millennial employees, according to Christopher Parsons, the founder and CEO of Knowledge Architecture, a San Francisco–based company that offers knowledge management and information systems consultancy to architects. But many firms fear doing it. “The smart firms are trying to figure out how to elevate that next generation earlier and give them credit,” Parsons says, “but there is this concern of, ‘Oh my gosh, we can’t share because our competitors will steal our young, hot talent.’ ”
Harrison admits that this is a potential outcome, but says it’s part of the necessary risk of building relationships with Millennials. Think of it as open source management. “There is an open attitude. You need to have accountability and transparency together,” Harrison says.
The good news for Steven Ratley is that he finally landed a job last fall as a junior designer with a boutique residential architecture firm in San Francisco. He enrolled in IDP and is now officially on the path to becoming a licensed architect. But what if Ratley—like so many architecture graduates today—had never found a job? How long would he have waited out the economy and the frustration of working hard, but circling outside the accepted profession?
For several years now, critics have worried about a lost generation of architects. At the same time, clients and young designers have made significant strides in realizing the firm of the future, where creativity, acumen, and systems-thinking permit new ways of deploying technology and talent in the service of building. There is a prevailing sense, however, that the architecture establishment is failing to keep pace with these changes and is dissuading talented young designers from joining the profession.
“We touch base with NCARB regularly and have them involved in our class,” Marie Zawistowski says. The organization responsible for overseeing architectural registration recognizes the need for edits to the licensure process, she says, but implementation is glacial. “They have ideas about how to change the practice, but it takes years. The current system makes it so that architects have a narrow role and are becoming more irrelevant. We’ve painted ourselves into a corner.”
Is it possible to conceive of a regulated profession stable enough to protect the public’s best interest yet nimble enough to respond to the cultural, economic, and technological shifts changing the landscape of work? A system inclusive enough to recognize the valuable work happening outside of current professional definition and daring enough to restructure education, regulation, and practice? Without it, the future of architecture is in jeopardy.
“We ask: What does architecture look like? Instead of: What can architecture do?” White says. “I feel, too quickly, we’ve stopped asking” that latter question.