WE'RE IN A RECESSION, RIGHT? So how come our second annual Salary Survey says that architects' incomes are healthy, even growing? Our partners at the Greenway Group gathered data from 135 firms with more than 250 offices and 17,000 employees—so rest assured that the conclusions are backed by thorough research. Still, it's hard to believe that pay rates are solid amid so much uncertainty.
Jim Cramer—chairman and CEO of the Greenway Group and former executive vice president of the AIA—offers a smart analysis of the disconnect between architects' relatively healthy salaries and our particularly scary economy. Among the many reasons he gives, including solid markets in healthcare, education, and high-end hospitality, two factors really grabbed my attention. They suggest a tremendous shift in architecture culture—changes that are long overdue.
No. 1: Celebrity. That's right, celebrity. Ever since Herbert Muschamp compared Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to Marilyn Monroe's famously fluttering hemline, a small group of international architects has been subject to a nonstop media lovefest. While it's fashionable (and understandable) to be suspicious of the profession's complicity with the star system, it's also one of the key reasons that major developers and governmental bodies are buying into the idea that design adds tremendous, measurable value to raw construction. This is a good change, after years of unconstructive finger-pointing over the perceived failure of Modernism.
No. 2: Professionalism. If architecture's high media profile has an upside, it also has a downside: the stereotype of the architect as diva. Think of the Kohler TV ad, with the arrogant, accented architect showing his office to a couple of young prospective clients (if you didn't catch it, search “Kohler architect” on YouTube). Clichés of intellectual snobbery, brutish management, and indifference to business and construction may apply accurately to some well-known architects and wannabes, but there's no value in such attitudes, and, according to the Greenway Group, the profession as a whole knows better. Who has time for hissy fits?
Here's the proof: Jim Cramer (no relation, by the way) reports an increase in firm profitability, which itself is a miracle in a time of recession. His explanation: “Professional practices today tend to be much better managed and better led than they used to be.” Thank heaven. When firms are well managed, profits rise. When profits rise, so do salaries. Divas, take a bow and exit stage left.
So keep that temper in check; treat your co-workers fairly; listen carefully to the business manager, contractors, and marketing staff; and join me in praying for a quick end to the recession. Then we can really count the cash.