Out with the old...

Submit A Comment | View Comments

For any 60+ architects who feel like the sharks are circling—you’re not imagining things. Some young pup may very well be eyeing your job and counting the days to your retirement, according to a conversation started yesterday on the Archinect discussion boards. The thread is intended as a forum to “share any hints and rumors about practitioners and educators who will be throwing in the towel.” Reading through the two-dozen posts already up, you might have cause to feel uneasy even if you’re just over 40, since the definition of “baby boomer architects” seems to be a little loose in the Archinect community.

Interestingly, the conversation has centered less on aiming the bead on gray-haired office mates and more on questioning why younger architects aren’t rising in the field like their predecessors. “If you're really worried about your own future and some aging hippie blocking your way, you need to stop thinking like you're always gonna work for somebody else,” says a commentator going by the moniker “distant.” But other commentators suggest that the era of the mid-size firm is over, and with it, any opportunity to advance beyond (a) a sole practitioner or (b) a low-level employee in a large firm.

Older workers also take the blame for a stagnant profession, according to one commentator going by “toasteroven.” “What I've been running up against with many senior people (boomers, I guess) is that they seem very insecure (especially with the new technology) and are holding very tightly onto whatever shred of competence they seem to think they have.” Boomers don't understand teamwork, according to toasteroven, and consequently don't recognize a good team player when they see one. “Boomers don't see us as ambitious because we aren't clamoring over each other to get to the top of the heap ... we like working together and sharing information, and I think they unrightfully see this as a sign of weakness rather than an asset.”

The Archinect conversation isn’t exclusive to younger practitioners. Two retirement-age architects weigh in. One says, “I would love to retire in the next couple of years, but have been having trouble getting the next generation to take over management responsibilities, mostly marketing. There is no one here who seems to be capable of being the 'rainmaker.’” Take that, kid.


Comments (20 Total)

  • Posted by: From chicago | Time: 1:14 PM Monday, March 08, 2010

    anotherboomer - you need to go to the schools and explain your view firsthand. The schools pump out these design focused, idealistic, non technically savy kids who have no businees acumen and then are upset the world isnt bowing down to them. I've seen so many young architects become so bitter. It all starts with our education system that is being taught by non professionals in many cases. A realistic view of the profession has never been taught nor basic business skills along with it. You are so right about the AIA, they have no clue about advancing the proserity of their members so at the end of the day its everyman/woman for themselves. This lack of a practical and cohesive professional approach will plague our profession for decades to come. Plus the economy now has most firms into survival mode now so dont expect that anyone will be looking out for anyone other than themselves. Just look who is surviving. The Wallmarts of the world who have the cheapest fee structures known to mankind (even worse than Disney). Think architecture can survive those business attitudes? Good clients are becoming rarer and rarer. Even DARKER DAYS ahead.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: anotherboomer | Time: 1:49 PM Thursday, February 25, 2010

    I am a boomer architect who is 62 years old now, and THANKFULLY retired. This discussion has been going on forever. Architecture is a profession that eats its young and always has. A REAL profession prides itself on paying even its relatively inexperienced practitioners fairly and well. See: Law, Investment Banking, Medicine, etc. Not this one! Our attitude has always been that "we got screwed when we were young, so why should you be any different?". Part of it is attitudinal, and part of it is economic. If you are looking for a big reason for the weak financial position of the profession, don't overlook the A.I.A. It is one of the sorriest excuses for a professional organization you can find. While the American Medical Association and American Bar Association are fighting unashamedly for the self-interest of their members, the A.I.A. is too busy either "saving the planet" or dressing up as their favorite building. For many years, the real professions were ratcheting in place high fee structures while we architects dithered. Now, anti-trust rulilngs prevent such fee schedules, but everyone has learned to expect to pay a lot for lawyers and doctors. Our fees have been ratched down rather than up. I could write a book! My advice to you younger architects is to take a hard look at what is going on not only in the profession but in the national economic sphere generally, and decide whether this is really what you want to spend the rest of your life doing, and if you can really make an adequate living doing it. For a very small number, it can be the most fun you can have with your clothes on. For the rest, it is frankly a boring, insecure, poor conpensated choice. The arts are a great hobby, but a lousy way to put food on the table. Sorry for the bitterness, but I don't see a bright future ahead.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 4:31 PM Thursday, February 18, 2010

    The actual thread is much more fun to read....

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 1:00 PM Thursday, February 18, 2010

    The last post was very sanctimonious. There is no big projects to bring in nowadays. And if there were, not all of us have connections in high society that would be building large projects. Get over yourself.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: blimey whining dawg | Time: 12:53 PM Thursday, February 18, 2010

    The profession has changed in the last twenty five years and will change a great deal more in the next twenty five years. Some for good, some for bad. My firm has an established mentoring program which works. Same for the senior and not so senior staff who want to learn about management and what it takes to run the back of the office of a firm. So in response to Mee, I've given up the Tarzan chest thumping a long time ago. Most practices are single practitioners. I do that too in my "spare" time. You should try it and learn something as opposed to thinking I can't teach it and hand over "what it takes" to you simply because you asked. To you I might add, keep making PDF's because you don't think we have the technical skill or instruction to do otherwise. I'm sorry, I don't know Izzy's age, nor some of the other respondents but I have to agree with them. If you are going to practice, just get out there and do it. There is no other way and that's true for any profession, job, career, family life or anything else that matters. Enough said.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 12:18 PM Thursday, February 18, 2010

    There is more than one way to learn things. Instead of sitting around waiting to be "taught", just do it. When I was a young employee, I brought major work into my employer's firm. No one taught me how to do it or even asked me to do it. I did it because it was the right thing to do, and because I could. I learned by reading, observing, trial and error, talking to peers in other professions. Stop blaming your boss. Your generation is used to being held by the hand. Take the first step for a change.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 11:18 AM Thursday, February 18, 2010

    Guys your missing the point - this is like an unsalvageable marriage for many of us. You can work the next 15 or 20 years for low wages to support someone's retirement with the slight chance you may get in on the action or as the previous poster said "Put up or shut up" and go do your thing. I have recently started my own practice, I make less money than before but it feels liberating to not have to answer to anyone else but my clients and myself. I suggest you do the same and stop complaining, everyone has their own self interest at stake and you cant go around blaming people for that.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 11:00 AM Thursday, February 18, 2010

    The pius attitude ringing through all of the 'senior' architects responses, is the root cause of the problems younger architects are facing, these days: both in the architectural field and the global soci-economic & climate issues. The senior, baby boomer generation's insecurity coupled with their underlying 'me-now & no one else can do my job' is at the heart of may of our problems. The boomer-tects teach the younger architects virtually nothing, and then turn around and scream during their corporate retreats why the 'kids' are capable of leading firms. They can't let go of the past and are scared to death of the younger generations ability to absorb and learn all facets of the business faster than they can imagine. Meanwhile, large construction companies are building their in-house abilties that in ten years will be forcing small & medium size architecture firms to close. Maybe if the senior architects were as great as they make everyone believe they are, they would realize what's really going on in the architecture field-the paradigm shift that's occuring right under their Route 66 loving noses. I'm really sick of the boomer generation destroying the architecture field....much like they've allowed the destruction of our environment and the middle class, in this country.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 10:47 AM Thursday, February 18, 2010

    “I would love to retire in the next couple of years, but have been having trouble getting the next generation to take over management responsibilities, mostly marketing." How about stop telling us how you did projects, 30 years ago and teach the younger, capable architects all of these things you are complaing about. Maybe if you weren't so insecure, you would be capable of doing this task...though, in my 12 years in professional practice, I've met few 'senior' architects willing to take the time to teach my generation anything. Put up or shut up and let us do our jobs.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: Izzy | Time: 12:08 AM Thursday, February 18, 2010

    There's nothing like a little self-determination to make your life work. If you want to run a firm, learn about the business of running a firm (I do not recall any business classes in architecture school). If you want to design, learn how to keep the building from leaking (design theory is worthless if there are puddles on the floor). Do not whine about the chances never given to you. Competence and experience go hand in hand. The funny thing is that the wise know that no matter how old they become, there is still much to learn.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 8:21 PM Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    I am over 60 and still enjoy the architectural profession...I encourage the younger professionals to work hard, learn as much as you can from the 'old ones', and eventually you will be the 'old ones'. I admire the younger architects and wish them much success. There will be many challenges ahead for us all!

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: exchicago | Time: 6:23 PM Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    I guess the $55,000 per is a bit better than $0 per. It's a strucgle. We've all had to work for the life we enjoy and not whine about. Get to work whether it's $55,000 or nothing. Start at the bootom like those of us who've lasted 25+ years and still love to work, and still love the profession.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 3:22 PM Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    after reading this it seems to me that most of you don't have a grasp of reality. work hard and quit complaining.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 2:47 PM Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Whats funny is Chicago was probably just as whiney about the old WW2 era guys they pushed out out of the way in the 70s and 80s. He's probably the same kind of chap that would sue for age discrimination now that someone else wants a piece but sees nothing wrong with age discrimination against the young with statements such as "The vast majority of clients are my age and they frankly don't trust the financial well being of a project to a 30 year old who has only done a small number of actual projects" This is why I work cheap. I have to deal with this mentality - oh 30 years old / lets get a deal out of him. Point is, they always go with the deal over the old guy / experiance nowdays.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: From chicago | Time: 2:29 PM Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    As a 50+ year old owner of a very sucessful small 10 person firm, I have no plan to retire anytime soon because frankly I love what I do and enjoy the sucess that age brings. The vast majority of clients are my age and they frankly don't trust the financial well being of a project to a 30 year old who has only done a small number of actual projects from design to fruition. The criticism that we (aging anti-leaders) are not new material and technology savy is absurd. Most older architects have seen more systems come and go than the younger ones can claim are the new saviors of our world. From that we have learned the false promises and failures associated with many of the claims. The advanced computing programs that are emerging have their pros and cons. They arent right for every sized project. Nor are they always right for every client nor do they always actually advance the business side of a practice. They must be used selectively or our fee budgets will bust and thats a worse diservice to our clients in that we are not providing the proper attention to the task at hand. In the old days we used to actually develop every detail and to conceptually detail from scratch. Ask a younger architect today to do that and they will look for manufacturers product dwg files to copy. This generation has totally lost the art of detailing and designing building with that as a concept. Just look at the bad termination of materials in building after building today. The young pups better realize when we write the E&O premiums that new untested technologies that have not performed in the market place and rely soly upon manufacturers claims of performance are a huge risk for any practice to take. Manufacturers such as Dow Corning made enormous mistakes in product literature that cost billions in replacement costs and untold numbers of claims against architectural practices. We established old codgers are the ones that have invested our savings and life in our firms and we take risks that are calculated and prudent to our clients and our own practice. Its so easy to throw mud at the establishment but until you have to bear the responsibility for providing for the paychecks and lifestyles of your employees and their families you can't appreciate the whole picture. Work your ass off and get noticed and advance the same way I did. I don't have a lot of sympathy for kids who whine and want more and more, always have their hand out and continuously want accolades. We staff our firm with a minimum of 8 year and greater experienced architects due to the quality control it brings to the projects and how positivly our clients react to this maturity. We work in small project teams that rely upon communication and trust. We don't need to look over our shoulder as our coworkers are able to pull their own weight and their suggestions are to be considered as genuine and sincere. If the younger architects don't like this approach then thats too bad. Go start a firm and knock us off our perch is my challenge to you. Sucess and advancement in this profession is a long path that comes with experience, hard work, experience, talent, experience, creativity, experience and building a plan to attain what you want to achieve and then doing it.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: toots | Time: 2:19 PM Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    As a mid-range Boomer who checked out of the 'partner-track' race about 15 years ago one thing has become very clear. Architects SUCK at transition planning. I left after the 3 remaining senior partners (the rain-maker/designer had died a year before) finally decided to sell the firm to the associates. In typical fashio, the associates had been selected by individual partners and really did not get along or work well together and would not have chosen each other as a partner. After our counter-proposal was rejected out of hand, 4 of us left within the next year, leaving the 2 junior partners and 1 remaining associate to come up with cash for some used computers and a Rolodex. The firm, while competent and surviving, is half the size it was when sold and has but one person with experience of more than 5 years but less than 30 years. Sad, but they can't compete with the technology of larger, better funded firms and, regardless of what owner's say, the low fee fails to carry the day when their competitors are bringing fly-thru videos of their latest creation and the are making heads bob with PowePoint.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 1:28 PM Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Haha. In my large firm, it is the late-career shareholders who fail to be rainmakers. They reached their "partnership" status not by leadership, but by following-the-leader loyally. Now, while the GenXers are chomping at the bit to market and innovate, these aging anti-leaders get in the way. Can a younger professional really "sell" a firm when they have to do it secretively and without permission? And, yes, they don't do well with technology, REAL continuing education, or open-source concepts either.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: Mee | Time: 1:04 PM Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    So far my experience ten years out is that there's a lot of chest thumping like Blimey up there with a serious lack of knowledge on how to teach me "what it takes". Mix this with anonymous' comment regarding pay and you probably get more desire for lateral movement into sole practitioner or another profession altogether rather than climbing the ladder. It's kind of hard to train a rainmaker when the older generation's lack of technical skill, instruction, and lack of foresight dooms a "young pup" to making pdf's.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: blimey whining dawg | Time: 12:38 PM Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    I'm a senior VP at a very large firm located all across the US and am responsible for my share of marketing, program director, QA/QC reviews and hiring at the local office. I have to say after being in the profession some 25 plus years, if you got what it takes, you can have my job anytime. Show me some experience, responsibility and maturity first. I have hired a good amount of people over time and find that if they have the gumption, they will get places. I've already told my best when they were hired, that they will be my boss within ten years. I am there. But I can say it is not for everyone. So for the first step and advice for all those slackers out, get your license within three years of graduation and start down the long road to experience. You can have my job but you have to come get it, it's not served on a silver platter. i'm ready to retire.

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 12:30 PM Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Seeing as how Architects have slipped to lower middle class for those under 40 living paycheck to paycheck with 2 income households its hard to make it to the status in society where you actually meet and befriend those in decision making capabilities. Is a $55,000 / year staff architect ever going to be able to run with rainmakers? Doubtful. And if they did score a good lead? They'd kill it and eat it themselves.

    Report this as offensive

Comment on this Post

Post your comment below. If you wish, enter a username and password though they are not required. Please read our Content Guidelines before posting.


Enter the code shown in the image

Username is optional


Enter a password if you want a username


About the Blogger

Hannah McCann

thumbnail image Hannah McCann covers the changing culture of the architecture workplace. Her features in ARCHITECT include “0.2%” (March 2007), exploring the reasons behind the disproportionately small number of black women licensed as architects, and “Fair Play” (March 2009), on ways architecture offices can be designed to be more inclusive. Hannah was the magazine’s managing editor from its launch until she left in mid-2008 to spend more time with her young children. She now freelances for ARCHITECT as an editor at large, writing on issues touched on in Worklife and also on history and culture.