Of course, RMJM is not alone in its ambitions. “We're seeing a lot of activity over the last four or five years in terms of strategic planning by firms, trying to position themselves differently,” says Kermit Baker, chief economist for the AIA. Much of the time, that means consolidation. “There are a lot of advantages to being a large national or international firm in terms of scope of services [and] access to capital.” Baker believes the industry is gravitating toward a “dual market,” with big firms getting even bigger and more global and small and midsized firms meeting local and regional needs. But Futureplace—that's something different, he thinks. “I would say that's crossing over a line … it's beyond the scope of where traditionally architecture firms have gone.”
As Sir Fraser himself admits, though, you can't change an industry overnight. A few hours after our lunch, Peter Morrison is back in the Piper Auditorium, this time on a panel with other architects and an owner's rep. When the discussion turns to fees, Morrison—who uses the phrase “value-added” so often that it seems a kind of mantra—argues again that architects ought to be better rewarded for their efforts.
Another panelist, Joshua Prince-Ramus of REX, points out that, during fee negotiations, some clients will object, “‘You don't pay interns anything, anyway'”—so well-versed are clients in the architectural culture of low pay and low expectations.
To which Morrison can only respond, with a slight lift of the shoulders, “It's chicken and egg, isn't it?”.