ARCHITECTURE: _Fair Rewards_

- - The original note follows - -

From: Todd Sandrock <[email protected]>
Subject: Canadian Architect article: _Fair Rewards_
Date: 15 Dec 1993 17:42:13 GMT

I saw this in last month's CA and said, "Why can't they all be like this?"
Read on...

Fair Rewards
By John R. Fraser, Architect
_The Canadian Architect_
November, 1993
p. 26

reprinted without permission

begin quotation

FAIR REWARDS

Architects have to refine their role as professionals and look again at
how they treat employees.

I am tired of reports on the economy. We are all aware that construction
volume has dropped. A new economy is emerging, based on
telecommunications, information technology and entertainment. And I have
no sympathy for architects who feel they are not paid fair fees. One
cannot expect to be paid as a professional when the majority of our
businesses are run on a model established by Henry Ford. I make
buildings, she makes autoparts and he makes paper.
All architects are paid fair fees today. We are paid what the market
will bear for our commodity. If we are to remain integral to our society
and receive a commensurate wage, we must change our practice. We must
define ourselves either as an industry or a profession. And if we are a
profession, our objectives and role in society must be clarified and our
services tailored accordingly. As well, our ethics and values must be
more clearly defined.
Fees are the most contentious issue in this recession. We are constantly
presented with arguments regarding fee fixing, fee competition and
fairness in the market place. These issues are largely a result of fixed
fee or percentage fee practices. I question the validity of both fee
methods. If an architect prices work based on a percentage of
construction, he or she is complicitous in the overall cost of
construction. They are required to serve their client, but must also
acknowledge their own interest in making money. If an architect
establishes a fixed fee, profit is directly tied to how efficiently they
can produce the product. But using this method we have witnessed many
firms over the last few years who have ended up subsidizing their
clients' buildings. Some are no longer able to practice.
Lowering the quality of design and reducing the product are effective
methods of cost control. While the general public is not served well by
these approaches, those funding the architectural work perceive improved
value as soon as they see the first disclosed project cost. They look at
economics, not ethics or service options. Current market studies show
that the consumer is price driven. Cheap sells.
The easiest method of improving productivity, however, is through unpaid
overtime work by employees. The industrial model of more work, efficient
use of space, and lower labour cost per unit of product is an economic
reality in architecture. Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia
architects are exempt from many of the legislated employment standards
that pertain to non-professional employees standards such as those
governing hours of work, overtime pay, vacation pay, or time off in lieu
of overtime. In Nova Scotia an architect is not even guaranteed maternity
leave. These practices are based on the antiquated notion that the
professional is an independent contractor able to control his or her own
destiny, managing the project, schedule and budget independently.
The ethics within our industry are now open to question. If a project is
produced through unpaid overtime, the project might be profitable. The
client benefits (though they will perceive the value of the architect as
lower than fact), and the office achieves marginal profit growth. But the
employees are labouring below their contracted value. While architects'
salaries may exceed the statistical norm for employment in this country,
the labour conditions can dip below those expected in all other
industries. Many architects are working at salaries considered laughable
by other professions. In his 1993 review of salaries within the Canadian
architectural profession, Andrew Clarke has found that architects'
salaries peak at $55,000 (US$41,250) and drop as low as $26,000
(US$19,500) for recent graduates.
If we are an industry, we must lobby our governments to include the
employee professional in all employment standard legislation. Then we
must price our product based on true cost. The architect as an
entrepreneur is the sole business entity who must bear the burden of
price competition.
If we are a profession, on the other hand, we must seize the opportunity
to distance ourselves from the commodity. If design is a service
profession, then service cost must reflect that product. We must charge
on an hourly or per diem rate only. Percentage fee schedules must be used
only to guide the client as to what range the fees may reach. Consulting
fees are the cost of advice. Legislation will define the need for public
safety, but not the value of the profession. If design sells, the market
will dictate. If design has no place in our economy we must reconsider
our existence as a profession.
As a profession, each office must focus on expanded specialist service.
Professionals and interns must be developed as independent contractors
within the firm, trained to assume new aspects of the practice and to
diversify the client base. Modelled on the legal profession, we must
develop specialty markets where each professional within the firm cakes
responsibility for new clients and production. Each professional will
have control of his or her own market; each will be an entrepreneur.
Most of these concepts are already being implemented. The OAA task force
on women in architecture and the business faculties of the Universities
of Toronto and British Columbia are all looking at employment standards
and professional ethics. These studies will provide the models that
outsiders consider relevant to the profession. The deliberations in the
cases of wrongful dismissal currently before the courts will also
certainly begin to interpret how we operate as a profession, how we
govern ourselves and what a professional architect is. Today we must
choose our direction.

John R. Fraser is principal of ZOOm Architect of Toronto

end quotation

So folks, what do you think?

Todd Sandrock MArch
Northern Telecom Limited
Ottawa, Ontario
Partial thread listing: