What Are We Going to Do with All the Architects?

Steve Kennedy , 4 November 2015

Steve Kennedy contemplates the future. Addressing the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia national conference, Steve was asked to discuss what he saw as coming challenges to the architectural industry in Australia.

One of the biggest challenges we face is the question of how to maintain a vibrant, profitable and fair architectural industry, while also accommodating the ever-growing number of people who want to work in it.

Most discussions on the business of architecture focus on two issues, quality control and procurement. The quality control conversations focus on defining, developing and maintaining the appropriate standard of skills and performance needed in the profession. The procurement discussions focus on agreeing, obtaining and maintaining an appropriate standard of procurement. And this pretty much equates to remuneration – indeed most business issues come down to money.

These two issues lie at the core of most of the business concerns discussed within the architectural industry and both are as critical, complex and unresolved today as they have ever been. But, now we have a third issue – globalization.

As I write, Australia is in the process of finalising a number of trade agreements that are intended to open up the flow of trade and commerce with our neighbours. These agreements are part of the unstoppable development, which will, I think, l eventually lead to a single global market and global society.

Consider the extraordinary changes that have occurred in only the last handful of years. This is going to continue ever more rapidly across all sectors of the economy, including in our industry.

In architecture we are not only actively exporting our talent and services everywhere and anywhere, we are also exporting our work. It’s called offshoring and it’s happening right now in many firms, including for government work. These firms are simply following the market – if they can purchase the goods they need (and by this I mean primarily drafting) cheaper somewhere else and gain an economic edge on their competitors then they will.

It’s no longer a moral question; it’s a straightforward question of economics.

At the same time, in Australia and elsewhere, while growing numbers of people wanting to enter the architecture profession, we are faced with increasing regulation, increasing competition, decreasing fees and the incredible fluidity of movement of anyone under 30 years of age.

Sitting at the heart of this discussion is question rarely addressed: How many of us should there be?

Fleshing this out a little raises further questions: How big an industry can Australia support? What does that industry look like? Who does it cater for and how does it deliver?

One extreme would deliver us a small tight industry of highly skilled and well-paid experts instructing others offshore who do the ‘grunt’ work. The opposite version would deliver an overstocked industry of relatively low paid graduates, many of whom are doing pretty menial tasks.

The best answer is clearly somewhere in between, but we are not yet clear what the shape of this new version of the profession will be. It’s a question we need to do some very hard thinking about.

Steve Kennedy is the National President of the ACA and director of Steve Kennedy Associates. This is an edited version of his talk to the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia national conference, October 2015.