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5 Dangerous Misconceptions Architects Have About Starting Their Own Practice

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posted by SUNANDO DASGUPTA AND ASSOCIATES alias sdaarchitect on Thursday 19th of August 2021 01:33:10 PM

was first published to: Sunando Dasgupta and Associates The harsh reality of practicing architecture – – and how you can avoid making the biggest mistakes of your architect career. There are many good reasons for starting your own architectural practice – – and I’ve written about many of the benefits at length, in previous posts. But its equally important to learn to begin to recognize when your reasons for being self-employed aren’t supported by the reality of architectural practice. So I felt that it would be the responsible thing to do to caution young architects, in the prime of their career, against mistakes and misconceptions that may lead to you making a decision you later regret. So why do you want to start your own architectural practice? REASON 1 I want freedom in how I work. I want to live and work on my own terms, and keep my own hours. I don’t want to have to ask my boss for permission every time I want a day off, or if I need to leave office early. I don’t want someone to dictate my daily schedule to me. WHY THIS HURTS YOU There’s an old joke in architectural business circles – “quit your job – – be your own boss – – work your own hours – – any 18 hours a day you like!” If you want to start your own architectural practice because you think you’ll have to work LESS or because you think you’ll be able to live by your own preferred work hours and schedule, you’re sadly mistaken. Because when you’re a self-employed architect, running your own company, you still have a boss. In fact, you have several – – every single client of yours is your boss – – and I’m not saying that lightly. In fact, if you’re an employee in an architectural studio, and you fail to deliver results, you’re largely shielded from negative consequences, because your employer takes the blame, and has to ultimately deal with the client end repurcussions. If you’re an employee, as long as you’re abiding by the schedule set by the firm, your employer is responsible for making sure the company is cash flow positive and you can get your salary paid on time (or get paid at all). That’s another schedule the practicing architect has to stick to – – the payment schedules of his/her employees. So, if you want to start a practice, realize that it means that you’ll have to commit to the schedules of your clients, your employees, the consultants you work with, rental payments of office space, infrastructure and maintenance costs. All of these have unforgiving schedules, and you’re going to be responsible for maintaining them. You have to be willing to take responsibility and be willing to deal with everything that can go wrong in the architectural projects you tackle whilst still paying your employees on time, whilst meeting and communicating with your clients when they find it convenient. So its not an escape from some sense of restraint, its not any idealistic sense of “freedom” – – whilst you do get to “keep your own hours” superficially, remember that you also have to accept and commit to multiple schedules, schedules where any deviation may tank the company or damage a client relationship, or delay a projects completion. REASON 2 I want to design and be the author and creator of my work. I want to be in complete control of the creative process and the direction I take it in. WHY THIS HURTS YOU This is actually a good reason and legitimate to an extent – – so it’s unfair to say its completely fallacious. But the way this kind of thinking hurts you as a practicing architect is in its incompleteness. Yes, to be in control of the design process is extremely important to us architects, and as the sole proprietor of an architectural practice, you will effectively “be in charge” – – but ONLY as long as you realize and respect the fact that you’re not the only one who has that privilege. You’re sharing that top spot with your clients. And since they’re investing the most into the project, it makes sense that they deserve to have a say in the process. This is something that many young architects really find themselves struggling with, because they would ideally love to have a Howard Roarkian career, the stereotype of the architect as a righteous “lone wolf” who succeeds in spite of his/her clients’ mediocrity. And yes, although you are technically the expert consultant, you are the primary decision maker – – you still have to remember that its your responsibility to strike a happy balance between your creative goals and what your clients need from you. As much as architecture is art, its also a service industry founded on win win collaboration. So if you want to start an architectural practice because you just want to be in a position where you can design whatever you want, then you’ll end up limiting yourself to projects where you’re able to successfully bludgeon your clients into agreement. REASON 3 I don’t like being an employee – – and I hate office politics. WHY THIS HURTS YOU Because its another half-truth. To an extent, its an excellent reason to be self-employed – – in fact, many self-employed architects started their own practice because they repeatedly had experiences where they were in jobs where they hated the inefficiency, poor design decisions made due to undue influence, nepotism, favoritism etc. And if you start your own architectural practice, and you just focus on small projects, you can avoid dealing with ‘politics’. But that leads again, to that issue of scale – – beyond a certain scale of project, you’re going to have to deal with multiple decision makers, boards of directors, committees, chains of command where decisions are endlessly delayed – – and in these situations, you’ll have to learn how to be socially calibrated. Office politics are going to seem laughable in comparison to the politics you’re going to have to acquaint yourself with as a practicing architect. So if you think that by starting a design practice, you’ll be spared the annoyance of having to negotiate social and professional hierarchies, the complexities of group management and appeasement, and learning to deal with powerful people at different levels of seniority – – – you’re most likely going to end up only doing small projects. If that’s what you want, that’s great. But don’t paint yourself into a corner by thinking you can avoid politics. REASON 4 I’m underpaid as an employee. As an employer (and captain of my own ship) I’ll be able to pocket a lot more money per hour of my time. My hourly rate as an architect employee is scandalously low, and unsustainable. WHY THIS HURTS YOU This isn’t a phenomenon specific to architecture – – I can’t remember the last time I met an employee (in any industry) who complained that their company overpaid them, and they wish they weren’t getting such a high salary. This happens because architect employees are often not aware of how salaries get determined in industries. They feel that their paycheck or hourly rate is calculated on the basis of how good their work is, and the expertise they bring to the table. That’s true to an extent, but not the determining factor. In reality, if you’re an employee in an architectural company, your architects salary is a reflection of the exchange value of the service you’re providing, compounded with the relative abundance or scarcity of the availability of that service. In recent decades, opportunities for architectural education have expanded rapidly, resulting in a large workforce of young architects eager to embark on their careers as design professionals. In comparison, the demand for architectural employees has been somewhat relatively “inflexible”, exacerbated by economic fluctuations that have affected the progress of construction projects. The market resolves this dissonance by adjusting the average salary of an architect – – and this may be lower than what you feel you deserve, and you may be right in thinking that your expertise should be worth more. But that’s just how the market works. At SDAARCHITECT, we get far more job applications than we’d ever be able to even interview – – and I don’t say that to impress you, but to impress upon you that the market is extremely competitive right now. Now, if you think you’re going to immediately start earning more money by starting your own practice, that may not work out the way you imagined. Because you have to remember that, as a business owner, you’re often rewarded for your risk tolerance and your ability to manage cash flow in times of crisis. In fact, if you’re an employee at an architecture firm, you’re atleast consistently assured a monthly paycheck – – your employer protects you from the uncertainty that all businesses deal with – – delays in payment at the client end, sudden infrastructure or operational expenses, time periods when the company participates in design competitions where success isn’t guaranteed. Architects who succeed in running a practice are able to do so by being extremely tolerant of financial ups and downs. So if you want to start a practice, do it if you want to challenge yourself and increase your ability to manage risk, at the same time ensuring job security for your employees – – don’t do it just because you think you should get paid more. REASON 5 I’m better at my work than my boss is. I’m more organised. I’m a better designer. I hate having to work with/under people who aren’t as competent as I am. If I was in my boss’s position, I’d streamline this company so well. I think I should just start my own practice, I’m tired of being held back by the limitations of my work environment/colleagues/superiors. WHY THIS HURTS YOU Over the years, I’ve heard this argument so many times that I’ve labelled it the “Wizard Of Oz” fallacy – – a reference to the classic book/movie where the protagonists are initially aware of all the work that’s done “behind the curtain” ie behind the scenes. The thing is, you may be right. You might be a better designer or project co-ordinator than your boss. You may be more creative, more original, more daring with your design ideas. You may be quicker on your feet and excellent at implementation. But are you as good at getting clients as your boss is? Are you better at managing payroll? Are you better at negotiating with clients, presenting projects to committees, being able to balance the concerns of all the stakeholders of a project – – at the same time ensuring that your office runs smoothly when you’re running around putting out multiple fires. Are you better at spending all your weekends finding ways to improve how the practice is run, making infrastructural decisions, employee training and delegation, hiring and firing. Are you better at taking full responsibility for any mistakes your employees may make that may result in delays, increased project cost, building structure or performance issues, or litigation. Are you better at accepting the fact that you’re the linchpin of this operation, that, if you fall sick for a month, multiple projects may fall apart and your employees may not get paid. Being a practicing architect means you’re willing to take all those concerns on board. I’ts not just about being better at making a design concept than your boss is. Be careful and aware of the scope of your responsibilities when you decide to start your own architectural practice. CONCLUSION This isn’t an article meant to dissuade you from starting your own firm. I made the decision to be self employed decades ago, so it would be very hypocritical to advise against it. By the same token, over the years I’ve mentored many young architects and seen similar patterns, similar misconceptions. And I found myself realizing that many young architects – – although extremely talented and hardworking and with the best of intentions – – have an incomplete perspective when it comes to the reality of architectural entrepreneurship. I hope that this will help you make more informed decisions about what you feel is the right choice for you – – and if you do decide to start your own firm, you can do so strategically, ultimately ensuring that you can have lasting success in your career as a practicing architect. Learn More Here: 5 Dangerous Misconceptions Architects Have About Starting Their Own Practice Source sdaarchitect.net/blog/5-dangerous-misconceptions-architec...



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