Architectural Industry – New Trends

/ / Business

The Architectural Industry

In early summer 2012, when I joined HBS, I also transitioned from working as an architect in the mainstream architectural industry, into a consultant to architects. Since then, I have worked with many architectural firms of all sizes, on small to very large projects. This gave me the unique opportunity to really step back and see the industry from the outside in, as opposed to being in the trenches myself.

There are a couple things that stood out to me that I will put forth in this blog.

New Trends

I noticed a trend in architectural firms of all sizes to have younger, not very skilled architects, play the role of (senior) project manager on large, sometimes incredibly complex projects. The lack of experience on the part of the project manager is supposed to be made up by an extensive team of consultants, hired for everything from specifications and sustainability to waterproofing. Architectural Industry New TrendsNot long ago, large, complex projects used to be managed by older, experienced architects, but that is not the case anymore. This may be the result of downward fee pressure on architectural firms or a lack of qualified labor, or a combination.

Sometimes it’s also the increasing complexity of building materials – e.g. we now have curtain wall consultants to review curtain wall drawings provided by design-build sub-contractors.

Dividing the architectural scope of work between so many different consultants and design-build subcontractors not only reduces the size of the fee that the architect can claim but that extensive coordination also takes a toll on the quality of the project as things are lost in translation and issues fall through the cracks between multiple stakeholders.

What else is Trending?

Yet another trend I see, is the widening gap between the top tier international design firms and the rest of the industry. The top firms are increasingly “expanding” their frontiers and the way they design, by including building performance analytics, materials screening (for chemicals of concern), climate analysis etc., in their conceptual as well as later stage building design. New positions such as building performance specialists have been carved out as a result of the growing emphasis on sustainable buildings. These specialists are adept at developing simulations using a variety of different high performance design software programs to enable developing solar studies, computational fluid dynamics, indoor comfort analysis, etc. Needless to say, the ability to deliver LEED certification is a bare minimum off course. While these leading design firms are charting new territory, the bulk of the industry struggles even with understanding the California Green Building Standards Code and how to incorporate it in their projects.

Given that climate change and global warming is pushing us to makes our buildings more and more energy efficient, clean (i.e. free of toxic chemicals in building products) and green, I wonder how this will affect the vast majority of the architectural profession that has not caught up and wake up one day to find themselves facing a “new normal”?