Rightly or wrongly, architects are trained to present their ideas to other architects, not to the prospective market they ultimately serve. This, I believe, has contributed to the marginalization of architects in the construction industry.
The profession used to be underwritten by the public sector, and Architects were valued and protected by this framework. The greats of the last era benefited from this system enormously, when architects were appointed under what we now call a Traditional Framework, rather than the complicated Design and Build Contracts that dominate today's market. The pro's and con's of the two are more a comment on our times than the frameworks themselves. In any event, this is another topic for another day.
What really defines a successful architect from the rest, throughout the ages, is the ability to create a culture, style and almost mythology around themselves. These architects have achieved this by engaging with the most influential sections of society in their respective eras. Think Peter Zumthor, Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Norman Foster or Renzo Piano. They all succeeded in engaging the clients to support their design aspirations. You need a patron that believes in your vision, or your dreams will be confined to scraps of paper, never to see the light of day.
In the words of Simon Sinek, "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."
The Three Approaches
After listening to this podcast by Enoch Sears with Mark Busse and Ben Garfinkel of Industrial Brand, I felt there was something important about the subject matter that could be applied to the way we look at architecture. Enoch's podcasts are set up as great conversations with a broad mix of guests, see the link below.
The conversation was thick with the importance of marketing for architects, and how badly it is neglected. While listening I thought back to Simon Sinek's TED Talk and saw the parallel and thought there was an interplay between the two discussions. Below I paraphrase Sears, Busse and Garfinkel discussions on the podcast about product development.
When Apple make a new piece of tech, every component fits and works beautifully. When they were designing, Steve Jobs and Wozniak worked tirelessly to develop systems that worked beautifully, despite the fact that the clients or end users would likely never see the tech that his developers spent months perfecting. It was important to them that their systems were bespoke and worked exactly how they wanted. The benefits of this process are clear. A homogeneous product range that is completely proprietary.
The second method is the Dell approach. Dell provide a slick and efficient service, but the parts are not made in house, and the specification uses off the shelf components which are assembled professionally, but the package is just that, a receptacle. It fails to transcend its physical componentry, but gets the job done, albeit for a shorter amount of time than the Macs!
The final method is the DIY-er. They research and source materials from all over the Internet, and with limited resources construct a machine comparable to that of any Apple or Dell. The independence and personal development that is required in this method makes it the most rewarding. But in world we live in today, few have the time, passion or desire to embark on such challenges, most just dream of doing so 'one day'.
I think this goes some way to explaining the success of Apple over the years.
How Can We Appl(e)y This To Architecture?
For what its worth, I think the above is a wide reaching analogy, and can quite easily be applied to Architecture. The Apple approach is the dream for architects, designing every aspect of a project to compliment the over-arching reason for the building's existence. It is the career-long quest for beautiful, efficient design.
Given the cost constraints and detail involved with each project, the main difference between architecture and technology becomes apparent. Project vs, Product. Every project, while similar, is subtly different and bespoke. Even if working for a developer, you are working in different local authorities, different site constraints, different economic profiles, no matter how subtle, buildings will never be as utilitarian as Apple's products can be.
To take a product global, Apple simply supply different plug adaptors. Architecture or at least the act of delivering architecture must bend to sub-climates; meteorological, economic, social and political. This is fussy, difficult work. So the 'how' we do architecture remains complex but rewarding work, but it is the 'why' that holds the most exiting prospects for building the architect's professional brand.
We could strive for greater efficiency in the design process, but the risk here is that we begin to homogenise the buildings we deliver and in the process de-value our potential for adding value.
That is not to say that efficiency and process management is an unworthy pursuit, these areas are essential for protecting margins. However in percentage terms, we will struggle to achieve the same returns in the 'how' category, as we can in the 'why'.
"People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."
Start With Why: TED Talk Simon Sinek
Episode 116: 7 Lessons Learned From Working With Professional Services Firms. The Business Of Architecture Podcast. Enoch Sears interviews Mark Busse and Ben Garfinkel, Industrial Brand