Architects like to complain about being undervalued. We compare ourselves to doctors and lawyers, as though all professionals are the same, but the simple truth is that we are not. When you need a doctor, you NEED a doctor. When you need a lawyer, you NEED a lawyer. Clients rarely feel they need an architect, and are often hiring one because they are required to by code. We then squander this opportunity to prove our value by competing in a bidding war and placing too little emphasis on the technical expertise, not design sense, which we bring to our clients’ projects (see Part 1). This is a second installment exploring the role architects play in diminishing the value of our services.
Sometimes less is just less
We compete for work in a low bidder system. Most people would agree that cheap is not equivalent to best, yet to obtain architectural services many institutions solicit bids for design work. Rather than finding the best qualified to do the work, or even the architect whose service is of the greatest value (the best service available at a certain cost) this process makes cost the most important factor in choosing an architect. The client risks accepting a bid from an unqualified architect, perhaps someone who is inexperienced with no real idea of what it will cost them to do the job effectively. If this architect is awarded the work they will surely lose money performing it or underperform and ultimately cost the client more in additional work. This system doesn’t serve anyone well.
Architects are tasked with protecting the health safety and welfare of building occupants and the public. We like to compare ourselves to Doctors and Lawyers, but unlike them, we don’t have standard rates for our services. How can clients be expected to compare architects based on their qualifications when there is no professional fee standard?
On a recent bid I overheard architects comparing their bids, discussing how low they’d been willing to sell their services in order to win a commission. What was not being discussed was obvious. How will the winning architect perform the work required with so little fee? Will they be ever diligent in their work and perform at a loss; professional standards and liability dictates they must. How does this serve them or their profession? They’ve told the client they can perform the work for less fee than it truly requires, they’ve overextended their staff to complete the project. Can you be sure you’re giving the client your best under these circumstances? It’s doubtful.