Architects as Leaders

Building Leaders was the theme of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 2013 National Convention, for which I'm contributed a post. Building Leaders is a great theme, especially since it is hinting at the future and not assuming that Architects are presently leaders.

I am a residential architect. I am raising three boys. With two of them in their teen years, they are on a fast track to becoming men and leaders in whatever path they choose. My husband and I try to teach life lessons. You know, like: don’t eat dirt, follow your passion and take responsibility when you drop the ball.

I went to architecture school with a few guys who I am sure used to eat dirt. I’ve never met an architect that isn’t full of passion. The issue of taking responsibility when you drop the ball is what I believe we, as architects, need to pay close attention to.

The housing collapse and the architects’ role in it.

I know, beating a dead horse…but I just don’t think we get it. There were several causes of the burst bubble. It was greed, it was disreputable builders, it was bad banking. But architects seemed to duck their heads and look the other way when responsibility should have been taken. I don’t think it had anything to do with bad design or needing to “green” things up.

How did we contribute to the housing collapse? Residential architects quit taking responsibility. We stopped doing the hard things. We dropped the ball.

We all learned in school that, in the beginning, architects were master builders. What a romantic notion! I’m sure it was terribly difficult, but architects were leaders. In generations past, residential architects would design and follow through with contract administration. I’m sure it was a hard job, but architects were still leaders.

Not so long ago, builders said "We don’t need oversight." The architect was cut out from the building process. Banks said, "yeah, neither do we!" They sent their own guys to the field and they controlled all the information.

And architects sat around playing with their electric erasers. Architects were no longer leaders.

Architects no longer wanted to do the hard job. We let other professionals do the hard work of holding people accountable, making sure things were done the way they should be, following the money and being responsible for the results.

These are not the glamorous parts of the job. They are not the parts that give you glossy photos and accolades at cocktail parties. But clients pay professionals who do the hard jobs, who take responsibility and lead.

We have given away our spot as leader, but I truly believe we can earn it back. Taking responsibility is the first step to becoming a leader.

Now if you are skimming this blog, you are going to want to dial back in. I’m not going to spend the rest of this article telling you how we should go back and everyone hire an architect and it would all be hunky dory. (Although we should, and it would). I’m not naive enough to think that clients would believe it. And I’m certainly not arrogant enough to try to swing a whole industry mindset.

For better or worse our clients have become a community of DIYers -- just look at the TV channels dedicated to it. My passion now is to work at furthering architects’ responsibilities in residential architecture. Residential clients need guidance through the residential building process because the industry is a mess right now. They just don’t know what it looks like. There is a huge hole left where architects used to fit in, but it looks much different now. You know, round peg – square hole.

Our hard job right now is to find the shape of what we can offer. It is hard work. But that’s ok, because architects ARE leaders.

I’d love to hear what you think. Have personal experience with this? Leave me a comment and let’s discuss.

- Sheri

As Founder and Principal Architect of Springhouse Architects, Sheri’s mission is to lead Clients through the building process with the Clients in control and Springhouse as their guide, advocate and ally.  With over twenty years experience in Residential Architecture, Sheri brings knowledge and confidence to your custom home project.

Lisa Saldivar