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Ji Min An on The Architect as Worker
5 August, 2022
This book was recommended to me by a friend when I somewhat stumbled into starting my own practice, and was searching for guidance on how to do just that. How do I connect our studio’s ideological, creative and intellectual pursuit in architecture to a fair economical compensation and entrepreneurial value? More than once I have heard complaints from colleagues (as well as myself) that clients are willing to pay invoices for all other professional services without much objection, yet as architects we have to put in so much effort into convincing the clients of the work we do, and even then end up undercharging for the hours that went into solving a particular problem. Moreover, discussing wages and profitability are often seen as a taboo topic, as architects are (more often than not by our fellow peers) expected to perceive our profession as a “calling”, to put in those long hours out of love and passion – an unsustainable model compounded by the time and energy intensive nature of the profession. Is this just part and parcel of being an architect?
The anthology of essays edited by Peggy Deamer opens up the question to a wider spectrum of cultural, historical and economical aspects which tug at the two sides of the same coin that lie at the foundation of architectural discipline – the immaterial creative labor and the manual construction labor.
Deamer’s own chapter titled “Work” outlines a point of departure – that architecture suffers from “work aphasia” as architects do not associate our work with producing commodity in the service sector, but believe what we do is too creative and significant to be classified as ‘work’ but considers it rather as a form of art focused on social sciences, public good, and aesthetics. This disconnection of architects from seeing themselves as workers has positioned the profession in a precarious limbo lacking in financial and monetary rewards, as well as social relevance and personal satisfaction – a phenomenon that creeped in as architects stopped being just master builders and decided to elevate themselves away from the others workers on the merit of their design intellect.
The critical approach of the essays shines a light on the current malaise and is no doubt an important contemporary investigation into an essential facet of our profession. However, it didn’t help alleviate my initial questions but raised even more as good reads often do… So what happens now? Is there a counterplan to remedy the current status quo?