10 Years Now, How the Recession Has Confirmed Architecture's Value

Architects are economically bipolar; For us, it's the best or the worst of times. And they are not just architects. All of the construction industry is tuned to these extremes, but only architects are psychologically validated by booms and crushed by busts. All professions have a greater source of dependency - medicine needs insurance, law needs the justice system - but the construction industry has a stronger equation: building requires capital.

Entrepreneurs tend to react to market flows in a purely transactional way. Booms mean more work, more workers, more estimates, business expansion. For architects, a boom means validation of life. Every architect wants to make a difference, and many want to offer salvation, such as the architect Richard Rogers, who once said: "My passion and my great pleasure for architecture, and why I have more, I appreciate it, because I believe We-architects-can affect the quality of life of people. But salvation can only be won if the buildings are created.

When the reservoirs of the economy, it fills our worst fears, reinforcing the realization that what we do requires two things independent of our work: money and faith. Architects always trust, but clients do it only when they are up to par. Like most fine arts, architecture faces the money available to finance it.

Maybe the last decade can teach us something.

Ten years ago, architects, especially residential architects, were dizzy. We have always responded to the free market roller coaster market - it is endemic to the trade - but in 2007, residential architects were at the center of a rival. Unprecedented growth in residential construction has outpaced the usual cycles of supply and demand.

Thus, for a brief period, the construction of the American dream dominated the world economy. Magazines, new media, institutions, marketing efforts have been based on this phenomenon. The appearance of this mammoth bubble in 2008 has changed everything. The US economy lost $ 14 billion in economic activity from 2007 to 2009. Housing markets in places like Las Vegas and Phoenix have gone from boom to depression. Michigan, California and Arizona saw homeownership decline by more than 20% after 2007.

It was nothing new. I am old enough to have gone through four previous accidents since entering the profession, in 1978, during the oil crisis Jimmy Carter (remember these lines?). In the madness of these economies, this has resulted in mortgage rates among young adults. Much less design came because fewer buildings were funded.

A handful of years later, I experienced the excitement of the Reagan Revolution, when McMansions began flooding the suburbs. A stock market crash in 1987 confirmed this. The rebound was quick and safe in the late 1980s, until there was a crisis of savings and loan. Then, new technologies helped the economy rebound. An enormous influx of venture capital followed the digital revolution that created websites and businesses based on the net. But at the beginning of the year, the first online companies failed to generate income, so venture capital disappeared and the technology bubble burst.

Then came the great American House Boom. But unlike the other booms, it was a tidal flow that raised residential designers beyond any objective value. This boom was located directly in the wheelhouse of architecture: it surpassed three million new homes a year and helped steer the economy through technological collapse. Values ​​at home have outgrown the stock market as a creator of wealth for the middle class; The property reached a record 69% of adults.

Everyone was fully engaged and earned money, for a common good, the buildings in which we lived, was part of an effort supported by the government and empowered by the bank to achieve universal ownership. Finally, the profit motives of banks and bond markets have overwhelmed the realities of cost and value.

In some markets, you can buy a wreck, add paint and thoughts and make five figures in five months. Even though residential architects designed a small percentage of new and renovated homes, self-reported residential architecture companies almost doubled as a percentage of the US occupation: up to 20% of all businesses, up by about 10%.

Again, the architects were pulled out of the economic gun: we benefit from the circumstances that we have not created. Unlike all these other booms, however, this one was built on a basis of deception and exploitation. There were predatory lenders, lying agents and profit-oriented market players, and their larvae could not last forever. Without an explosion of value above the value of inflation in homes - the rocket fuel that fueled the boom - the market crashed on land.

For the first time, a type of building in a market, the American house, has helped shake the global economy. The stock market crashed, unemployment rose, and the balance of construction stopped. The first seven years of the 21st century offered a tsunami to surf us. The architects were erased in the next flood.


Why? It's personal.

If architects liked to help people construct what made sense, they would create a microeconomy of value less subject to growth and rumment. Doctors work on every disease, not just glamor and pay; Many lawyers help those in difficulty. Architects should know that our culture can value design at any level, and not relax on the crazy exclusive darkness booms.

Busts should teach us that. When the housing market crashed, we saw an astounding 90% reduction in new homes. This starvation reality is virtually uncontrollable in other industries (even the buggy whip makers have had a bust generation).

Architects often believe that in booms, truth appears and our real value is revealed; In busts, we too soon became irrelevant. We seem incapable of realizing that nothing is true: the race for construction does not reflect our inherent value; But the lack of evidence is irrelevant. Our value to customers and society is timeless: design is a necessity in all markets.

Construction booms are self-justifying, but accomplished lust often compromises the value of architects, beyond design. During hunting times, it is easy to accept huge price tags and timely builders. When you are in love, your judgment is altered.

Why do we do this for ourselves? The building is an elementary human act. This last decade of change, this resetting of the architectural profession, has considerably increased productivity while reducing job opportunities. But, for me, this decade doldrum did something else; This reinforced my belief in our utility. We provide a service that has value, regardless of the economic climate or cost.

Of course, we are trainers, innovators, even aspiring Master Builders, but after a 10-year crater, survivors know better than ever that architecture is first and foremost a service. We have a unique knowledge, a creative synthesis, but above all a broad and deep perspective that is not limited to extreme maniacs.

But architects continue to follow the money, instead of the value found in our expertise. Does each physician consult the outcome in surgery? Does every lawyer interview involve a trial? These professions are paid and are proud of the importance of knowing more. Architects should become open, honest and willing experts in planning and construction, but avoid the insanities of the building boom mentality. This value will last in any economy, boom or bust.

Duo Dickinson has been an architect for more than 30 years. His eighth book, A Home Called New England, will be released later this year. He is the architectural critic of the New Haven Register and writes on the design and culture of Hartford Courant.