Architectural Blatherations

The Coming Crisis in Architecture

top rule

The Good Oil

The next fifty years will see some profound changes in the structure of the profession of architecture in the English-speaking countries (we confine ourselves to these because the economic and social position of the architect is very similar in the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

A huge bulge of architecture graduates are having difficulty getting the right jobs, the right careers and the right money, throughout the English-speaking world. This bulge will only increase, as there is no mechanism to reduce the schools' ever-increasing supply of young architects.

We speculate that in twenty years the number of people with architecture degrees employed as architects will be a minority of all architecture graduates. The occupation will have changed forever.

150 years of American architects

You can see here how the numbers of architects in the USA have ballooned since 1960.

When an occupation expands out like this, its whole nature changes, although these changes are invisible to the individuals making up the profession. This is partly because the changes take place slowly over decades, and partly because individuals see their own history, but not the history of others.

How the changes appear

Moreover, the results of these changes manifest themselves in unobvious ways. For example, a typical reaction to a prolonged rise in numbers is to see the current crop of graduates as undertrained and unfit. People see their occupation as being flooded with the 'wrong' sort of people. You start to hear complaints from the elder ones about how much better the graduates were in their day, and how anyone can get through the courses nowadays. Calls are made to upgrade qualifications.

But this is a superficial, if understandable, reaction to the simple fact that the numbers are much greater today than they were when the elders of the profession were young. In those days the title 'architect' was much rarer than now, and any title that loses its rarity also loses its value.

The resource squeeze

Another typical reaction comes from the occupation as it starts to feel a resource squeeze. By 'resource' we mean the amount of economic funds that flow into the occupation. As the numbers of architects has increased faster than the construction industry can absorb them, incomes have declined or remained constant in real terms, and profit margins have shrunk.

We have some data from the US Economic Surveys, conducted every five years. We discuss it here.

Young graduates may find getting new jobs is harder than in previous decades, and career paths are harder to define. They start to move into other more lucrative or satisfying occupations and discard the title 'architect'. Many don't bother to undergo the registration process.

The bubble deflates

There is now some evidence that these predictions, which we have been making for a while, are coming true. Registrations are significantly down in the United States, and the literature devoted to architecture is shrinking. We suspect that the 1990 peak in the graph above marks about the saturation limit of architects, and that the 2000 census will show a decline. Informal data for numbers of architects shows about the same absolute numbers in 2000 as in 1990, which, of course, represents a relative decline.