Architects are Rodney Dangerfields of the building world, says Vancouver architect Michael Geller.
“Unlike a song that keeps earning royalties for its writer, architects are paid only once for a building they design,” Geller said. “We get no respect.”
Architects are paid a negotiable percentage, usually around three per cent, of the construction cost of the building they design.
“But the selling price of the building, once the cost of land, municipal fees and other soft costs are included, is higher, sometimes much higher, than the construction cost,” said Geller.
He said it’s “terribly wrong” that architects get so much less than real estate agents.
“And architects have more legal liability worries than real estate agents,” he said.
There needs to be a greater appreciation for architects in Canada, the way there is in other parts of the world, Geller stated.
Society would benefit in the form of better buildings if architects received greater recognition and earned more,
— Michael Geller
“In Europe and South America, architects’ names are prominently displayed on the buildings they design,” he said. “With a few exceptions, in Canada real estate companies are better known than architects.”
Geller said if architects promote their role on projects, that will lead to being paid more for their work.
“Society would benefit in the form of better buildings if architects received greater recognition and earned more for their designs,” he said.
Some architects, including Geller, are changing their compensation arrangements/business model by innovation — expanding their role in a project.
“I started out as an architect and in the 1980s I also became a developer,” Geller said. “I wanted to have more control over the process of designing and building a project.”
Geller said the process of designing and constructing a building is similar to making a movie.
“A movie has stars, a director and a producer,” he said. “A building project has a developer to produce it, an architect to direct it and real estate agents and interior designers to star in it.”
Although developers can earn good money, very few architects have made the transition.
“Most architects don’t have the right temperament or the range of skills that are required to be a successful developer,” Geller said. “They’re creative people, not businesspeople.”
Some architects have forged close working relationships with developers.
“Architects should be creating projects for developers for which they become the designer,” he said. “For example, in the 1970s and ‘80s, Vancouver architect Gerald Hamilton would go looking for a likely building site, then turn it over to a developer and he became the architect for the project. He became very busy as a result. More architects should copy him.”
Darryl Condon, managing partner of HCMA Architecture + Design (Vancouver, Victoria and Edmonton), said the practice of architecture needs to evolve for the sake of the building industry and to keep up with the public’s changing expectations.
“The building industry has changed, and is constantly changing, with new delivery methods, new construction techniques and new management approaches,” said Condon. “Architecture needs to evolve in response.
“Public expectations change more gradually, but there has been significant shift around diversity and inclusiveness and accessibility. Architects today need to think of a wide range of societal wishes.”
Condon said there’s no single way for architecture to evolve.
“The possible business models are many and varied and that’s a good thing,” he said.
HCMA follows an interdisciplinary model, with a variety of in-house design disciplines such as communications, strategy, branding, research and fashion design.
“We’ll add more disciplines in the future, too,” said Condon. “With so many in-house capabilities, we can address many of our clients’ problems in a fast and integrated way.”
Omicron Canada Inc. (Vancouver and Victoria) was founded as a way for architects, designers, engineers and builders to work together to deliver building projects.
“We’re a full-service company that does everything from design to construction,” said Omicron principal and director of architecture Kevin Hanvey.
The company’s business model has evolved over the years as it has taken on new disciplines.
“The architectural profession began to fragment in the middle of the 20th century, with more and more responsibilities formerly undertaken by architects being taken over by a new generation of specialists,” said Hanvey. “Now Omicron and other architectural practices are combining those disciplines and putting them under one roof again.”
Hanvey said architects will need to respond to the ways in which COVID-19 changes how people work.
“For example, there will be more regional centres away from downtown, such as Metrotown in Burnaby, lower Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver, and Surrey City Centre,” he said. “They will become new growth hubs and will grow disproportionately faster than downtowns.”