Architects are dreamers. Architects are visionaries. Architects are agents for community development and societal change. But Architects are also employees, of real businesses, trying to make real money to live real lives. It’s not a glamorous concept, but it is foundational. All too often there is an underlying assumption that the “higher order” aspects of architecture like refined spatial relationships and bold gestures cannot coexist with such day-to-day aspects like billing projections and profit margins. There is an artificial dichotomy that says business cannot be beautiful, and beautiful design cannot make for good business.
But reality would dictate otherwise.
Good design doesn’t happen without money to fund it. People can’t design unless they have a means to support themselves and their work. Likewise, business can’t exist without selling something people will actually pay for. And people only pay for what they need or find valuable. Far from a dichotomy there is actually a symbiosis between the business and practice of architecture.
As in so many cases, the realization of this symbiosis lies in finding a point on a continuum—that sweet spot where food is on the table but real and valuable work is happening. There are many ways to locate this balance point, and the spot itself doesn’t necessarily exist at a single, fixed mark. Nevertheless finding it is the aim of every vibrant and profitable firm.
One of the best places to start is by looking at what other real-world firms are doing. Charrette Venture Group hosts an annual competition (http://www.architectbusinessplancompetition.com/), which recognizes excellence in Architectural Business Plans, both in terms of how forward thinking they are, as well as their practicality. It’s a tangible way to highlight how good design and good business are complementary, not contradictory. What do these plans actually look like?
Second-place winner Latent Design out of Chicago proposes a 3-step approach:
- Define the Context
- Design the Content
- Deploy the Mission
And Iowa-based finalist DESIGNCREW conducts its work via a 5-step design process:
These are each approaches or processes geared towards allowing both sound business and progressive design. They are intended as parameters which actually promote, rather than inhibit, flourishing architecture. Architecture may be art, it may be design, and maybe it’s even philosophy. But it is also business. Both sides matter, and excluding one side will cost the other.