Writers, directors, producers and actors play major roles in shaping how millions around the world perceive different professions. This article, however, will not focus on misrepresentation of architects in the media, as I do not think those lie at the roots of the problem. Moreover, there are not as many architects on TV, in cinema or in books, as there are police officers, doctors and lawyers. I would say that in case of architecture, the problem is not the public having a distorted idea about architects, but having no idea at all.
Architects spend about 5-6 years at university and, in many countries, another 2-3 working professionally before they receive a license and become full-fledged professionals. After all this time, you imagine that they would at least get paid fairly, but that is seldom the case. Moreover, during their educational years, they are constantly fed the story of how difficult the architect's life is; how hard it is to get a job; that they will have constant (obviously unpaid) over hours; that they need to love it to do it, because they are never going to make any (decent) money. Basically, if you ever want to become successful in life, architecture is not the right path. If you are an (aspiring) architect and have not heard any of the above arguments - good for you! I certainly have.
Different parties are being blamed for that status quo: architecture schools, which create too many architects and are failing to provide students with skills needed to practice; the authorities, for passing legislation, which lowers the architects position in the building process; public, for lack of respect towards architects and seemingly being always surprised by the amount of money they charge; other architects, who seem to swallow their pride, take those starvation wages and further the fall of the profession.
Perhaps something should be changed in architecture education and architects should demand change in legislation. There is some truth to all of the above statements, however, I want this article to focus on what I believe forms te roots of all these issues - knowledge - or, rather, lack thereof. In 2012 InBuilding.org carried out a survey among 2,031 adults. Respondents were asked to select things that they think are part of the architecural profession from a list of tasks, all of which were routinely carried out by architects. The survey was inspired by The Apprentice star and a London-based architect Gabrielle Omar, who, in an interview for Architects' Journal, stated that the public has no idea what architects do and that the profession is in need of a brand overhaul. The results of the survey supported that statement - three quarters of the respondents were largely ignorant of the work undertaken by architects on a daily basis. For some, architects are just people who overcharge for drawing a few lines. If the general public does not seem to understand the role of the architect, how are they supposed to see the need to hire one in the first place? What, or who, is to blame for that?
I believe that architects themselves are not victims, but the sole culprit. Somewhere along the way architecture has lost touch with society - architects have created a very elitist perception of their field (even in their own eyes), without ever explaining to the public what they actually do that makes them so elite. Add to it a lot of jargon that they use on everyday basis to describe the work they do and it is not hard to imagine why they are portrayed as artistic weirdos, helplessly out of touch with reality, with an always-present scarf around their necks and using complex words for simple ideas. So far, the problem is that architects seem to discuss architecture solely among themselves. There are of course those, who underline the importance of discussing architecture with the public, but they are still in minority. Most of the public have no idea what architects do. How are they supposed to be ok with paying (often large amounts of) money, when they do not really know where it goes?
What can architects do to change that? Most of all, they should be responsible for education process of the client, a prospective one as well. So far architects are seen as an “additional expense” rather than as an investment that will pay off down the road. Architects should do their best to educate people around them about the importance of properly designed architecture - not just structural, but spatial. Until architects can get across that, like a good doctor or a good lawyer, paying for excellent service will save the client money in the long run, they will maintain their losing societal positions.