Take them for a ride
Do it. Put on Saint le Corbusier’s clean-handed glasses and charge them for the real thing, not the cheap substitute. And if you can, charge a bit more, since the purpose of our profession isn’t transporting the real things around, but should be, among many other things, paying for our children’s braces without having to sell off the box we’ve been keeping of fancy drawing supplies in the healthy hope that one day we might be able to visit the set of Pawn Stars while we learn and experience the contradictory complexities of Las Vegas.
Our profession leans strongly towards myth and legend. And I’m not referring to playing Indiana Jones and searching, as if for the Arc of the Covenant, for the blueprints where Zaha Hadid forgot to remove the F8, or the photograph of Jean Nouvel in a Hawaiian shirt (It’s out there! I know it is!). For us, myths are more dogmatic, learned in a creed comprised to a large extent of clichés and recipes that, while making limited sense at times, very easily become hackneyed and dangerously oppressive commonplace.
But let’s get back to the bread and butter. To quote Victor d’Ors, one understands what De la Sota was aiming at. The idea is to always take things a bit further, to give, in the end, let’s be clear about it, more than what is being asked of us. To strive for what not even those on the receiving end expecting the real thing could even imagine asking for. Running that extra mile. But De la Sota mentions nothing about what to charge.
The danger, then, lies in understanding that what is a call for making an effort, personal strides, excellence, will be directly, unfiltered, transferred into the complex reality of the profession in the perverse reverse assumption that it is not the client who should appreciate the real thing in spiritual and – why not — financial terms, but that the worn, bleary-eyed architect with debts piling up and an onset of scoliosis is the one who considers that giving the real thing in the end is his or her single aim. The nirvana of his or her career. A prize involving a considerable dose of hedonism and none less dogmatic self-satisfaction that one should consider oneself satisfied with without asking for much more.
And, as is usually the case, if we sow greedy mediocrity, we will reap ferocious beasts. Assuming this precarious, unstable equilibrium in the cost – benefit analysis (It would be taboo to think of profits, another cliché.) that we have narrowed down our scope to the extent that we call a discipline – which does have its pecuniary aspect — a cheerful stroll along the edge of the cliff where the beauty of the path doesn’t prevent us from seeing the abyss lying below.
Make no mistakes. It’s not that I am a dirty capitalist with a poster of Alan Greenspan maliciously stapled onto the five points of architecture. But for quite a time now, the profession’s hard-fast, multi-faceted reality has been calling for us to take a step back from dogmas whose great brilliance fails to make them universally held truths. We should know how to charge. And we should do it fairly and equitably for our clients and our work, for ourselves. Believe me, in the end, it’s not so much about counting coins as it is about understanding that dignity is found, in part, by valuing true quality for what it is, and what it costs.
Text translated by Beth Gelb