Questions any student of architecture will ask if you give them the chance
Each year, our 33 Schools of Architecture fill their rooms with around 3000 new studients1. Despite the crisis and the lack of prestige that our profession suffers from, architecture is still one of the most sought after courses of study.2
During this academic year, the end of one of my classes turned into a sort of “Everything you always wanted to know about the profession but were afraid to ask”. Once they began to tackle their first assignments, exams and sleepless nights, my first year students saw that the profession they were preparing to practice was not exactly what they though it would be before they hit the university. This triggered a series of questions that absolutely all of us wondered about during our first year at university. Allow me to go over the most updated version of them.
1.- Architects make lots of money, don’t they?
I have some news for you. Not only do they not make piles of money, there is a huge amount of architects out there who work without any pay at all in return. A precarious labour market and cannibalisation in the profession has led many recent graduates to become “enthusiastic collaborators” in studios working on designs without earning a single euro.
2.- But… Can an architect earn 1.000.000 € on a design?
Well, let’s crunch the numbers. Let’s assume very optimistically that those one million euros come in the form of 5% fees 3 for Project Design and Site Management. That would mean we would be talking about a fairly large undertaking with a budget of 20 million euros. So what type of design would that be? Certainly nothing that a recent graduate or just any run of the mill architecture could get anywhere near. Maybe a building with 200 housing units? Average to middling urban facilities? Just your everyday commission, right? Is it reasonable to envisage this as being something that often comes along? No, I’m afraid it isn’t.
3.- How much do you make designing a house?
The first thing you have to bear in mind are expenses (we talked about this in a previous post) , i.e. 600 euros just to keep the studio open. Let’s envisage a single family home with fees of 12.000 € (60% are for the design and the remaining 40% for the Site Management. If everything went extraordinarily quickly, it could be four months from the time we are commissioned the work to the time the licence is obtained with a completed design, translating into 2.400 € in fixed expenses and 1.500 € in official stamps, insurance, visits, printing and other stuff… About three thousand euros. We still have 4.200 €. of the 7.200 € for the design. For now, it looks like we’re doing fine. That’s what it looks like. But when we do the division by the number of hours we spent (let’s assume 360 hours), we find we haven’t even earned 12 € per hour. But then if we take a look at the Site Management… For work that is going to take at least 12 months we will get 400 per month, without considering that the building is taking place far away and may not finish on schedule, meaning it may actually cost you money.
4.- As an architect do you enjoy what you do?
Most of time, but there are all sorts of days in any type of work, and this profession is full of ups and downs. It’s enthralling and engrosses you. That makes those who like that very happy, but there are more than a few cases where people drop out and choose to do something different (and go from being an architect to being a baker, for instance). And there’s nothing wrong with that.
5.- But is there any work?
There is. Not like many of you think there is. But there is. One of the best things about the profession is that because you get such a broad education, you can end up doing a whole array of different things (Here are 50 from Arquiparados). Designing new buildings is just one.
These are only five of the questions from this morning. The aspirations and the image held of architects haven’t changed much over the last few years among students beginning at the School of Architecture. I’d rather leave it up to you to decide whether this is good or bad. There is one thing that’s clear to me. This generation has a lot more fight in it than others before it. At last!!