Farming until it’s gone

For ten thousand years the limits of communication and transportation provided a great advantage for the local provider. This was true of farming… and architecture.

With air travel, and now the Internet (the latter being exponentially more important) services that can be provided by anyone from anywhere are universally available. And for the lowest fee. The work that architects have done that is most like factory work (take a moment and think through a typical project) can be done by someone somewhere else for a lot less. This is not news to most of you. Many have outsourced construction documents to offshore locations.

The really important point is this: Each of us must discover what it is that we offer that cannot be done by someone else. This is really hard to do. Really difficult, because it requires that we unscrew the filters we have in front of our lenses and see clearly. The daily routine of architectural practice gradually convinces us that what we are doing now is what we will always be doing. The habits we accumulate and the dependencies we develop become the depleted fields and the rusting equipment of the farmer who, after winning the lottery, farms until the money is gone.

It is so tempting to turn to protectionism; to hide behind professional registration and professional associations. They are going to save us, right? Wrong. Even worse, to a greater extent than we may want to admit, these institutions are part of the problem because they filter reality for us.

Seth Godin pulls no punches: “The networked revolution is creating huge profits, significant opportunities and a lot of change. What it’s not doing is providing millions of brain-dead, corner office, follow-the-manual middle class jobs. And it’s not going to. Fast, smart and flexible are embraced by the network… People and companies we can’t live without (because if I can live without you, I’m sure going to try if the alternative is to save money). The sad irony is that everything we do to prop up the last economy (more obedience, more compliance, cheaper yet average) gets in the way of profiting from this one.”

None of us did the hard work of design education and years of training to be more obedient, more compliant and average. This economy has given us a great gift. The filters are off. If we can’t see clearly now, heaven help us.