Sunday, December 20, 2009

Size shouldn't matter...(except when it does)

In what is possibly the most difficult of times for the architecture profession, firms are scurrying around the globe to land any securely funded project that has weathered the speculation-fueled real estate crisis. With the U.S. market in the tank for at least the next couple of years, firms large enough to have foreign offices are redoubling efforts in snatching projects in markets where money is concentrated by powerful ruling families, business partnerships with large cash reserves, government and entities with close ties to the government. Smaller developers that rely on bank credit no longer available to them are sitting it out, which leaves the overall new project landscape in an ironic state of affairs: instead of an abandonment of large, iconic, sometimes megalomaniacal projects and a return to the smaller, simpler, more socially responsible that the current recession portended, continuing the large and iconic is more important than ever for a large number of design firms. Size matters-the more square-footage, the more fee and the more staff that can be spared.

Bigger is not always better, to be frank. In tough times, the things one has to do to get by can seem a bit below one's integrity. We're in no position to choose the projects we want to design, and we're ready to do anything to keep ourselves busy. Clients, feeling the financial pinch, are forced to scale back, trimming a project's original scope and thus eliminating what little architectural flourish that is left. As in any business driven by an artistic spirit, the ultimate goal is less about making more money than in building prestige. In good times, competition for big projects is not as competitive since most firms would be trying to pursue opportunities that would enhance their visibility among their peers (other designers). In bad times, competition for these lackluster, yet paying, projects is fierce but few would willingly put this work in their portfolio.