jump to navigation

Doctor, Lawyer, Architect, Fail February 23, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architecture industry, books, change, employment, essence, identity, optimism, questions.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve been thinking about the state of our profession.

For anyone who belongs to an online social media group the subject has been hard to avoid.

And from the number of commenters in discussions it would be fair to say I am not alone.

These discussions tend to present an exhaustive laundry list comprised of complaints and recriminations that run their course until someone steps-up and wisely says something along the lines of

  • “You get out of it what you put into it,”
  • “Be the change you want to see in the world,” or
  • “Ask not what your profession can do for you, but what you can do for your profession,”

The thread soon runs out of steam but pops up again on another site and starts over again.

Rinse, repeat.

Victim mentality

It would appear that some of us never tire of describing the infractions we’ve been victims of and injustices we’ve experienced at the hands of our chosen profession.

Uprising anyone?

Most of the threads boil down to a wish list of what our profession can do for us:

  • Stop everyone who is not a building architect from using the name architect
  • Advocate on our behalf by informing the general public who we are, what we do and why what we do should be valued
  • Clear up any misconceptions that others have about us (that we are wealthy, that we only care about the way things look, that we control project outcomes, wear black, have unrealistic expectations)
  • Give us job security
  • A direct return on investment
  • Tell us – and everyone else – when we’re doing a fine job
  • Only take legislative positions that align with my own
  • Serve refreshments at professional programs
  • Charge us $75 annual dues (like the other guys)

That’s not what professions are for. That’s what Santa Claus is for.

If we were to go back and reread the comments, between the rants and unrealistic demands – if one were to listen carefully and read mindfully – one can discern a voice of reason and compassion: constructive, positive, hopeful.

So much so that one discussion commenter recently concluded:

“I think the comments here are a great foundation upon which to rebuild the profession of architecture.”


That’s a good start.

Bowling alone together

While some pay dues in exchange for a very expensive magazine subscription – and so they can call themselves card-carrying members – today most don’t see themselves as belonging to a profession.

They belong to communities, groups and tribes.

In Tribes, Seth Godin defines a tribe as a group of people who are connected to

1. one another, 2. a leader, and 3. an idea.

Godin – like some of the more thoughtful voices in the group discussion threads – encourages readers to find their Tribe, step up, and lead.

So, what distinguishes a profession from a tribe?

A number of qualities and characteristics can be attributed to professions.

Professions, unlike tribes, regulate membership – as opposed to communities and networks that socially certify.

Professions gather skilled practitioners by seeing to it that they’ve acquired and maintained specialized training.

Professions put service to society before personal gain (spouses might add, to a fault.)

Professions encourage a private language be spoken amongst members.


It’s all part of the body of knowledge considered inaccessible to the uninitiated.

And one of the things that makes a profession a profession.

Witold Rybczynski earlier this month chastised architects for their private language in A Discourse on Emerging Tectonic Visualization and the Effects of Materiality on Praxis, Or an essay on the ridiculous way architects talk.

But that is what professions do: enable and foster professionals to talk to each other as professionals.

I am not saying that we ought to deliberately obfuscate and waylay the public (or use words like “obfuscate” and “waylay” when becloud and befog would do.)

But one way we reinforce our community is by talking to each other in terms familiar to ourselves (and a select few inebriated hangers-on of the 60’s and various sundry academics.)

Of the categories – individuals, teams, organizations, profession and industry – profession feels like the weak link.

There was a time we aspired to serve in professions. Stanley Tigerman asked in the introduction of his fine book Versus, in 1979; Growing up he’d hear his mother say:

My son the doctor, my son the lawyer. Why not, my son the architect?

Nobody would think of asking that question today (and not only because at least 40% of the time it would be addressed to My daughter the architect?)

Because we don’t think in terms of entering professions so much as careers.

How can we have a profession without shared memories, books, references, memes?

Who remembers (or still reads) Peter Collins comparing law with the profession of architecture in the brilliant book, Architectural Judgment, where Collins returns to law school so he might compare the two professions with firsthand experience?


$3.97 for a used copy (call me and we’ll discuss.)

What can we do for our profession?

“What is difficult about this moment in the history of the profession is that the field is moving in so many different directions at once. Changes are occurring in the structure of architectural firms and the scope of their services, in the goals of architectural graduates and the careers they are pursuing, and in the nature of architectural education and the responsibilities of the schools.”

Thomas Fisher wrote this in “Can This Profession Be Saved?” in Progressive Architecture, 17 years ago in February 1994. Read it here.

The title of this post – Doctor, Lawyer, Architect, Fail – invokes the professions, rhythm and cadence of author John le Carre’s spy novel: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Derived from the English children’s rhyme “Tinker, Tailor,” this group of professions had another variant:

“Rich man, Poor man, beggar-man, thief; Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.”

Doctor, Lawyer, Architect, Fail. What does this title say to me?

Our professions cannot fail us. Only we can fail each other.

What we can do for each other and for our profession is really quite simple. So simple, in fact, it’s worth asking why we aren’t doing some of these things more often.

So, what can we do for our profession?

  • Show up
  • Share our knowledge, stories and insights
  • Help each other
  • Listen to one another
  • Look for opportunities to improve our world
  • Be accepting and inclusive of others
  • Respect each other
  • Celebrate each other’s accomplishments
  • Mentor our fledgling members
  • Be authentic
  • Laugh more (make office Nerf N-Strike battles mandatory)
  • Give back
  • Give others a reason for wanting to become an architect

Now it’s your turn, by leaving a comment: What could we be doing more of for each other and for our profession? What one item would you add to this list?

Image courtesy NYTimes



1. Ludwig Boltzmann - February 23, 2011

I like the piece, but think it lacks a certain clarity of definition. Every time you write “profession” I read “AIA.” The two discreet entities, though I suppose a Venn diagram of them would show a significant and quite fuzzy overlap. This is perhaps a topic for a separate essay.

As far as your initial request for comments, I posit the following quote that my oldest daughter recently made regarding my youngest daughter, who has Down Syndrome: “she doesn’t really know how to be disabled, she mostly just knows how to be awesome.” Kind of nails it doesn’t it?

Randy Deutsch - February 23, 2011

Thanks Ludwig for your insightful comment. I also noticed, as I wrote the post, that I was at times equating the profession with AIA/NCARB – but didn’t want to abort nor bog down the launch by addressing this/clarifying. Ironic too that “obfuscate” can mean “muddy.” Yes, I think you’re right, this topic would make a great post all its own.

And absolutely wonderful quote. I am awed. Thank you for sharing. Randy

2. Tara Imani - February 23, 2011

– Attend the upcoming AIA National Convention- this includes EVERYONE in architecture…:)

Now that we’re all aware that each other exists- thanks to social networking sites like LinkedIn and KN- we’ll be able to recognize one another upon first sight. (no tomato-throwing, please) 😉

Great blog, Randy. So well said.

The only detail I’d like to add is that only 20% of moms of architects can say, “my daughter, the architect,” as over 50% of the females who graduate from architecture stay in the profession and fewer become licensed- that is my understanding of the current stats. Maybe things have changed.

See you in New Orleans?

Randy Deutsch - February 23, 2011

Thanks Tara for visiting, for the shoutout and for adding to the discussion – all appreciated!

Here’s where I came up with my stat: while fewer than 20% of all architects are women, approx. 40% of architecture students are female (this was also true in my 7 years of teaching grad school.) That’s good enough for most of the moms I know, who would start calling their daughters architects when still in school. I know, a stretch – but play along : ) Thanks, Randy

3. Anne Whitacre - February 23, 2011

In the world of specification writers, we often think of ourselves as being closer to a “guild” — a co-fraternity of people with similar skills that tends to be self-regulating. While some specifiers are architects by training, a good percentage of us are not, and there is no formal education for this subset of the profession. In addition, we are often a cohort of “one” in each office — and therefore seek out others of our kind for survival if nothing else. Not all of us mentor or teach, but I would guess that most of us do — we’re usually just so delighted that anyone would want to do the same thing we do.

I think there are a couple of terrific things about architecture, and they stem from one thing: the learning curve is really really long. Its pretty much impossible to be a “star” right out of the gate in architecture. Architects are considered “young ” in their profession at the age of 50. (at the age of 50, dentists are getting ready to retire and attorneys are in the corner office). Because it takes so long, people who are only interested in earning money… generally go do something else. That gets a lot of the venality of the profession. And because the learning curve is so long, people who don’t actually like doing it… go do something else. That means (to me) that you end up working with people who typically like what they do, and that makes everything better and easier in the long run.
There are entire rafts of consultants who help attornies find some other profession that they like better; there are outplacement people for nurses, dentists, CPAs and salespeople who want some other job that gives them more satisfaction. Have you ever heard of an architect out-placement service? Ever been to a group of “former architects” who talk about how much better their lives are now? Nope, me neither. Ever live with someone who hates their job? I did, once, and it was just awful. I can’t imagine going to an office full of people like that.
There’s a lot to be said for the slow, careful way of developing a career and that means also that you can continue to do it until you fall over at your desk. If you can’t be a “star” at the age of 25 in architecture, then you also can’t be “out of date” at the age of 65 … unless you are so slovenly in your career development that you actually .. are out of date. I think that’s a worthwhile thing, too.

Randy Deutsch - February 24, 2011

Thanks Anne. In the midst of your comment you just gave the rest of us a much-needed gift – time. The reminder to slow down and see where we are in the long view. Because of the learning curve you mention, time is most definitely on our side.

4. anne whitacre - February 23, 2011

um.. that sentence should read “gets a lot of the venality OUT of the profession.” sometimes I need a better editor.

5. Christopher Parsons - February 24, 2011

“We need to be multilingual.”

That’s just one of the many insights that I have gained from Ed Friedrichs over the years. Professions should feel free to speak to each other in shorthand, use acronyms, and drawings, and inside references to communicate with the initiated. It is efficient and fun. We all like talking shop with others in the know.

I’ve spent the vast majority of my career straddling software development and architecture, and I don’t know which one has more language for the initiated, it is close.

But the key is, when you leave the inner sanctum, you speak your client’s, partner’s, or audience’s language. Obvious right? Well I think that there is one often overlooked benefit to communicating clearly in terms everyone can understand, free of insider jargon, even when you are inside the firm. The same marketing content or stories you use to market your services or communicate with your clients should be used inside the firm as well. You are modeling the behavior you want to see in your future marketers and client managers as well as equipping them with the “outsider language” needed to do so.

Witness Einstein, “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother,” or read “Made to Stick” by the Heath Brothers.

PS…Excellent post Randy.

6. Randy Deutsch - February 24, 2011

It all comes down to being able to read people and to read our audience – right? You’re absolutely on target about the need to be multilingual.

I am almost daily surprised that the so-called uninitiated reside amongst us. Even when I have commented at an Autodesk (AUGI) forum discussion, I am continually asked (and rightfully so) to define my terms (CAD, BIM, IPD, etc) by those I would have expected to talk the talk. Your comment – and their requests for clarity – are great reminders. Thanks Chris!

7. 49 Ways to Increase Your Influence as an Architect « Architects 2Zebras - February 26, 2011

[…] who are connected to one another, a leader and an idea. Godin – as I described in my previous post  – encourages readers to find their community, step up and lead. Cost: At the start, your time. […]

8. Architects 2Zebras Top 10 Posts for 2011 « Architects 2Zebras - December 31, 2011

[…] Doctor, Lawyer, Architect, Fail […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: