Architecture and Capitalism

Peggy Deamer with Graham Cairns


October 2016


From production to product

“The Architecture Lobby is concerned with a wide range of issues associated with the profession, much of which is well known but rarely debated such as low pay, long hours and a lack of awareness amongst architects of their role in the broader economy as workers. 1 Practitioners need education about the working practices we have inherited and engage with but, of course, the questions being asked in this regard do not just relate to the mechanisms of practice. On a larger scale, the public needs education too. Clients who commission architects, and the general public who see architecture in a particular way – often framed by the media – also need to be pressed to rethink their views of the profession and what it produces. 2

When we take this into account the Lobby’s target can seem ambiguous. It cannot be defined by a one liner like “get the architecture firms to pay their staff better”, or simply, “tell those potential clients that architects deserve more money”. Nor can it be reduced to a simple statement for architects like “tell those staff they need to ask for more money”. 3 To bring about real change in the practice of architecture a readjustment on all those fronts is needed. That is a broad approach. However, the Lobby is committed to saying that if you identify any of these things as a problem – whether you are a member of the public, the media, a firm owner, or what we call ‘fresh labour’ (the AIA’s “emerging architects”- you have a responsibility to do something. No one person or set of people are to blame for the working practices of architects today but, at the same time, everyone is at fault. The multiplicity of this scenario is a reality…”

Reflections on Architecture, Society and Politics
Social and Cultural Tectonics in the 21st Century
Author: Graham Cairns
New York: Routledge; 5 October 2016
ISBN: 9781472456083


  1. The Architecture Lobby’s Manifesto begins thus: The myth that architects have it all – professionalism, creative freedom, autonomy, civic power, cultural cache – lasts until your first day of work. It is not that you immediately get the full picture; surely the bad compensation and crummy hours and the lack of power over design decisions are temporary, the dues you pay. But later, when you have your own firm or become a partner and the deferral can’t be deferred any longer, you don’t earn reasonable compensation, you work crummy hours, and you lack power over design decisions. Along the way, you may have adjusted your thinking about the myth while still maintaining its mystical aura. “Architecture,” you can say, “isn’t a career; it’s a calling!” … which is to say, the lack of money and appreciation is justified by sacrifice. 
  2. Again, this point is reiterated in the Lobby’s Manifesto which suggests it is necessary to “redirect the public’s perception of what architects do”. This, they suggest, means tying the architect’s salary into the building’s success over its lifetime and significantly redefining the way the media showcases individual architects and projects. 
  3. The issues raised by the Architecture Lobby in this regard are far from unique to them or the United States, where the Lobby is based. The issue was recently discussed extensively in the United Kingdom Press. See, by way of example: Dunton, Jim “Architects’ willingness to work long hours blamed for overtime culture”. The Architect’s Journal, London. 20 November, 2014; Waite, Richard. “Hodder: overtime problems are ‘legacy of fee cutting’” The Architect’s Journal, London. 26 November, 2014.