How much is your architect worth?

One thing that I feel very strongly about, is the level of professionalism amongst architects. This concerns all possible aspects of our job; management, laws, complicance, technicality, and (my favourite) technological advancement. Now, as many people know, the subject of professionalism among architects is still a very much an issue in Belgium...

from the book Ugly Belgian Houses

from the book Ugly Belgian Houses

Obviously this discussion has two sides to it; what value do you expect for what payment? You can complain about getting bad service, but what are you actually willing to pay for it? Unfortunately, it is a popular habit in Belgium to downplay architects on their real worth, using clichés such as "floaty artists", "the guy you need to pass the building permit", or "that fellow standing in the way who doesn't know about 'real building' ". As a consequence, it is an even more popular habit to not grant them the payment they are due.

500 euro's for a building permit? Anyone?

again, from Ugly Belgian Houses

again, from Ugly Belgian Houses

This injust reasoning is the driver of a perverse, down-ward circle. Architects push their prices ever lower to find some work, while cutting down on service, quality, and social equity. As a consequence, clients get an ever more negative picture of our profession, and obviously don't feel like paying for it...

The result? The widespread use of "fake freelance"-status ("schijnzelfstandigheid"). The underpayment of interns, not in the least by offices who often make the magazines. The tremendous lack of research in what we would call a creative, knowledge-driven profession. The inability to have sufficient impact on legislation and spatial planning. The volatility of an architecture market, rife with small offices coming and more often going...

Ugly Belgian Houses, my absolute favourite. An impressive excercise in trompe-l'ouil somewhere along the Ghent-Aalst regional road.

Ugly Belgian Houses, my absolute favourite. An impressive excercise in trompe-l'ouil somewhere along the Ghent-Aalst regional road.

In this sense, I was very happy to get two messages from the Order of Architects this week:

1) the publication of a standardised contact, issued by the Order, with a complete tick-of list of tasks for the architect ànd client: 
http://www.ordredesarchitectes.be/fr-be/un-architecte-pour-mon-projet/fau
It clearly shows  what parts of our job are actually imposed by law, and which ones recommended and/or optional; as well as explaining what tasks lie with the client. Perhaps it will finally do away with some very popular non-legal arrangements, such as "just having a plan drawn out" and constructing houses without architectural supervision.

2) the publication of a handy online tool to calculate fair architect's fees on the Order's website: http://www.ordredesarchitectes.be/fr-be/un-architecte-pour-mon-projet/outil-de-calcul/. This is based on statistic research by the KUL,  who asked a few hundred architects to count real hours spent on projects according to type, budget, and size. No longer the awkward calculation by percentage on the building's cost, leading to situations where less ethical architects would propose expensive materials to push up their own fees, or where exemplary architects get punished for optimizing building costs.

I would like to warmly invite everyone with dreams of their own house to just try this:
1) calculate your architect's fees based on the classical percentages (7%, 12 for renovation)
2) now calculate your architect's fees again, this time by getting the hours from the online tool, and then multiplying those by any hourly rate you deem appropriate
3) now compare these two results...

In the end, this is not about earning more money. If that were the case, I should just find another profession, instead of moaning about it in this blog.
No, this is about the quality of our built environment (and I hope the recent news shows just how important that environment is to our wellbeing). Architects are to the built environment what doctors are to general health. Like them, we are trained professionals who want two things: 1) make a living, and 2) adhere to our strict deontological code and professional ethics. 

It would be nice if we weren't so often pushed to foresake one for the other...