The architectural profession is a product of the architect. It was created to legitimatize the architect’s role, provide protection from litigation, codify and distribute professional services, and establish direct and definite compensation for said services. Now, the profession has become disabling through economic recessions and the broad democratization of expertise and liability in the field. With the addition of the everchanging influences of digital technology, the profession needs to radically change or risk falling victim to the increased broad democratization of expertise through big data and data sharing, expert systems, and automation. However, technology will not just simply replace the professionals but rather augment their abilities so that they can
work smarter, faster, and more thoroughly. It will allow the profession to consider not the holistic professional job of the future but rather a more decomposed view of roles, tasks, and activities—all of which will be differently affected by technology in degree and timing. This techno-professional architect, akin to the pre-modern master builder, would not only possess the theoretical knowledge of design and a knowledge of building construction, but also become the devisor of the means and methods of construction through this they would assume all liabilities and all compensation.

Numerous authors looked to the largest firms of the early 20th century to comprehend implications of team-based practices for post-war architectural production (Kubo, 2014). Henry-Russell Hitchcock, American architectural historian, predicted the major categories of the “Architecture of Bureaucracy” and the “Architecture of Genius” in his 1947 article. Hitchcock states postwar architecture would be distinguished “not by style, but by economy of production,” in which a new professional entity would meet the increasing scale and scope of design tasks – “the bureaucratic office.” This model can be seen in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, founded in 1936, Nathaniel Owings states, “we were not after jobs as such. We were after leverage to influence social and environmental conditions. To work, we must have volume…volume meant power.” Another model can be described through The Architects Collaborative (TAC), founded in 1945, of which included Gropius, who led the Bauhaus and later the Harvard GSD). The team is described as generalists able to critique each other’s work rather than parceling out tasks. Gropius’ argument was collaboration across disciplines would “allow architecture to recover the ideal of integration represented by the pre-industrial figure of the master builder in context of postwar industrial society” (Kubo, 2014). An interdisciplinary way of working, thus, became a new ideal to replace the title of Master Builder, in so doing, the spirit of anonymity and team-based ethos reigned for the efforts of collaboration, and furthers the professed squandering of an architect’s agency.   

Looking to our current ‘post’-COVID state, recent viralities express working conditions of management and labor - Peggy Deamer, architectural educator and founding member of the Architecture Lobby, asserts in her article “(Un)Free Work: Architecture, Labour and Self-Determination” that “for us architects, freedom,” here interpreted as agency, “is illusive not because it is ambiguous, contradictory or uncontested, but because it is an abstraction. In other words, it is not that we cannot agree on a definition of freedom or that we cannot trust in its possibility; rather, as long as it is not experienced, it is unknowable.” Deamer argues that the content of a practice’s work is fundamentally transformed beginning from the workplace. This brings me to the topic of Worker-Cooperatives as future alternates for small practices. In sharing the basic resources of financing, administration, PR, HR, consultants, and of the like, this mode of profession envisages a collectivity in not only making the work happen, but also allowing those producing the work ownership stakes and freedom of choice in terms of what is made.

— Jacob Stinson, 2020; Jennifer Li, 2022

1.  Assembling the Architect by George Johnston, publ. 2020
2. “The Concept of the Architectural Corporation,” by Michael Kubo in OfficeUS Agenda, publ. 2014
3. “(Un)Free Work: Architecture, Labour and Self-Determination,” by Peggy Deamer, 2018