Architecture and the recession, Boulder

As a follow up to my post late last fall on the impact of the recession on architects, especially the newly graduated, there is a good article over at The Blue Line on the plunge in construction activity in Boulder over the last year.  From 2007 to the end of 2009 there was a drop of 75% in construction activity (includes demos and new construction).  As most architecture offices run pretty thin, my guess is that reflects the devastating decline in number of hours worked by architects.  That makes probably 50% unemployment and 50% underemployed.  Those are just guesses, but they parallel the trials of my self, my friends and colleagues over the last two years.  Can it get any worse?

There are plenty of folks in Boulder who are probably glad to see architects out of work.  They view architects, like developers, as the evil harbingers of McMansions, density and the wholesale destruction of Boulder’s way of life.  They think architects and their ilk are overpaid and in general, a pain in the ass.  Read any editorials or unsolicited comments about development or building issues in Boulder and the invective is unmistakable.

They are wrong, but unlikely to change their opinions.  The reason that Boulder has more architects per capita than almost any other city in America is that architects understand and appreciate what “quality of life” really is.  It is our job to know this.  It is our everyday task to bring this ephemeral, slippery thing called quality of life to our clients and the public.  There are no better champions of quality of life issues in Boulder than its architects.  It was architects that pushed forward the proposal to purchase Open Space 50 years ago.  It was architects that envisioned and implemented the pedestrian mall of Pearl Street.  It was architects that preserved the charm and scale of neighborhoods like Mapleton Hill and Chautauqua.

With the dire economic times, architects are leaving Boulder.  And with them go some of the finest admirers, valiant defenders and most ardent supporters of all that most Boulderites hold dear.

m. gerwing architect's anniversary

April Fool’s Day is not-coincidentally, the anniversary of M. Gerwing Architects.  I am very happy to say that although I waited many years to start my own office and I choose probably the worse time in the last 75 years or so to do so, we are still operating, if not thriving.  The national economy went into a steep decline in June 2007, a mere three months after our launch.  That has meant that we have been in a recession for at least 28 of the 36 months of existence and that’s if you take the “official” start at Dec. 07, not earlier as many folks do.

All of this is pretty sobering but worth reflecting on because we are still busy, albeit with more and smaller projects.

I would like to thank my wife Kate and my girls Elli and Ems for putting up with an often quite stressed husband and dad and my architect friends who have given so much good advice and support – Kate Iverson, Jim Walker, Nick Fiore, Wayne Northcut, Stacey Root, Meredith and John Bacus.

And of course and maybe most critically, my clients who have put their faith in us:  Summer and Robert, Liz and Eric, Andrea and Dan, Mark and Magda, Stan and Susan, Rita, Wendy and Dan, Karen and Dan, Rhonda and Doug, Scott and Calvin, Eva and Tony, Caroline and Drew, Wicker Park and Bucktown SSA, Mollie and Evan, Annika and Will, Marilyn and Marvin, Alec, Mara and Peter and Robin and Steve.

I am so grateful to be going to work everyday and doing what I love, the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.

Thanks y’all.

(Also just found out I was appointed to the City of Boulder’s Landmark Preservation Board – a good omen.)

m. gerwing architect’s anniversary

April Fool’s Day is not-coincidentally, the anniversary of M. Gerwing Architects.  I am very happy to say that although I waited many years to start my own office and I choose probably the worse time in the last 75 years or so to do so, we are still operating, if not thriving.  The national economy went into a steep decline in June 2007, a mere three months after our launch.  That has meant that we have been in a recession for at least 28 of the 36 months of existence and that’s if you take the “official” start at Dec. 07, not earlier as many folks do.

All of this is pretty sobering but worth reflecting on because we are still busy, albeit with more and smaller projects.

I would like to thank my wife Kate and my girls Elli and Ems for putting up with an often quite stressed husband and dad and my architect friends who have given so much good advice and support – Kate Iverson, Jim Walker, Nick Fiore, Wayne Northcut, Stacey Root, Meredith and John Bacus.

And of course and maybe most critically, my clients who have put their faith in us:  Summer and Robert, Liz and Eric, Andrea and Dan, Mark and Magda, Stan and Susan, Rita, Wendy and Dan, Karen and Dan, Rhonda and Doug, Scott and Calvin, Eva and Tony, Caroline and Drew, Wicker Park and Bucktown SSA, Mollie and Evan, Annika and Will, Marilyn and Marvin, Alec, Mara and Peter and Robin and Steve.

I am so grateful to be going to work everyday and doing what I love, the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.

Thanks y’all.

(Also just found out I was appointed to the City of Boulder’s Landmark Preservation Board – a good omen.)

recession’s architecture impact

I graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1990.  Times were tough for architects, especially inexperienced ones without good contacts.  I managed to get and keep a number of jobs in a few years that kept me in the profession, retreating to grad school along the way.

However, so many of my fellow graduates, faced with a tough economy, low pay, student loans, layoffs and mind-numbing aggravation of the day-to-day tasks of young interns, either dropped out or were forced out of architecture.  The huge glut of baby-boomer architects in front of us meant few professional jobs where actual design experience could be had and even less chance of landing one of the rare, tenure-track teaching jobs.

So it was much to my, and many of my colleagues, surprise that being an architect became cool in the late 1990’s.  There were architects on television and the movies and the explosive growth of the culture of international star architects all felt like actions taking place on a very different planet than the one we lived.  Companies and institutions lost faith in open, anonymous competitions and these opportunities dried up for all but the few, usual suspects of the invitation-only “competition”.  Gone were the days that Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano,  Jorn Utzon, and others could make their careers winning open competitions and seeing the buildings to completion.

Rogers, Utzon

But I think none of this compares to the bleak landscape of recently-graduated and young architects today.  The prospect of finding any job at all in architecture or a related field is extremely limited.  Past recessions have seen slow-downs in a region or a type of project (residential or commercial), but the last 2 years have witnessed almost a complete stop to all construction.  (Employment in architecture firms is down almost 20%). The cynical older architects are happy to see this winnowing of the crop, a filtering of only the most dedicated.  However, most likely this recession will only further reinforce the reality that for the most part, architecture should be pursued by only those who are either independently wealthy or willing to work for wages that won’t keep up with school loan payments.

I get a lot resumes and work samples sent to me.  There is a tremendous amount of talent and drive out there that has no outlet in architecture.  There are thousands of great buildings that will not come to be, an unbelievable loss to our built environment.  When so much of our country fears the future, the prospects for architecture are indeed bleak.  Architecture proposes the new, it looks to the future.  Even the most world-weary and hip-tragic architect gets really excited about making buildings, proposing new ideas and forms. The recession hasn’t just stopped or slowed the amount of work available, it has fostered an environment of fear, where architecture seems an expensive amenity in a threadbare future.

Let’s hope that when things turn around, there will be some architects left who are are not so cynical or set-in-their-ways, that a new generation of buildings can designed and built that celebrate life on this planet not just mere existence.

recession's architecture impact

I graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1990.  Times were tough for architects, especially inexperienced ones without good contacts.  I managed to get and keep a number of jobs in a few years that kept me in the profession, retreating to grad school along the way.

However, so many of my fellow graduates, faced with a tough economy, low pay, student loans, layoffs and mind-numbing aggravation of the day-to-day tasks of young interns, either dropped out or were forced out of architecture.  The huge glut of baby-boomer architects in front of us meant few professional jobs where actual design experience could be had and even less chance of landing one of the rare, tenure-track teaching jobs.

So it was much to my, and many of my colleagues, surprise that being an architect became cool in the late 1990’s.  There were architects on television and the movies and the explosive growth of the culture of international star architects all felt like actions taking place on a very different planet than the one we lived.  Companies and institutions lost faith in open, anonymous competitions and these opportunities dried up for all but the few, usual suspects of the invitation-only “competition”.  Gone were the days that Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano,  Jorn Utzon, and others could make their careers winning open competitions and seeing the buildings to completion.

Rogers, Utzon

But I think none of this compares to the bleak landscape of recently-graduated and young architects today.  The prospect of finding any job at all in architecture or a related field is extremely limited.  Past recessions have seen slow-downs in a region or a type of project (residential or commercial), but the last 2 years have witnessed almost a complete stop to all construction.  (Employment in architecture firms is down almost 20%). The cynical older architects are happy to see this winnowing of the crop, a filtering of only the most dedicated.  However, most likely this recession will only further reinforce the reality that for the most part, architecture should be pursued by only those who are either independently wealthy or willing to work for wages that won’t keep up with school loan payments.

I get a lot resumes and work samples sent to me.  There is a tremendous amount of talent and drive out there that has no outlet in architecture.  There are thousands of great buildings that will not come to be, an unbelievable loss to our built environment.  When so much of our country fears the future, the prospects for architecture are indeed bleak.  Architecture proposes the new, it looks to the future.  Even the most world-weary and hip-tragic architect gets really excited about making buildings, proposing new ideas and forms. The recession hasn’t just stopped or slowed the amount of work available, it has fostered an environment of fear, where architecture seems an expensive amenity in a threadbare future.

Let’s hope that when things turn around, there will be some architects left who are are not so cynical or set-in-their-ways, that a new generation of buildings can designed and built that celebrate life on this planet not just mere existence.