Show me the MONEY!

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a middle of an exchange between my boss and the architect we are sharing office space with. The two were once college classmates. They were discussing a project where the client would need the services of a licensed architect however, he would not be able to afford the professional services. By the way, the client is a friend of my boss. My boss helped him with the layout and provided him with drawings to which to build from but the project required filing with the DOB as advised by the landlord, hence the need for a licensed architect.

In the conversation my boss advised the architect that instead of payment, the client would be able to barter some artwork for architectural services. And in fact, what he was asking for was a favor. The architect accepted the favor without further thought.

I was surprised and disappointed by this. And apparently, this is acceptable practice by some architects. There are a couple of things I find troubling about architects who agree to barter for their services. One, no contract. In a profession where architects are constantly protecting themselves from blame or lawsuits with lots of architectural, construction, and legal jargon in our documents, it boggles my mind when an architect elects to not bother with these formalities. Two, I don’t know any architect who is 100% satisfied with their salary or fees (next blog post?) so why get paid with anything other than money? Yes, I know that “money isn’t everything” or “money doesn’t buy you happiness” but you know what? Money pays the bills!

I would have less issue with bartering (I still don’t agree with it) if the architect is self-employed (and financially sufficient), works out of their home office, and has no staff. However, what I witnessed was not the case.

Wikipedia defines favor as the following:

As an activity, a favor is a deed in which help is voluntarily provided.

It may be used as an alternative to monetary compensations in the form of currency, or other items of value. A drawback compared to objects is that the value of a favor is hard to estimate, and depends on the situation and the person providing it.

The other issue that annoys me is the regard of an architect’s professional license and his responsibility to the built environment as a “favor”. It is debasing, insulting, and offensive. What we do on a day-to-day basis is not like being asked to water someone’s houseplants or feed the cat while they go on vacation. The work that we do requires creative thinking and is time-consuming. It’s not very often that an architect is approached with a no-brainer task. And even if someone does approach them with a simple task, a professional architect is going to take the time to make sure that whatever they do complies with city codes and regulations because their license is at stake.

I know I am taking a rather hard-line view on this subject but I view architectural practice as a professional business, and should be conducted as such. I’m not suggesting that architects can not be flexible in order to meet the client requests but I don’t think the actions an architect decides to take should compromise the profession and those who work hard to maintain a professional image of an architect. And very often it does because I’ve been given that resigned response of “that’s what’s done” by a previous employer on an employer v. employee issue that I pointed out as poor practice. I did not agree with his response, and I especially did not appreciate his attitude of architects perpetuating poor practice from mentor to apprentice.

In a profession where we are supposed to learn from seasoned architects so we may become proud professionals wouldn’t you agree that architects should be mindful and uphold the integrity of what it means to be an architect?


2 thoughts on “Show me the MONEY!

  1. Interesting subject. I have heard of practices doing residential properties taking a unit rather than a fee when their practices are cash rich. This is then out into a pension and used for renting out or even entertaining clients. I also wonder how the tax side of things can be dealt with, it may be different in the U.S. but surely there must be tax to be paid on the earnings.

    • You’re supposed to report the tax associated with the value of what you were “paid” in the states. But if they’re willing to barter, i would think they would not bother with paying their taxes then.

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