Architecture for the Everyman

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of being interviewed by Salomé Reeves for her (x)Architect series.  One of the questions she had for me was something I hadn’t thought about all that much, but clearly should have.  Salomé asked, “Why do you think architects are often conceived as expensive accessories in the eyes of the general public?”  This question gets to the root of a conundrum that many of us have: we want to do exciting designs, but our potential client base is just a fraction of the population of people who wish to acquire, build or alter space, with only a limited subset of them committed (financially and otherwise) to high design.  I wondered: why don’t average people consult an architect more often?

The answer is probably the same as why they choose to file their own taxes instead of hiring an accountant, use online legal services instead of seeing an attorney, apply home remedies before making a doctor’s appointment, and fix their own leaky pipe instead of calling the plumber.  It’s easier, faster and more convenient to take care of things yourself instead of bringing in a professional.  Actually, if we take a look at human history, the idea of being a jack of all trades is far more prevalent than the idea of specializing.  People have been building their own homes for millenia.  In antiquity, architects, when they are so acknowledged, were very high status individuals who worked for the likes of the Pharaoh or Emperor.  Even in the age of master builders, and the emergence of the architect as a professional during the Renaissance, talents were reserved for a client base of the rich, the royal and the religious.  Perhaps the historical status of these patrons as well as the fact that works commissioned by them were intended to inspire awe has gone to our collective heads.  When we see architecture for the masses, it’s often in the form of some grand utopian vision.  It’s no wonder that the masses have soundly rejected these visions and continued to resonate with their traditional understandings of home, neighborhood and city.

The market share of the everyman requires a whole different paradigm on the way we understand design services.
People have always been able to build their own spaces. In today’s world, the developer has taken over for the do-it-yourselfer of the past. Expectations are not particularly high for space because most people don’t know what they don’t have. If your house looks pretty much like you expect a house to look and you have a nice lawn and nice decor inside, you feel good about it. Same thing with your business. A custom architect-designed home is just not something that could ever be affordable to most people - the design time alone would be exorbitant. And as an architect, we would have to take this time in order to deliver a good product.

But what if we didn't?  What if instead of looking at a traditional scope of services, and grousing that we can't do it cheaper, we instead delivered services that appealed to the affordability and convenience of the self-made project? We need to get on the other end of the innovation curve.  If we want people to appreciate our work, we must first help them begin to demand better, then find ways to make our work more available. This may mean that we create a kit of parts and some You-Tube videos about what to do with them and let people play. They’d still be paying us for a product and service, but it would be a whole lot more affordable. I also think that there would be a greater appreciation of design if people had more ability to modify their space to get it to work best for them. They’d stop settling for environments where they actually have to develop work-arounds to function and start noticing how and why other people choose to configure their space in a different way.

I have posted a poll on facebook to allow readers to weigh in on their view of accessibility in architecture.  Please visit  and let our community know whether you think we should redefine who we include in our client base and how to best go about reaching this new audience.