Why Architects Matter

Kirk Narburgh, a partner at King + King Architects and a past president of AIA CNY, wrote about architects in the Readers' Page of the Post-Standard. Here is his letter:

A recent study by Georgetown University's Center for Education and the Workforce shows that architecture majors have the highest levels of unemployment: 14 percent among bachelor's graduates ages 22 to 26. Surprised? Don't be. Consider this: Prior to 2008, the construction industry was roughly 10 percent of overall gross domestic product, whereas now it is less than 6 percent. That is a staggering decline, mostly due to a bad economy. But demand for architectural services will rapidly increase in the future. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is projecting a 2.1 percent increase in construction spending this year already (following several years of declines), with a jump to a 6.4 percent increase in 2013. Looking further ahead, we predict that by 2035, 75 percent of the built environment will be new construction or undergo substantial renovations. As the U.S. economy recovers, pent-up demand will create the need for design expertise in the construction of new buildings. Existing buildings will be adapted to serve new functions and, most importantly, to meet critical new environmental standards. It is well known that our public spaces and infrastructure, in large cities and small towns, need renovation and modernization. Global demand for innovative design remains strong. When the economy recovers, we need the right people doing the right work. If we don't, the ramifications will affect more than just the architecture profession - everyone will lose out on the missed opportunity to improve our communities and aging infrastructure. So while headlines in The Washington Post like, ''Want a Job? Go to College and Don't Major in Architecture'' make for good copy and increase page views, they are also reactive and shortsighted. Consider what life would be like without architects. Who is directly involved at the ground level of rebuilding efforts following natural disasters? Who would you want designing a hospital where you or a loved one stays after surgery, or designing an educational building for our future leaders? Architects are vital to the health and well-being of our neighborhoods, cities and communities. During the recession of the early 1990s, which severely affected the real estate industry, so many young architects left the profession because of bleak job prospects that they became known as the ''Lost Generation.'' This left a gaping void of young talent in the design and construction sector once conditions improved. If this happens again, it will hamper the global competitiveness not only of U.S. design and construction firms, but of other industries that look to architects to help them grow and flourish. Given the challenges that many of our cities and regions currently face, we should be encouraging students to engage in architectural practice and related design disciplines. The worst thing that could come out of this survey's findings would be for a student interested in and passionate about architecture to abandon his or her career plans simply because the industry has been adversely and disproportionately affected by the overall recent economic woes. Talented individuals have selected architecture as a career for generations, based on the desire to improve the built environment, not just for the money or for the short-term rewards. This is still the case and it is important to note how many dedicated young people still select the profession and work hard, patiently waiting for the appropriate position and compensation, and the opportunity to contribute to improving the architecture of our country and others around the globe.