“Fasten your seat belts, because things happen very quickly. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to hold onto staff when you don't have the work. Because of the diversity of our projects, we didn't really feel the last two downturns, but combined with all the other issues, this one seems to have the potential to be more severe, because it's affecting not only the private sector but also local, county, and state governments.”
—Suman Sorg, FAIA, Sorg and Associates, Washington, D.C.
“Know no job that you are too good or too talented to do; hope that you said ‘thanks' to those you passed on the way up the ladder; and give at least 110 percent to get a new client and 150 percent to keep him.”
—James L. Strickland, Historical Concepts, Peachtree City, Ga.
“Don't panic, but be realistic about your workload and the staff it will take to complete it. The most painful thing I have to do in my practice is letting people go because there isn't enough work. I take this as a personal failure, because I know how hard my staff has worked. You can only survive this downturn by facing the facts and preserving the assets of the firm, which can take many forms: less hours, pay cuts, staff reductions, etc. If you have mentors who are in a business other than architecture, now's the time to reach out for advice. Most will probably advise to cut soon and cut deep. We have to realize it's a business and we have to make the hard business decisions.”
—Donald Jacobs, AIA, JZMK Partners, Irvine, Calif.
“Some of our clients who are traders are saying this one is going to be long and deep. In this climate, you have to be prepared to do anything. Enter competitions or attend more seminars, because you have time for them. Be flexible and stay optimistic. Train as an interior designer. Write articles and do research—especially on sustainable products. Institutional work will go on, so get on the list, even though it may mean working on mediocre buildings. Volunteer where you can. You have to put yourself out there. Don't give up.”
—Margaret McCurry, FAIA, IIDA, ASID, Tigerman McCurry Architects, Chicago
“There's a large number of places in the United States small towns—that are radically underserved by designers. If I were graduating from school now, I would get in a car with an itinerant team of people who know a complementary set of skills and go to a county in Alabama or Nebraska. I would go to the planning department and ask who the progressive mayors are and say, What can we offer in design services? Sketch a fire station, or a housing development, and then go and get grants. Like small-town doctors, they could become small-town architects, circuit-riding designers. It would be like traveling bards in the Middle Ages. There are interiors of restaurants in New York City that receive more design services than entire counties in the suburbs.”
—Andrés Duany, FAIA, Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., Miami
“There aren't easy answers. Looking back, the architects who managed in the long run to benefit from a recession used that time to look at what else they could be doing. They managed to move into new areas that were growing, which are the areas that tend to be strong after a recession. A lot of architects who in the last recession were doing nothing but private work figured out how to leverage their experience into institutional work, and now they're handling this recession better. One of the biggest mistakes is to cut marketing expenses. You should be out talking to people—that's hugely important at a time like this.”
—David Dixon, FAIA, Goody Clancy, Boston
“Look at product design ideas that address overlooked social and environmental needs. A lot of them have to do with the design of communities. Then you've got to start looking at your office and doing the things you hate, like trimming back talented staff. I've been through, I don't know, six downturns? I've lost track. This one's much different because there are so many factors causing it. You can't put your finger on just one thing.”
—Barry A. Berkus, AIA, Berkus Design Studio, Scottsdale, Ariz., and B3 Architects, Santa Barbara, Calif.
“Just do good work. Whatever commission you have, make it the best you've ever done. Nothing sells like good work.”
—Frank D. Welch, FAIA, Frank Welch and Associates, Dallas
“Get lean fast! I think firms don't understand how quickly money runs out. It doesn't mean not doing any project PR, but it does mean really curtailing expenses. One of the things that keeps you from not having enough work is being in more than one market. There are still things going on—public work, planning, low-income housing. [The downturn has] been so abrupt, at least in California: it felt like the bottom fell out in about five seconds. Contractors ran out of work immediately. That makes me think people are not only not commissioning new work but canceling work already commissioned. It's hard to tell how bad things are going to get.”
—Anne Fougeron, AIA, Fougeron Architecture, San Francisco
“Don't panic. Continue to focus on what you do best. Steer your practice with a steady hand, but don't ignore the warning signs when they appear. Downsize your practice to match your workload when necessary. Position your practice to catch the upturn when it comes and see this circumstance as an opportunity to be a more resourceful architect. Every downturn is different. One of the big differences in our current situation is that it has emerged, in part, from a loss of confidence in the residential real estate market. Projects that were based on economic models of continued rising values were the first to collapse. This may signal the beginning of some new trends. For one, people will return to the idea that one's home is primarily a place to live—not the keystone of one's investment portfolio. And there may be a new emphasis on improving, adding on, and remodeling existing homes instead of trading up—a sustainable strategy.”
—Peter Q. Bohlin, FAIA, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.