We live in a service economy. No matter what business you are in—manufacturing,
supplying, sales, retail or services—you have to excel at service to stay competitive. Customers not only demand that their expectations be met, they want to have, and are accustomed to having, their expectations exceeded—and at "nano speed."
The built environment is no exception. Today's clients demand a level of service and professionalism that goes beyond the ability of any one person or profession to satisfy. The successful firms will be the ones that can adapt to this new business model.
The days of the design generalist are rapidly waning, and with them must go
the archaic mindset that views architects, interior designers and engineers, among others, as adversaries. The fact is, for quite some time now, the marketplace has necessitated the use of teams of architects, interior designers and other specialists to execute a project's requirements. The complexity of these projects demands a variety of skill sets that are beyond the scope of one profession. The vast range of available product, rapid developments in technology, increased and evolving regulation, and the general trend toward "better, faster, cheaper" make it impossible to keep up with it all.
Nearly 100 years ago, Walter Gropius predicted a future of professionals teaming to create the best solution for a client. He saw building as the fruit of a collective endeavor, not the product of a single "star" architect or designer.
"Architects, [interior designers,] painters and sculptors," he said, "must recognize anew and learn to grasp the composite character of a building both as an entity and in its separate parts. Only then will their work be imbued with the architectonic spirit which it has lost as 'salon art.' Together let us desire, conceive and create the new structure of the future, which will embrace architecture and [interior design and] sculpture and painting in one unity and which will one day rise toward heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith."
Hence, the rather cryptic title for this article. We are all familiar with the Latin tag e pluribus unum prominently displayed on the currency we use. It means "from the many, one," in reference to our nation's democratic principles and the confederation of states. In that spirit, I would like to suggest a motto for the future of our professions: e pluribus
praestantia. Roughly it translates (my apologies to any Latin scholars out there): "from the many, excellence." Praestantia refers not just to excellence in the sense of a job well done, but, almost literally, excellence in the sense of "out-standing," of achieving what has not been achieved before. That was Gropius' vision for our professions, and it should be ours.
For those skeptics who may still be reading at this point, be assured I am aware there are issues of business rivalry and survival at stake. Fraternity is always easier when the parties involved are not competing for the same dollar. What I am suggesting is that clients are shaping the marketplace so that the old rivalries are quickly becoming passé. We must embrace a collaborative culture to provide service beyond our clients' expectations. They are demanding it, and all our economic survival depends on it. Each profession can build upon the skills of the other, bringing a greater level of richness to the end product, as well as a greater depth of insight into clients' needs. It is time the individual professions stopped talking about the challenge (or threat) arising from this market shift, and time we begin to talk collectively about the opportunities it presents for us to work together. Let us acknowledge each other as the professionals we are and pool our talents and resources to create built environments that set new standards for excellence.
ASID National President H. Don Bowden is founder of his own firm, H. Don Bowden-Architect, in Mobile, AL. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3580; fax (202) 546-3240; www.asid.org.