Lessons From The Past

Lessons From The Past

We just came across a story (above) by David Dunlap in the New York Times whose headline reads: Recession Is Ravaging Architectural Firms. In it architects bemoan the state of the industry and make claims like “it will never be the same again,” and “I’ve had the chance to see a lot of ups and downs. This one, to me, is without a doubt the worst.” Dunlap suggests that ‘Now, having shrunk, firms may decide to stay smaller.’ And one architect thinks this is the next Great Depression: “We don’t see a way out, a real turning point, until the end of the decade. If you’re talking about no significant work until the latter half of the decade, you’re talking about a situation that is somewhat similar to the 1930’s.”

Surprise! This isn’t a recent story. It’s dated May 17, 1992. So apparently people always think their recession is the worst, and that things will never get back to the way they were. But so far they’ve always been wrong.

So don’t listen to people like this guy, who back then claimed, “We are never going to reach the employment levels we demanded in the 80’s… “We are never going to be fully employed at the level we’ve been turning out students.”

Not that looking at the past doesn’t teach valuable lessons. Said one wise architect, “There’s been a realization on a lot of firms’ parts that they need to begin adjusting the focus of their practice.They will also be competing for work farther and farther afield.”

Others were more specific:

“It’s high time,” said David M. Childs, the chairman of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. “We’ve cleaned house and it’s been extremely healthy. We’ve been forced to make decisions we knew we had to make five or six years ago that we didn’t want to make or didn’t have time to make.”

The recession, said Eugene Kohn, prompted Kohn Pedersen Fox to explore new kinds of buildings and technology, overseas ventures and smaller but architecturally challenging commissions. “The negative is obviously the sadness of letting go of very good people you care about,” he said. “But the chance to rethink the structure and the philosophical approach of your firm is a good thing.”

We’re in a new business,” said Richard Roth Jr., chairman of Emery Roth & Sons, a 94-year-old firm. “We saw the handwriting on the wall that architecture is not going to be the bread and butter of the 1990’s, so we formed an interiors company” — Emery Roth & Sons Interior Design/Facilities Management. The new company will probably generate 35 to 40 percent of all income for Emery Roth this year.

“A lot of commercially oriented firms are now trying to scramble around to develop an understanding and expertise in the institutional market — health care and criminal justice buildings,” said  Jerry A. Davis, managing principal in the New York office of Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum.