A Sign of the Times

Architecture & Interiors

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A nickel for architecture is no joke.  It's a thriving business and one that just
might out live the recession.

If you drop by the farmer's market in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, you 
can buy juicy red tomatoes, ripe clusters of grapes, and architecture.  In a booth
inspired by Lucy's psychiatry stand from the comic strip, Peanuts, architect John
Morefield dishes out sage advice for five cents.  Morefield can help you decide
where to add a staircase, or sketch out a new roof plan, or suggest the name 
of a drywall contractor.  

After being laid off twice last year, Morefield joined the growing ranks of 
unemployed architects whose jobs were cut because of the economic
downturn.  Rather than change professions, or move to another city to find work, 
Morefield took a more radical turn:  he dropped his prices to a nickel and set up 
shop in a farmer's market.   Business has been booming.  Of course, Morefield is
not designing an entire house for five cents, which he donates to the Ballard 
Food Bank.  He is answering questions in order to create leads. Everyone leaves 
with a business card.

Morefield is busy expanding his operation.  At his web site,
architecture5cents.com you can pay a nickel and receive architectural advice or 
you can join the Architecture 5¢ movement and become a franchisee.  This means you get your own booth, website, license to use the "Architecture 5¢" trademark, a blog, etc, etc.
Morefield says that he wants other architects to get "out on their streets, engaging their
communities." But he is also offering a business strategy for generating new clients.

Is Morefield driving down the value of architecture or is he simply making the 
idea of hiring an architect more accessible? One thing is certain, if the economy 
continues to worsen, we might see other professions set up booths in their local
farmer's market.  Keep your eyes peeled for "Medical Advice 5¢."  
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  1. archi_snob

    Mar 27, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    It seems like he might be pandering to the lowest common denominator? I wonder how this changes people’s expectations of what architects get paid. I’d say ‘yes’

  2. Dominique

    Mar 27, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    I have mixed feelings about this. I think it’s fantastic that he’s out there engaging his community and has found a novel way of creating leads. The issue however is putting a perceived value on architectural services that is so very low. In my experience, those who get free or low cost architectural advice very rarely have any intention of paying even half of a traditional architectural fee further down the line. One may argue that charging half a traditional fee is warranted in times like these, but I can’t agree with that either. Even for the smallest of small architectural firms, the costs of insurance, registration, supplies, staff, computers and/or drafting equipment, printers etc…it all stacks up very, very quickly. Not to mention that the knowledge of an architectural degree and within the industry itself are worth something too. In fact, knowledge and experience are almost all architects have to separate themselves from other building designers and design/construct companies who will often do the work at a fraction of the cost (and more often than not, a fraction of the quality too).
    I worked for an architectural firm for over 4 years that provided low cost advice services, and in that time, out of the hundreds and hundreds of clients, only 2 turned into projects. Both ran at a loss. It was little to do with the quality of the work of the firm, and more to do with the clients attitude that it was just a case of “drawing it up”, how hard could it be? One client changed the entire brief of her scheme over 50 times (I kid you not, we exhausted the alphabet), and still didn’t understand why we couldn’t alter the scheme overnight.
    To promote these low cost advice services, we even went to a building exhibition and set up our own stall. I lost count of how many times I heard people say “An architect? What do they do?”, and let’s not mention how many times I was abused for being “too expensive” before I’d even said a word. To drop our perceived worth to the other end of the spectrum does no favors to any of us, in hard times or in good.

  3. Orlando

    Mar 27, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    I agree with Dominique, that architects are the least compensated of all the ‘professions’ and are often their own worst enemy by accepting low fees. I applaud Morefeild for his ingenuity and guts for getting out there to drum up work, but pandering to low fees is killing the profession.

  4. Carlos Saldivia

    Mar 30, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    There was a lawyer that gave legal advice in the early nineties somewhere in the San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles), at a hot dog stand on Monday nights..The line was a round the corner..Don’t know if he is still doing it..I caught an interview on the news once, and he said that he did it to create leads (with a precise limitations), and for his part–do good for the community..
    I disagree that this is pandering or ruining the image of the profession, on the contrary, I have even more respect for architects because of Mr. Morefield..

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