I was interviewing an individual the other day and going over his past experience as a superintendent. He had an extensive body of work and a very impressive resume. As with many people in his industry, he spent most of his career with the same company doing similar projects. So similar that as I asked him rough square feet of his projects, he was able to guess with reasonable accuracy right on the spot. The reason he knew this was because the buildings I asked him about were of the same type and designed by the same architect. For practical purposes, the buildings were essentially the same.
This information wasn't new to me. It's a practice that's been used in the suburban housing markets for a very long time. You take a plan you know works, make a few client modifications and then have the architect or engineer sign off on them. This predicament is discouraging to me and many other young architects. Most of us went to school because we want to be designers. What most of us end up doing is redlining existing drawings and processing RFI's. This work is useful to us, no doubt, but after a while it can suck the life right out of you. There are also plenty of non-architect types who are happy to do this work for us.
So my question is this: If we go into architecture because we want to be designers, why is design the first thing on the chopping block. The answer is pretty simple, it's the easiest way to cut costs and be competitive against other firms who are doing the same thing. It's also a great way to reduce liability when you know you have a set of drawings that work, and probably won't get sued. These are reasonable concerns by architectural firms and I in no way want to belittle them, but I wonder what we can do to get more design back into the practice of architecture. I'd love to hear some thoughts!