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July 12, 2012

(YGWYPF) You get what you pay for.

There is an old Chinese saying: 一分一分, "yi fen qian, yi fen huo" (pronounced ee fen chee-ahn, ee fen hoo-oh), which gets translated into the post title ‘You get what you pay for.’ 

People are accustomed to understand the adage when they buy a luxury car, an apartment or an iPhone. Surprisingly, they pretend to forget it when they are commissioning an Architect. The curious fact is, an architect’s role has a lot of subjectivity into it that one will not be able to gauge it from the receiving end. (You could easily compare the features between a Merc and an Audi before signing the cheque).


Conventionally architects offer their fees in a few tried and tested methods, depending on one's convenience. We ask for a ‘percentage’ of the total cost of the project or specify a fee per square foot or go for a lump sum rounded off fee or charge for the time spent on the project. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages (deserves in itself a few posts). But however one calculates, at the end of the day, it all boil down to the paycheque(s) one receives for the project.

Though clients do, many a time, understand that the final product quality very much depends on a wide array of measurable parameters, they prefer to cut on the fee part. Apart from the inherent urge to bargain, this happens for various reasons. He may not be able to convincingly measure the ‘design’ value as against the weight of metal gone into the making of a machine. The effect of collective social aesthetics onto the overall quality of design is discussed in detail in the post ‘Architecture as a Profession’.  The real skills of an architect take years to get perfected (if only it become perfect!) and client may not be able to appreciate the quality it brings along. When we talk about bigger projects, one bad design decision can prove be catastrophic! (Examples plenty). Ignorance about the proceedings can also be a decisive factor.

The real concern is the effect a low fee has on the final product. One wont be able to put in the best (or enough) resources into the project. He will sure try to cut on the billable hours of quality professionals. Most of the coordination stuff ends up in the fire fighting of problems created by delegating responsibility to interns! As gratification lessens, one might tend to dilute on the thought process (which may not though happen in all cases). The firm might not be able to afford the real research work and studies likely to happen for a particular project.

Architects are forced to work for a lesser pay for various reasons. It could be the cutthroat competition or the slow economy or the good intention to do a charity. But the saddest part is that, in most of the cases, less pay results in substandard work.


  1. You get what u pay for....
    It’s true in all senses of life...
    Personally I have been struggling between both, creative/functional aspect of any design and getting 'correctly' paid for the work (in a given time frame)... n I believe that’s the case with most of the architects, particularly in initial years, when they want to work more...they want to show their 'talent' or design capabilities.....at the same time standing 'financially in the society is an important issue in this materialistic world.
    One important reason is cut throat competition out there in the field....which is not only with the fellow architects, but wt civil engineers...diploma guys...other builders/contractors who have considerable experience in construction industry... for eg. If an architect can design an apartment building, so does an engineer can…people may find many, who, out of their experiences in the construction industry become so called designers. Also scope of Design is questionable and debatable too. I mean, in a given project, how much do we actually design? The final output is governed by many forceful factors (May be building byelaws, may be clients logical / illogical requirements or even economics).
    moreover...what I have observed is (in today’s context) that every second person knows bout construction...they know what is sq. ft or even they know what is FAR/FSI....design in turn becomes questionable by one and all....it is not left as an artist’s own work...
    Above all, as per the above image, I don’t know how many people actually take architects as creative personalities. (The context is more ‘difficult’ in mediocre cities). There are architects who like to add the word ‘engineer’ in front of their name apart from the word ‘architect’.
    We actually grow up (as students of architecture) with imbibing philosophy “ architecture is a noble profession…….n so on…n so forth” may be because of the word ‘art’ in the definition of architecture.
    I have seen an artist friend (a faculty too) who is actually a sculptor, whose fingers can make anybody’s true copy in mud or in various materials, struggling like anything in the field (one must c his works). Same is the case with architects.
    So what can be the solution?
    1. The society needs to be taught. Taught about the ‘noble profession’, about the inherent ‘art ‘in it.
    2. Building byelaws should be such that, which take care of an architect’s presence in the society. In the sense, my suggestion can be that designing any building should be whole and sole responsibility of an architect (and nobody else). Probably than only, architects will be on riding seats.
    3. Recently u must have heard about ‘architects bill 2010’. In think we must raise our voices for necessary changes in it. The way government or even the society treats Chartered Accountants, architects should be treated similarly. Not only their fees, but the ‘design’ capabilities of an architect (which no engineer is equipped with) should be highlighted.

    (binu, please pardon me, since I am not of a ‘writer’ type person. I wrote what came to my mind; above sentences may not have been arranged logically. Will add more if something comes in the thought process..)

  2. Boss, thanks for the thoughtful (and long!) comment :)
    The difficulties in profession are also discussed in the post 'Architecture as a profession', which echoes similar concerns.

    Poptani, you are always welcome with your comments. Nobody is a 'writer' here...only attempting to share a few thoughts!