Viewpoint (April 01, 2006)

We are living in a healthy economy that continues to forge ahead with new scaffolding, construction cranes and idling concrete mixers. Amidst this thriving economy, fresh architectural graduates are fortunate enough to be able to find work, while larger firms are growing desperate for intelligent young architects with five to ten years of work experience to replace their aging roster of employees, all in hopes of continuing their professional dynasties. At a recent Canadian Architect party in Toronto, several senior architects were quietly asking around for young architects to enlist into their firms. The old guard is beginning to retire and since a generation of architects was essentially lost due to a poor economy in the ’90s, we are now seeing a young crop of talented emerging practitioners who are well positioned to exert their influence on the profession.

Meanwhile, architectural registration bodies haven’t actually been replacing the number of retiring architects. We are slowly eroding as a profession, yet there is definitely still a need for architects to design and manage complex projects. A strong economy and an ever-expanding range of media disseminating design culture has enabled young firms from Montreal or Vancouver to execute challenging and important commissions (so long as they are not more than three storeys in height or more than 600 square metres in gross area). Some of the professional architectural associations in the western provinces for example, are facing the challenge of enticing their regional designers to become registered architects. While gently trying to persuade them to join the fold, the associations have also had to deal with the issue of more senior architects associating themselves with hot young design firms in order to avoid the legal and financial hassles of running a full-fledged practice. So why the aversion to registration? Beyond taking a few licensing exams and filling out one’s experience logbook, the real financial disincentive to registration is not limited to youth, but rather a series of problems that concern the entire spectrum of professional practice, including: the ability to qualify for proposal calls and be shortlisted for jobs; skyrocketing insurance premiums that are out of line with total annual billings; a lack of open and real design competitions that foster regional growth; and finally, getting traction in their respective jurisdictions. Perhaps by bringing in younger talent, there might be a way to beat a path through some of these challenges to innovative practice.

Nevertheless, within established firms across the country, lately there has been a tendency to evolve and refine a firm’s expertise by giving interns and recent graduates important roles in significant projects. Vancouver firms like Busby Perkins + Will or Merrick Architecture have gone so far as to promote thirtysomething architects to senior positions. This trend is repeated across the country, where large firms have found it necessary to nurture young talent in areas that are not just design-related, but which may include business development and project management. Examples of youth and talent can be found in many of the projects discussed in this issue–such as members of Hariri Pontarini Architects, or the diligent intern John Hemsworth who worked with Tony Robins. And the Bryant House was spearheaded by Bruce Haden, a young architect who, along with Alan Boniface, was made a principal in 2001 of a prestigious architecture and urban design firm that was originally established in the mid-1970s by long-time practitioners Norm Hotson and Joost Bakker. While the total number of architects is not growing, a new generation of architects is definitely making its mark earlier on in the career continuum. Perhaps this represents a return to a time in the early 1960s when clients offered architects more daring projects and management offered greater opportunities to their staff, fostering leaders in the process. We can only applaud when the architectural profession puts more faith in its young, providing them with career trajectories that will make their contributions to architecture both relevant and necessary.