Trust and the Architecture Profession

How trusted is the architectural profession when it comes to their work and how might they become more trusted?

This post will be full of gross generalisations and inevitably that is how a profession is most often perceived. We should also acknowledge, whilst a profession may be viewed through this generalised prism, we each have agency to individually challenge and change perception.

A post with more questions than answers, provoked by a tweet by Jennifer Crawford about the avoidance of architectural services.

After reading this, I became curious about the reasons for this avoidance. My guess is that there are many and varied reasons, with one undoubtedly the “cost/value equation” as identified by Rachael Bernstone in her reply. Another, I suspect, is trust.

There are many aspects to building trust and it’s important to recognise that building trust is a skill and can be learnt. For the purposes of this post and questioning of the profession around trust, I’ll briefly run through some aspects of building trust.

The most important aspect of trust, for the profession, is transparency. As Brené Brown says, “In the absence of data, we will always make up stories.” People also have a negativity bias, they are more likely to think the worst, not the best. Trust grows in an environment where information is shared and everyone understands the situation.

Capability is equally important. If capability is demonstrated trust builds, the opposite is equally true.

Trust thrives when reliability is demonstrated, and withers in the face of the unreliable.

An open person, one that shares, admits mistakes, is open to feedback, and listens to someone, builds trust.

Respect also establishes and grows trust when a fair hand is shown. Trust cannot be built in a situation where there’s a perception of an unfair situation.

Authenticity is a hot topic these days, and for good reason. When someone is insincere or inauthentic it’s very hard to trust them.

For most people, the need for trust is self-evident, yet too often many fail to recognise actions that lead to the erosion of trust. There are a number of areas of practice I’m curious as to whether they erode trust.

Architecture awards are held up as a way for the profession to celebrate and advertise the profession and quality architectural projects. When houses with eye watering budgets are mostly what is held up as the ultimate in architectural realisation, what does this say about the profession’s ability or desire to meet tight budgets entrusted to them? Yes, a gross generalisation, and I’ll posit a constructive question for balance. Where are the opportunities in the architecture awards to both build trust and demonstrate value? This may be now or with change into the future?

Let’s consider the winners of awards and prominent architectural exemplars. Those with perhaps outlandish or at least unfamiliar forms or use of materials. Beyond the issue of cost, what do these examples say about the role of the architect? Do they represent the interests of the client or perhaps the interest of the architects? There are two answers, one leads to a position of trust the other to mistrust. My bigger question here is, who is asking this question and who is answering? Whose voice is being listened to here?

When commencing an architectural project, has time been taken to understand the expectations of both the client and architects? I suggest this is the responsibility of the architect. Taking time to understand expectations, builds trust and avoids conflict at a later date.

Percentage fees. Do I need to say more? Do percentage fees undermine trust? Do they build trust?

Let’s consider an opposite, the project home market. A potential client can go and purchase a new home, with exactly the design, the materials, fittings and fixtures, appliances and so on that they chose and know upfront how much it will cost them. No nasty surprises. That builds trust. How might architects build trust in a similar way?

In writing this article I got curious about how architects rank in terms of trustworthiness across occupations. On a very quick search I couldn’t find any statistics in relation to Australia, but they rank in the top 10 in Canada and it’s likely to be similar here in Australia. There is a difference in this consideration. This might be a survey of all people and relate to trust in general (that word again). Would you trust an architect to hold your dog’s leash while you went into the shop as apposed to would you trust them with your forever house that you’ve saved for a decade to start? It’s not really that important, more of a diversion. The point is that I think there’s enough here to suggest that the profession could build more trust and there are areas they might be eroding trust.

The big question to ask is,

How might architects become more trusted?

Then… What might change when they are?

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach. I help architects rethink their practice and support them as they uncover better ways to work. I’ve worked in architecture for over 25 years, and I ran my own practice for 14 years. I understand architectural practice from the inside out. Fun Fact: my NSW architect’s registration is #10 007 and I have a license to skill.

I believe improving practice takes asking hard questions and deep listening.

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