Firms have lost work, and collaboration is faltering; climate change, racial injustice, and a deadly pandemic loom large. Where do we go from here?
We all hope 2021 will be better than 2020, but for the architecture and design industry, there are still significant obstacles looming. Most grow out of the ongoing pandemic and the strains it has put on our health, economy, and communities. Others stem from long-nagging issues like systemic inequality and global warming, whose impacts are hitting us harder than ever. AD PRO asked three industry leaders to share what they think will be our most pressing challenges this year and, when possible, to propose ways to remedy them.
One of the big challenges for 2021 is that many firms are going into the year with less backlog [work] than they had before. Before the pandemic hit, the economy was very strong, and firms were actively hiring. Now, a lot of firms are finding themselves with less certainty and lower budget projections. 2020 was a hard time to find work for 2021. While the whole industry has become more nimble with remote communication, it’s certainly harder to make a connection with a new client if you’ve never met them before. Everybody is scrambling to fill the backlog.
Another major challenge is staff development. Generally, the more junior the staff person is, the more difficult it is to help them develop at the same pace as when there was in-person interaction. A lot of them are sitting in apartments by themselves. You lose the informal learning opportunities. Most of us were working in open offices where you could hear what was going on and could ask questions. People are also nervous about staff cuts, so they’re nervous to say, “I’m really struggling here on my own.”
Beyond that, the big issues of our time are the climate crisis and racial justice. The climate discussion has been going on for a while, but the George Floyd murder really focused our attention on racial equity. Now we’re all asking, what can we do? There’s a huge push in the industry [to determine] how we can attract more diversity into the design profession, so it better resembles the communities where we live and work. That gets to career discovery and building the pipeline and increasing awareness about design careers and making them more accessible. If you can’t find a way for more people to participate, then we’re not going to become a more inclusive, representational, diverse industry. I think it will take a concerted effort among professional societies, private firms, and educators all working together. We have to be working from a coordinated plan—right down to the architecture licensing boards—to increase accessibility.