On the threshold, ready to run

Originally published in OAA Perspectives Winter 2015/16 on page 8.

Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to serve as the President of the OAA. In doing so, one of the things most often talked about in formal and informal settings, in media interviews, procurement meetings, presentations and other events has been the role of architects in society. In each of these, I’ve gotten people to agree that what we do adds value, and that the service we provide is important. Then I get them to agree that this is worth paying for, and that any procurement process that includes a percentage of fee in its score is a fee-based competition, and the project is destined to go to the lowest bidder.

Hopefully, everyone who reads this is aware that the OAA has been engaged in a public awareness campaign for the past several years. This program has been focused on the task of raising the profile of architects and public appreciation of architecture. This is a key element in helping the public understand not only what we do, but why we do it. By extension, this understanding leads the public to demand better of their public spaces. In this way, we can point to the level of effort it takes to do good work and demand better fees—and greater respect—from procurers of our services.

Over the past year, in countless meetings, presentations and interviews, this has been a common theme of discussion. We’ve raised the issue and repeated the same message over and over: that what we do matters, that what we contribute is something valuable and that our role on projects isn’t something that can be easily quantified or marginalized through unacceptable risk transfer. The message is getting heard and it’s starting to resonate.

Last month, we participated in the fourth annual Procurement Day, bringing together procurement folks from across the province to talk about risk transfer and pre-qualification. The major sentiment of the day was that low price bidding isn’t the way to go, and those attending agreed. So how do we get away from the low price fees that are the subject of discussion at every local Society visit? How do we tackle the big buyers of professional services?

Having now met with many members, in every Society in the province, I feel that we, as a profession, are at a tipping point. A threshold of sorts. We’re at a point where the public is starting to see what we do and demand better: better urban spaces, better energy-efficient buildings and better designs—where municipal tax dollars are spent wisely, not cheaply, to make sure the future we pursue is the one we really want. We need to keep moving across that threshold, to stay focused on the direction we’re facing and to keep building on the momentum we have established. If we can do that, there is a chance that this momentum will carry us across the threshold, past the tipping point. Then we need to keep running.

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