Leveraging individual strengths, challenging myths and becoming influential catalysts of change

As a young boy I was never without a pencil and a pad full of sketch paper. I was a dreamer and would live many of my waking hours deep within my imagination, thinking about my future and how I would live my life as a successful adult.

Drawings were my device for entering this world of personal fantasy. Everyday I would visit interesting places, serve the world in interesting ways and live the life of a successful entrepreneur through illustrations of the life I would someday make reality.

I am the son of an auto mechanic. Dad is an entrepreneur who pursued his passion for all things fast. My family would spend our weekends at car shows surrounded by beautifully detailed automobiles. We would vacation with our speedboat at the beaches of New Jersey’s shoreline or among Adirondack lakes dotted with beautifully detailed homes. Inspired by my life’s experience, fast cars, fast boats and custom houses were the subjects for much of my artistic expression.

At the age of 10, I learned that in order to live a life of success, I would need a plan. I had big goals and I would need to create a map for achieving my dreams of fame and fortune. I was an artist, but in my pre-teen mind, artists were a starving bunch. I had plans for feast, not famine. Art school was out.

I listed the professions that society held high with esteem and therefore could earn me the wealth of my adolescent dreams. Lawyer? Doctor? Neither would allow me to develop my creativity as an artist. Architecture, on the other hand, was a perfect fit. Architects were artists that made lots of money. Right? So, at the age of 10, it was decided. I would pursue the path toward architecture and all my dreams would come true.

For the Love of the Craft

I  entered the profession in 1993, after graduating from Roger Williams University, a small liberal arts school located in the historic New England village of Bristol, Rhode Island, nestled high above the rocky shore of Narragansett Bay. Roger Williams campus is intimate and the architecture school is inspiring. When choosing my place of education, I compared all other schools I visited to the then-fresh new facilities and enthusiastic faculty I found at RWU.

The day I walked through studio for the first time, I heard the stories of a struggling profession; a culture built upon the belief that architects were indeed artists, but money was for those who sell out to the masses. The message was loud and clear, “We practice architecture for the love of the craft, never for the money. If you want to make lots of money, go for a walk across campus and enroll in business school.” It’s a story that freshmen architecture students are told throughout the world. It’s a story that has lead this profession to the place it finds itself today.

It was a rude awakening from my childhood daydreams, but I would not be deterred. As is the character of many idealistic students, I was confident that I would prove my professors wrong. I would become an entrepreneur architect, change the world through my designs and earn the financial reward commensurate with such an important societal role. To this day, I continue to pursue that purpose with passion through my work on and off the drafting boards.

A Profession in Pain

The profession of architecture is most certainly not the idyllic place of my fantasy storyboards. We suffer with many problems, each holding us back from the greatness the profession once held firm among our society.

An inconsistent definition of “architect” and the lack of properly tailored high-level public relations has lead to a crisis of identity. The inconsistent message of who we are, what we do and who should benefit from our services is unclear to many living among our global population. It’s often unclear to the architects themselves, practicing without direction or a defined path for success.

Over-regulation through building codes, municipal zoning and design review boards has increased administrative processes, reduced productivity, limited professional authority and stifled architectural creativity. The additional time required for project approval and additional costs to meet structural regulations has increased the required budget for every architectural project. Clients of many small firm architects learn quickly that their desires are financially out of reach and choose to shift their priorities to less expensive pursuits.

The forfeiture of responsibility over to competing professions has weakened the role of the architect and reduced the overall value of our services. Project managers, professional engineers, designers, construction managers and general contractors have all successfully carved niches from the services once proudly provided by architects.

Competition from unlicensed designers, with limited liability and minimal overhead, has eroded the market from which licensed architects compete.

Minimal education in the fundamentals of business has positioned small firm architects with limited financial success. Lack for understanding of financial processes, marketing strategies and sales systems has lead many architects to launch firms with a hypothetical “if we design it, they will come” business plan.

Twenty-one years after graduating from architecture school, that story told throughout the design studio, the myth of architect as martyr artist, is still thriving among architects. A deeply rooted culture based on a psychology of pain, passion and failure has perpetuated all the problems we face throughout the profession.

We have much work ahead to right the ship. Each issue will take time, effort, focus and massive amounts of funding to correct. It will take strong leadership, consistency and a continuous pursuit to find viable solutions. The American Institute of Architects, through the Repositioning initiative, has promised to focus the required resources on correcting many of these issues. According to AIA leaders, change is on its way.

The Solution is Within You

We do have many problems to address in this profession and we must each do our part to support the efforts for change, but I don’t believe the answers will be found among the halls of academia or in the boardroom of AIA National. I believe the solution to our profession’s problems will be found among independent architects. You and I must take a stand. We must lead the charge. We must commit to making change in our own studios. We must shift paradigms, create collaborative cultures and build better businesses. We must leverage our individual strengths and transparently share what we know with others. The responsibility for change lies within each one of us independently. We must become the change we want to see in the profession.

A Catalyst for Change

For years I complained publicly and privately that business fundamentals have been neglected in the educational curriculum of architecture schools. Every summer, graduates are entering the profession with no roadmap for success. I believe that many of the struggles we face in the profession today are directly linked to this failure of properly preparing architects for the real world of business.

In 2012, I committed myself to becoming a catalyst for change. With a mission to become an influential force in the profession, I focused my personal efforts on creating a new platform called Entrepreneur Architect. (www.EntreArchitect.com) I believe that inspiring small firm architects to pursue business success is my calling. When independent architects focus on building healthy profitable businesses, their lives will improve, their businesses will thrive and the world will benefit from the architecture they create.

Through Entrepreneur Architect, I share the knowledge I have acquired throughout my decades in the profession. I reveal my successes, as well as my failures and provide resources for other architects to replicate the systems I have created for my own success. I invite other professionals to share their stories as well, through articles on the site or with interviews on the Entrepreneur Architect Podcast. When hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands, of architects throughout the world are inspired, take action and build better businesses, the entire profession will benefit from the grassroots up.

I am no longer complaining about the deficiencies of others to solve the problems for which I see my own solutions. I am stepping up and taking on the responsibility myself, influencing the change I want to see happen among the profession. I am no longer waiting for others to lead the way.

There is much to develop at Entrepreneur Architect and I continuously work to improve the overall experience. I am sharing the example of my platform, not as a promotion for the efforts I have made, but as a model for what others in the profession may do for themselves to become agents for change. I have learned through my work at Entrepreneur Architect that we can, as individual independent architect, make a meaningful difference in our future and lead the way to a stronger, more respected, more successful profession of architecture.

Becoming an Influential Force

There is a movement quietly developing. Concerned with the current state of the profession, independent architects, inspired to become catalysts for change, are leveraging blogs, podcasts, video, books and public speaking to spread their messages of a better way. Each seek to inspire success for others and are clear examples for those who may choose to join to this movement for change.

As more independent architects look within for solutions and are inspired to take responsibility for change upon themselves, the profession will move, solutions will be found and action will lead to change benefiting all the world.

Look within yourself. Are you inspired to become a catalyst for change? If so, there are five steps to becoming an influential force in the profession.

Find Your Calling

We each possess unique interests, talents and abilities. To successfully lead others, we must understand our purpose. What is the one topic that resonates so strongly within you that your spirit is ignited with passion when you discuss it with others? When we find our calling, the urge to share it with others is overwhelming. Leading others through your calling is the only natural course of action.

Build Your Platform

A platform is the stage on which to share your message. Your platform may be a website, a book, videos, a podcast, speaking from a physical stage or a combination of any of these. In order for your message to be consumed, you need a platform from which to be heard.

Be Authentic

Your message must be sincere. Your passion must be pure. Living in this fully connected world, we are constantly bombarded with communication. People have become defensive and skeptical when hearing new messages. Honesty, transparency and authenticity are critical for your message to resonate and be the influential force you need it to be for change.

Collaborate With Others

Find others who complement your message and may hold positions from which your message may be shared. Help them spread their message as well and collaborate to increase mutual effectiveness. Build networks of influencers who have the ability carry your message beyond your platform. The collaborative work of many will build momentum and move your message faster, farther and more effectively than working alone.

Inspire Change

Tell your story. Share your successes and your failures. Inspire others to be the best they can be and encourage them to share their own stories. With each new connection you will build your influence and become an agent for change.

My childhood fantasies are alive and well within me. I’m still a dreamer and often find myself gazing off into the distance creating stories of my future life. In the name of authenticity, I must admit that the cars, boats and custom homes still hold prominent roles in my stories, but today my future also includes a professional organization that finds the consistency needed to fully execute their plans and an army of individual architects taking a stand, each leading independently from their own platforms and influencing the change needed for a stronger profession.

Mark R. LePage is Partner in Charge of Operations at Fivecat Studio Architecture and the founder of Entrepreneur Architect, an online education resource inspiring architects to build better businesses.