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Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Bell Continues to Toll

Recessions hit some professions more than others. Architecture is a profession that gets hit harder than most, and rarely recovers when times get better. If an architect can't find work due to lack of construction, they often leave the field, never to return. Unlike most professions, an architect straight out of school has very limited skills; it takes years of working in a firm to even begin to understand all the facets involved in creating a successful building. If young graduates can't find work in our profession, they never start the road to becoming an architect. I've seen past recessions decimate the ranks of my fellow practitioners; I fear the toll the current recession will have on our current and future ranks. As of 2 years ago, less than 50% of the people I graduated with were practicing architects.

What got me thinking about all this is the fact that the Prairie Avenue Bookstore in Chicago has closed its doors. I know much of their financial problems came from having to compete with online bookstores; they managed to hang on longer than most brick and mortar bookshops. It was a very special place, like most bookshops catering to architecture and design. I would make time for a long visit whenever I went to Chicago. They had fantastic collections of books not only on American architecture, but also vintage copies of books long out of circulation. It was an invaluable source for building a reference library so critical to an architecture practice. I can't imagine becoming the architect I've become without the wonderful hours spent browsing in a bookstore like Prairie Avenue. There are a few good architecture bookstores left, like Hennessey + Ingalls in Santa Monica, or Urban Center Books in NYC, but for how long? And how will the new generation of architects come to educate themselves without these great resources?

Life goes on, and people will adapt. There will be fewer architects around who will have the skills needed to produce a well designed building, especially architects with a good sense of historical precedent. I know this doesn't affect many peoples' lives, but we have lost something that has enriched our built landscape.

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