Who said recessions put innovation on the slow track? Don’t tell that to 29 year old Seattle “architect” John Morefield! (I put “architect” in quotes since he lost two jobs in 2008 and doesn’t yet have his license.) He decided to set up an advisory service at a farmer’s market in downtown Seattle.
Drop a nickel in his tin can, and you get his professional answer to any architectural question! (The nickels he’s collected in his first year go to a neighborhood food bank –1546 of them his first year at the booth, and 304 “digital” nickels at his website, Architecture 5 cents.com. 95% of his commissions come from his website. He made $50,000 his first year, after fielding his booth over Christmas Holiday. He spent some Architecture school vacations selling organic produce, which is where he got the booth idea.
His goofy booth got him a local news story. (What is more interesting and inspiring than a runaway economic and PR success in the middle of a recession?) All DIY done. He’s working on an international website now, Creative Commons. com, where architects can swap new ideas internationally, show off their new jobs, and in general be aided by a Washington business advice firm, C.A.S.H., which stands for Community Alliance for Self Help. It gives its clients basic business info: financing, taxes, profit forecasting, marketing (none of which essentials are taught in A School, Morefield notes bitterly.)
“It’s a lot of work,” he concedes, “it’s scarey, but I love every minute of it. If someone offered me $80,000 to sit behind a computer, I wouldn’t do it.” (Kristina Shevory, “Architect, or Whatever,” New York Times (1/21/10)p. D 1, New York edition. He has a lot of potential competitors: Kermit Baker, chief economist for the A.I.A. notes that architectural employment peaked in July, 2008 at 224,500 but fell to 184,600 by November, 2008.
Is your bathroom too small? Do you want more space, want to add a second story; or start that spring project. No matter what your needs, his advice comes for a nickel. The nickel leads after a conversation on the spot to his website where he turns out to be a very innovative thinker about architecture and the common man in our cultural democracy—at the opposite end of a trail that peters out with the spurious goal of starchitecture.
He deplores that only 2% of American homes are architect designed. Developers and contractor dominates the scene. He looks forward to the day when all homeowners turn to architects for counsel. The opening, ice-breaking conversation costs only a nickel. Professional counsel applies professional rates. Right now, he’s got 15 amazing clients eager for his counsel on a gig that began with a $100 booth (he says it needs a new paint job) and 8 Saturdays at $40 produce market fees.
It’s the promising egalitarian future of American architecture!
Another version of this essay is posted at Broad Street Review.