by Michael Raphael, AIA, LEED AP – I imagine myself as a whaler in the early nineteenth century. The rhythm of planning, searching, waiting, pursuing, and catching all seem very familiar to me. I also can imagine the exhilaration of the Nantucket sleigh ride.
As a leading indicator of the larger economy, architectural practice is cast adrift when the economic winds disappear. Optimism vanishes and despair takes its place. I imagine a whaler 200 years ago must have experienced similar thoughts as he waited for the winds in the dog days of summer.
I entered this profession in the midst of an energy crisis. Construction nearly stopped as interest rates in the United States rose to double digits. I kept my nose down and followed the work from Boston to Philadelphia to San Francisco. When the economy later rebounded in the late 1980s, construction followed suit, and architects grew more adventuresome. Around this time, I started my own firm. Unfortunately, a number of years later, the housing bubble imploded and the financial crisis hit, and construction all but ceased. For several years, architects tightened their belts and absorbed society’s best insults. As recently as October of 2012, a Forbes article on the Top 10 Worst College Majors revealed that “the collapse of the housing market means architecture majors now face an unemployment rate of 13.9%, the highest of all the majors tracked.”
Architects can once again rejoice in the return of the economic winds. The profession has absorbed the depths of our economic cycle and now occupies a front row seat in our pursuit of spectacular projects. Within the past year, Raphael Architects has designed master plans for both George School and United Friends School, and completed a new gymnasium and Wellness Center for the Upper Bucks YMCA. We have also begun designing new pools, gymnasiums and locker room rooms for the North Penn YMCA as well as a new banquet hall for the Washington Crossing Inn. As a small firm we have collaborated with fellow architecture firms on many of these projects to ensure we keep up with demand.
I am not much of a fisherman or hunter and have no interest in killing, but I can still empathize with those Nantucket whalers when they waited on glassy seas and share their excitement when they rode in their tiny boats tethered to those majestic creatures. With the possible exception of the whalers, few professions can offer the exhilarating feeling an architect experiences when designing a new facility. I look forward to each day I have the opportunity to work in my profession.