International Conference “Standard Architecture”
Standardizing the Business of Building: Management and Marketing in The Architect’s Handbook, 1963-1988
Conference Presentation, October 2018

For many architects, business tools are just as important as T-squares and keyboards, because the “immaterial labor” of architectural authorship is as much managerial as it is representational. And while each office develops routines of its own, these tools have over time been standardized through instructional materials made available by professional associations. For US architects, The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice—published and distributed by the American Institute of Architects (AIA)—has since its appearance in 1920 provided basic instructions for the day-to-day functioning of architecture firms. The Handbook contains standardized forms and contracts that serve as the rudimentary business tools of the architect’s trade, alongside narratives that provide the intellectual scaffolding to understand that trade. Since its inception, the Handbook has given a semblance of order to the design and construction process by standardizing the role of architects within it. Tracing revisions and updates to the Handbook over 25 years, in this presentation I analyzed it as a bellwether of standardization in the business of building design. The cumulative effect was an ideological redesign of the AIA’s standard of practice, so that it was based less on technical expertise and more on business acumen. To acclimatize architects to this new market, the Handbook’s authors hoped to give architects the tools they needed to efficiently manage larger teams of technicians and administrators, and to effectively market their services. Revisiting this core document of US architectural practice, I hypothesize that by standardizing professional culture, it fostered the aesthetic diversity that characterized US variants of Postmodernism.

Comic by Paul Spreiregen in AIA Journal October 1964 special issue on “Office Practice,” guest edited by the authors of the AIA’s other flagship publication, The Architect’s Handbook.