Should architects work for free?

Posted by Anna Winston

4 March 2013

From News Junkie

In a recent blog post, US-based marketing guru Seth Godin tackled the tricky subject of working for free.

It’s a hot - and touchy subject - in architecture right now. With so few jobs around and so many people competing for peanuts (see our forthcoming employment survey results coverage for more on this) some people might think working for free is a good way to broaden their experience and make themselves more employable.

But as more people are willing to work for free, what knock on effect does that have? Is it ethically right to work for free if it means someone else is less likely to get paid? And does that matter if it means you can get ahead? What about if you’re just offering to help your friend by designing their housing extension for free? Or what if you’re a recent graduate interning for a famous practice to get a good name on your CV?

Godin says it all depends on what you mean by ‘work’ and by ‘free’ - he’s talking mainly from his point of view as a marketing expert but his advice could apply across the board.

“Work is what you do as a professional, when you make a promise that involves rigour and labour (physical and emotional) and risk. Work is showing up at the appointed time, whether or not you feel like it. Work is creating value on demand, and work (for the artist) means putting all of it (or most of it) on the line.”

“So it’s not work when you indulge your hobby and paint an oil landscape, but it’s work when you agree to paint someone’s house by next week.”

And what about the ‘free’ bit? Well, that’s more complicated. Godin’s argument is that if there’s something in it for you - aside from the pleasure of doing something for someone else - then you’re not working for free at all. 

But as your career progresses what counts as ‘free’ will change. And the creative industries are littered with double standards.

Godin includes a list of bullet points to consider when you’re asked to work for free. Here are a few highlights that apply particularly to architects:

And if you still can’t decide if you should say ‘yes’ to that internship/house extension, there’s a handy flow chart on to help (or at least make you chuckle) - you can even order a letter press print and put it on your wall…


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