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RMJM Gift Helps Harvard Launch Practice Program

April 2, 2008

By John Gendall

RMJM, the international design firm based in Edinburgh, has donated $1.5 million to the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) for the creation of the “RMJM Program for Research and Education in Integrated Design Practice.” This new project aims to heighten the value of architects by incorporating business principles into design education.

“Architecture is at risk of losing talent,” explains RMJM CEO Peter Morrison, who has explored the idea for such a program with GSD professors and architects during the past three years while giving guest lectures at the school. “On the surface, things look good: projects are good, profits are good, there are serious people doing well, and places like Dubai and China are doing large-scale projects. But once we started looking into it further, we uncovered some harsh truths about the profession: people are not making enough money. Brokers and agents are making much more selling the spaces we design.”

Underscoring the problem, a 2007 study conducted by the Society for Marketing Professional Services, a nonprofit trade association serving the architecture, engineering and construction industries, suggests that architectural and engineering graduates are increasingly opting toward careers in high-tech and management consulting.

“We have researched professional issues at the GSD for many years,” says Spiro Pollalis, a professor of design, technology, and management at the GSD, “but with the RMJM gift, the school will expand its inquiries into integrated design—the approach that takes the required resources and technology as inherent parts of the design itself, with responsibility and integrity toward making the physical construct.”

Harvard University is supplementing RMJM’s gift with $500,000 of its own funds; the total amount will be disbursed over five years. It will go toward funding a research program, developing new courses for students, and new public programs and conferences for professionals. Some of the key issues include organization, talent retention, boosting creativity in large corporate firms, branding, value of design, analyzing fee structures especially for conceptual design, and developing viable structures for succession in single-name firms. The research will be carried out with case studies, interviews, field research and research in the form of design studios.

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“Every design implies a business plan and we will be looking at how architects take into account the objectives of the client and other disciplines as they design,” says Pollalis, who will be closely involved in developing the program. “Architects have more to contribute than designing space, and we are attempting to improve our position. With this work we are initiating, we want to be looking upstream, to really understand the business objectives, and to maximize the available resources.”

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