Collective Power in Architecture

Architecture is one of the most self-destructive professions in the world – that’s the bad news. 

The good news is that now there’s something you can do about it. 

In 2021, it is easy to make a nihilistic assessment of the current state of architecture in the UK. In many ways our universities, our governing bodies, and our employers are failing us. Those of us who graduated during the pandemic have been met with severely limited job prospects and new heights of exploitation within practice. From as early as April, architectural workers were subject to more unpaid overtime, surveillance from employers through webcams, and even furlough fraud. A particularly brazen practice went as far as to email employees the following: ‘Just to let you know that you’ll still be working but don’t tell the govt!!!!!’. Of course this masochistic culture has existed in architecture for decades, but the pandemic has demonstrated exactly how pervasive this issue is within our profession. 

One of the biggest challenges of our time is remaining hopeful in the face of relentless negative news. I believe it is of vital importance that young people do not allow this condition to overwhelm our resolve; we must preserve our drive to become a healthier and more equitable generation of architects. Criticism without envisaging alternative realities, however, will only contribute to nihilism. I believe that an essential step in resolving the systemic faults of architectural practice is to identify their origins and to understand the ways in which they have been perpetuated by architectural culture. In a strange case of professional Stockholm Syndrome, many architects have justified the long hours, the low pay and the precarious job security as the price you pay to pursue your calling as an architect. This aspect of architectural culture has permeated not only our professional environments, but our institutions and universities as well. The truth is that despite our delusions of grandeur, architecture is still a profession and we are still workers. Though this dispels the popular narrative of the architect as the individual creative visionary, it does provide a much more valuable opportunity for solidarity and collective power. 

In October 2019, we saw the launch of the United Voices of the World – Section of Architectural Workers (UVW-SAW). The union represents an exciting new voice in architectural discourse and an opportunity for grassroots reform in the industry. By unionising, workers gain the ability to organise en masse and exert their collective power in order to influence the profession at large:

‘Members of SAW organise both in their workplaces and across the sector around overwork, under-pay, unstable employment, a toxic workplace and university culture, discrimination and unethical practice. Members facilitate collective casework, host training and events, and run campaigns.’ 


In addition to SAW, new and influential voices from the likes of Sound Advice and New Architecture Writers have called for reform. It was such activity that inspired me to contribute in whatever small way I could. I had noticed a shocking lack of clarity regarding the architectural assistant position; it is treated as part of our education and yet we are often expected to bring years of experience to the role. This contradiction simultaneously limits the opportunities of recent graduates while also trapping experienced practitioners in entry-level positions. It appeared evident to me that the architectural assistant role was not being properly implemented. In order to gauge the opinions of other architectural assistants, I put out an open call for experiences through my Instagram page (@charlie_edmo). I was overwhelmed by the number of responses: over 160 in just two weeks. The survey supported my concern about the current conditions of young people in architecture; out of 166 respondents, 96% did not feel supported by RIBA, 87% had worked unpaid overtime, and 74% had felt exploited by an employer. (Find rest of the survey findings below.)

In response to this data , I am putting together the RIBA Open Letter. This is a call for reform of the architectural assistant position and a demand for the Royal Institute of British Architects to address the exploitative conditions that the majority of junior architectural practitioners experience. This effort has mostly been coordinated through Instagram, the accessibility of the platform has allowed effective communication among the large online community of young architects and students. Through collective action, I believe that we may finally reject unethical practice and thus increase the value of the profession as a whole. With a greater sense of collective power in architecture, we can end the self-destructive culture of unpaid work, long hours, and undercutting fees. Instead, we may manifest a more hopeful generation of future architects that are empowered with the ability to collectively influence both practice and education. 

If you’re interested in following this campaign and signing the RIBA Open Letter, find @charlie_edmo on Instagram or email

The survey results: