I recently heard someone say, in a pejorative way, that all real estate developers think of what they build as “products.” I imagine this is in contrast to thinking in terms of buildings as spaces for people to live, raise a family, do their life’s work, and so on.
When I heard this I immediately thought to myself, yeah, we (or at least I) do think of our spaces as products. But I also didn’t see it as a negative thing.
In my view, there’s no reason that classifying something as a “product” has to make it any less beautiful, functional, and/or filled with design intent. My iPhone is a product. The wine on my shelf that somebody labored over is a product. The chair I’m sitting on right now is a product. All of these items were produced by people and then I consumed them because I liked what those people had made.
When I was completing my first master’s in architecture and real estate, I used to walk back and forth across campus between the design school and the business school. And in these two places, we talked about bricks-and-mortar in very different ways.
In the business school, buildings were the proverbial widget. How much does this widget cost to produce? How much can I sell or rent this widget for in the market? And how do I scale up my business so that I can sell/rent more widgets?
On the other hand, in the design school we weren’t all that concerned with the cost of the widget or even what people would pay for it. Instead we were concerned with making it something so much more than just a plain old widget. These weren’t buildings. This was capital “A”, Architecture.
I don’t think either school was wrong in their thinking. I just think they were missing each other.
Business is business. If you don’t make a profit then you’re not going to be around for very long. And while many companies can survive by making shitty products, those aren’t great businesses. The best businesses also deliver products that people absolutely love.
So whether we call it architecture, a product, or even a widget, the goal should be to delight people. (Am I allowed to say “customer”?) Make people so happy that they have to tell their friends about it. If we’re doing that, then frankly I don’t care what we call it.