Branding is more important today than ever before. Whether customers come across your company through the internet or organically, your propriety name and image must communicate your expertise and value. But why is it questionable for architects to advertise? Let me tell you the history. 

In December 1909 at the 43rd annual convention of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), first on the Principles of Practice, advertising was deemed unprofessional, unethical, and condemned. The American Institute of Architects  (AIA) prohibited architects from marketing themselves stating that “Advertising tends to lower the dignity of the profession and is therefore condemned”

What period was architecture in the 1900s?

Popular in America from 1880 to 1910, The Queen Anne Style evolved out of the Colonial Revival Style; The Queen Anne style was imported by English Architects who were inspired by the half-timbered walls and patterned masonry of Medieval and Jacobean style buildings.

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Photos of US House Kits in the 1900s from

Photo of Saginaw, Michigan post office (1900-1920)

Photo of Buffalo, New York post office (1900-1906)

Advertising in the early 1900s was a new concept, brought about by the birth of mass-produced consumer products and it was the rise of the middle class. Reflecting the mindset of that specific period and general approach to the profession, advertising was forbidden to architects.

Back then, architectural firms relied exclusively on reputation and word of mouth to get clients. 

Fearing those that underbid a project would produce low standards of workmanship and potentially damage the professional standing of architecture, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) required that all architects respond to a project with the same price point.

TRANSITIONING: The U.S. Government opens the doors to competition 

Finally, about six decades later after the 1909 rules were published, the U.S. Justice Department intervened and began investigating the ethics of various industries, including the American Institute of Architects (AIA) with grounds that the published rules of fee negotiations were a form of trade restraint. 

 In 1972, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) signed a decree agreeing to allow its members to submit competitive rates, design proposals, bids, and fee quotations. The transition to advertising a professional service was slow, and shaking off the stigma of impropriety took time. Those that did begin to market their services relied on conservative methods, showcasing previous work and using their reputation to communicate their firm’s value. Branding and marketing techniques remained a minimal consideration, as good work was thought to exclusively win project bids.

During periods of recessions, marketing evolved as the architectural field became more saturated and the economy turned down in the 1980s and again in the 1990s. Suddenly firms were pressed to adopt better marketing strategies to remain ahead and general messaging tactics evolved. 

The New York Times published an article from 1990 as a reminder of how many architects faced unemployment, were laid off, their fees lowered, and most of the work was defined and awarded to the same U.S.  firms, forcing many to expand their search for projects globally. According to the article, many architects had to strengthen their design planning and renovation practices by accepting less commission too. Architects and Architectural Firms were no longer relying on reputation alone to get clients. With advertising gaining momentum throughout the decades and increasing the acceptability of professionals promoting themselves, architects were finally able to individualize and create brands for themselves. 


Today, it is not so much about what the company does and more about how the company does it. Architects may, in practicing their profession, provide information for the public that is accurate and entirely within ethical and legal contexts, which we can permissibly advertise. The permissible advertisement also means providing consumers, with objective information, presented attractively, but always measured and prudent. 

As Andy Ernsting once said, “Clients don’t hire buildings, they hire people to design.”

Service became an increasing point of differentiation, and architecture firms worked to establish themselves as the best service providers.  Current successful branding and marketing focuses on a company’s ability to create success for their clients, and a deeper understanding of their needs. 

Architects now need to revisit their outdated websites, and portfolios to refresh their branding.  

The primary concern when advertising is authenticity. 

The architect who is unsure about what may or may not be permissible in advertising its services must always seek advice as a precaution.  Marketing communications must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous, or untimely manner. Material information is defined as information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions concerning a product.

Practice for every engagement and make sure you always have a clear message to deliver. Get it right, and your audiences will grow, which means more opportunities for your firm. The ideas behind how to sell architectural and engineering services have changed. Adapting to new technologies will help you to market your firm.  Moving forward with the times will help set you apart from your competitors.

Although a fact of everyday life, advertising is a tool that should be used with the greatest of care, particularly for architects because It has been a lengthy process for the architecture field to accept the importance of marketing through advertising.

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