Beware of the young doctor and the old barber. | Benjamin Franklin




Biological age is an ultimate factor defining human existence. Young person is a curious creature. Energetic, active, daring. Young human-being generates revolutionary ideas, seeks for real answers, discovers amazing possibilities, opens new horizons. Such person is a fighter, who doubts antique axioms about “flat Earth”; he is a discoverer exploring the world by conquering the impossible and bending the rules.

Old person is different. Yes, there is wisdom, mental maturity and understanding of life. Old person carefully guides the next generation ensuring that the “revolutionary force” of young rebels goes into the right direction. Yet old person can’t lead the process. Old person is a steering wheel while youth is an engine. And that’s the law of nature. The way of life.

In the last half a century the very definition of age has been changed. “Young” doesn’t mean a teenager or a 20+ years old only. 30-40 even 50 years old people are considered relatively young by the modern society. The same shift has occurred in the “old age” group. Today so called “senior citizenship” starts probably at the age of 70…


Since our existence is objectively defined by our age the same thing is true for our professional activities. After all such activities and the knowledge related to the profession are the main part of human’s life. In other words, as long as we don’t have AI robots working instead of us, any professional sphere or industry is objectively defined by the AGE of the humans shaping and leading the industry.

So welcome to the brave young world of the professional architecture. The figures currently shaping the architectural industry are:

  • The most powerful: Foster (76 yrs old) – “Fosters & Partners”
  • The most artistic:  Gehry (82 yrs old) – “Gehry partners, LLP”
  • The most stylish: Ando (69 yrs old) – “Tadao Ando Architect & Associates”
  • The most intellectual: Koolhas (67 yrs old) – “OMA” (The Office for Metropolitan Architecture)
  • The most inventive: Nouvel (65 yrs old) – “Ateliers Jean Nouvel”
  • And eventually the coolest and the youngest girl in town: Zaha  (60 yrs old) – “Zaha Hadid Architects”

Average Age: 70 (remove from the list the young lady and the average goes to 72…)


These top-architects (to whom I pay enormous respect) have reached the peak of their careers being on the average 70+ (sic!) years old. The main bulk of their works has been built in the last 10-15 years. Meaning their real career has started when they were 60+ years old. So Zaha is really a “kid” by the architectural industry standards. I’m talking here about the most successful architects in the world. Isn’t it tragic?

Meanwhile this kind of “ageism” is typical for the entire industry. Not only for the upper echelon of grand-masters, but for every level. Architecture is an absolute gerontocracy. Isn’t it pathetic?


The one might wonder why architectural industry is so conservative, why it’s functioning by the antique set of rules, why is it governed by the obsolete authoritarian organizations. The one might also ask why it’s so different from the other industries, such as high-tech for example. Well… let’s see then who defines the high-tech – the most revolutionary, the most energetic, the most important and the most fucking lucrative industry on Earth:

  • Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg (26 yrs old). Founded Facebook when he was 20 yrs old. Became a billionaire when he was 24 yrs old
  • Google: Sergei Brin (37) and Larry Page (37). Started Google when they were 22 yrs old. First billion roughly by age of 28…
  • Twitter: Evan Williams (38) Founded Twitter by age of 33. Actually he became rich by age of 30. He was a founder of “Blogger” in his twenties… (Can you imagine?)
  • Groupon: Andrew Mason (29) Founded Groupon by age of 25. Recently made his first billion
  • Napster (first torrent service – yes first free downloads of music and movies): Shawn Fanning founded it when he was 19! It became super-popular overnight.

I can go on and on. I don’t even bother to calculate the average age. (Another classical example would be Bill Gates. He founded Microsoft when he was 20 years old. He stepped down as CEO in the age of 45 dedicating his life to the philanthropy. 45 years old!)



Age of the industry leaders is the main reason for few more nuances!

Look at the names of the high-tech companies and the architectural firms? Feel the difference? Feel where the past is and where is the future?

You think “name” is not that important? Fine, look at the money then. Dare to compare?

The most dominant architectural office on the planet “Fosters & partners” in its 2007 deal with the Private Equity Group “3i” was valued at $ 593 mil (today in after-crisis realities it’s probably twice less). Norman Foster was 72 years old in 2007. Facebook’s recent market value is 50 billion dollars. Mark Zuckerberg is 26 yrs old. Do you want to know what Google market value is?!

Can you see now why they are more dynamic, more interesting, more fucking lucrative? You can’t trick the nature. You don’t have an appetite for exploring new things when you are in your eighties.  If the peak of the professional career comes when people are biologically old and physically tired, such profession is doomed. You know… people define the profession. And people die. And I am sorry but old folks die more often than young people. It’s a nature.


P.S. Do not take my radical conclusions directly. It’s a mere generalization. I wish to all mentioned people (be that 30 years old computer geeks or 70 years old architects) long and happy lives. It’s not their fault that things gone this way. All I want is to understand why things are in such a poor shape for the architecture. I wish it could be different. I wish one of my favorite architects genius Frank Gehry would get a chance to build his dreams in the age of Mark Zuckerberg…

P.P.S. This essay is not written by a 20 years old student. I wish… So you can’t say it’s a comical revolt of the silly kid. It’s not. It’s a material for thought.

In his recent interview to WSJ Frank Gehry said: “I can’t retire. I’m 82. It’s too young.” Yeah… right… 


17 Responses to “Gerontocracy”
  1. “young lady”… 🙂 … nice saying…
    unfortunately – true…. on the other side it means I have aprox 20 years to build my future…
    news are good enough indeed… 🙂

  2. Mo says:

    Hey Albert,
    It’s an interesting thought. But I think comparing architecture to high tech is just not possible. As an architect you are providing a service to a client, who will pay you. Bill gates is producing a software and can copy/sell it to millions.
    If money is what you are looking for, you better look for a new job.

  3. Albert says:

    I’m very upset that people like “Mo” (of course we can’t call him/her an architect) see architecture only as a “service to a client, who will pay you”. Characters like “Mo” are one of the main reasons arch. field is in such a deep crisis…
    It looks like the only word poor anonymous “Mo” (why these clowns are always anonymous?) could understand from the essay is “money”… Lost case. No need to argue here, it would be a waste of time.
    Poor Mo, I feel sorry for you.

  4. Dutch Bob says:

    Interesting case.
    Is it not true that those clients (we need to get big and differentiated work) are always looking for established names and increasingly asking for impossible capacity and turnover numbers? This makes it soooo difficult to make that break.

    However, I do fully believe there must be ways to make a difference and be a valuable asset to the architectural industrie without being the ‘anonymous’ cadmonkey… age 20-40. Life in the forefront is where to make a difference and I am currently observing and making full use of the opportunities that lie in the digital worlds. Off course designing buildings is what I do, getting to a position to do great things is what I will be able to do sometime, somehow and somewhere! That’s for sure.

    No chance I am aiming for a peak at age 70. Let’s go for 40, still 8 years to go….

    Superyoung (age 20-40) architects worldwide need to unite! Digitally everything is possible (why else would i be able to write this comment from behind my desk in the Netherlands?!?!?!).

    Have fun. All the best and keep writing these inspiring texts!

  5. ra88it says:

    Mo’s right, architecture is service based, but so is TECH. However, who do we service?; the high end market!, filthy rich individuals who crave for sci-fi fantasy, governments/ corporate bodies who want icons. Tech on the other hand has a client base of every single soul!
    so why the venting, cuz its high end, it take a long time to break in, longer to build trust, u are practically kissing butts. this is the loop hole, we will always playing catch up until architecture products become really household.

    it doesn’t have to be a vicious cycle, can you create a product that is globally relevant and competitive? You don’t have to be 70+, you just have to think, you don’t have to follow the star architect path, you just need to provide a global solution and you’ll redefine who a star architect should be & @ what age!!!

    Architecture as we know it is doomed, too conservative and irrelevant, they call it class/ style and we applaud…
    great work Albert!:).

  6. Ох, уж эти молодые пердуны! =) (RUS)
    Oh, those young farts! =) (ENG)

  7. Кирилл says:

    Ну что ж, остаётся надеяться что мы будем жить раза в два дольше обычных людей, и тогда возникнет какой-то баланс, пожалуй 😉 (RUS)

    Well, let’s hope we will live twice longer than the regular folks, thus some kind of balance might be achieved 😉 (ENG)

  8. Albert says:

    I highly appreciate & welcome comments in any languages. More people read me happier I am. From my end I’ll make sure your comments are accurately translated so everyone understands it.

    Thank you very much for your cool comments, my dear readers.

  9. I’m a 64 year old Architect and perhaps my best years the 1980’s and 1990’s are behind me. I had a great run during those years and have a large body iof proud work to show for it, but sometime in the late 90’s I burned out when the quality of my clients changed. Previously most of my clients had been mostly Developers and self made entepreneurs, who were a delight to deal with. they all had diversified interests, knew they weren’t designers and trusted the Architect to do his best as long as he kept costs under control. I was spoiled and actually had a really good bunch of pleasant clients. In the late 90’s through word of mouth a number of professionals started showing up in my office for medical facilities, Mansions, Nursing Homes and Office buildings. Aside from their medical expertise, 3 out of 5 doctors are the most undereducated people in the world who know everything about everything. Contrasted to enterpreneurs, who hire expertise, acknowledging that they know how to manage and sell, but don;t know the answer to everything. Doctors aremostly arrogent, elitist and expert on every subject. This made working on architectural projects with doctor clients very difficult and as I had 4 or 5 of them simultaneously. I needed to take a break. I finished their projects and in early 1997 my wife and I founded a Mortgage Brokerage. I put 15 or 20 hours a week into the Mortgage Brokerage and it did very well until the housing bubble burst. I continued my Architecural practice doing a lot of Rehab, Renovation and Historic Preservation projects along with some pie in the sky stuff. The cients were the remnants of my former enterpreneur base.

    I’m an old guy, not compared to Philip Johnson who made100, Gehry 82, Frank loyd Wright made it to 89 and worked until he died. Architects have longevity on their side and maybe they need it. I’d like another peak again when I’m seventy, perhaps another at ninety. The money in the profession has never been great, so you have to stay in it for the money. I love the profession. I wake up in the morning so I can design and draw. It’s an integral part of who I am and perhaps I’ll be a Superstar at 80.

    • Albert says:

      Thank you for sharing, Marty. I have nothing but respect for old people (btw, I’m not that young by myself…)

      My essay is not a tactless rebuke… It’s a very basic analysis of the unhealthy situation, in which people are able to culminate professionally and financially at the very old age only. This is unnatural. That’s why I’ve provided a comparison with the high-tech industry… As design professionals we should look at the high-tech field example and we have to think what went wrong with the architecture…

  10. Sean Catherall says:

    There are three ways to look at ageism in architecture. First, we can see the 60- to 82-year-olds cited as timelessly gray-haired architects bestowing their cultural endowments on the world as a final act during the closing scenes of their lives (I’m borrowing heavily from William Strauss & Neil Howe’s Generations: The History of America’s Future 1584 to 2069). I think that’s one valid view because architects have typically reached the apex of their careers late in life. For some reason, clients with big bucks to spend on important projects traditionally choose to put their trust in gray-haired architects who have built lots of buildings that are still standing. To such clients, younger people who are more eager to take risks just don’t seem like the right people in whom to invest that kind of thing.

    Second, we can see the cited individuals as having been born between 1925 and 1960 (now ages to 51 to 86 and members of the “Silent” and “Boom” Generations—again, I’m borrowing heavily from Strauss and Howe). Raised during and immediately after World War II, these generations have peer personalities that emphasize adaptation and idealism, technical achievement and spiritual enlightenment, taking advantage of their coddled and prosperous circumstances by “giving back” to the world. For these generations, architecture is not a career, it is a “bridge” and “mission” respectively.

    In contrast, the generation immediately following these two (the “13th” or “Gen-X”, born 1961-1981, now ages 29-50), which represents the vast majority of architects who have come along since (my generation, incidentally), had far higher incidences of drug and alcohol abuse, far lower standardized tests scores and were far more interested in the military and business than in idealism. Our peer personality emphasizes survival and pragmatism over more noble pursuits. Those with money are less likely to trust us with their big bucks and we’re less likely to follow a traditional path to success such as getting an architectural license. Since we don’t trust authority we’re far more likely to become pirates, form our own company or invent an entirely new technology to get where we want to go. (Significantly, all of the tech leaders cited are in the 13th Generation except for Zuckerberg, who was born in the third year of the Millenial Generation.)

    A third view of ageism is that it’s just another arbitrary and insignificant way of dividing up the world. Some people tend to see race everywhere they look. Others see gender. Others see sexual preference. Still others see religious difference. In the end, is age a distinction without a difference? If you didn’t know the name and the age of a building’s designer, do you think you could successfully guess how old its designer was? Or are we biased to see the impact of age when we look at buildings designed by older architects? Does a younger designer take fewer risks because he’s worried about the career ahead of him? Does he have more to lose compared to an older designer who has no career left ahead of him to worry about? Can an older designer whose reputation is already assured take greater risks because his name is already well-known while the younger designer has more at stake in that regard?

    • Rods_N_Cones says:

      This is a very late comment but I think some people still find their way here. The issue is not so much that people value mature architects it’s that the boomer generation doesn’t trust anyone who is not their age. Because a relationship with an architect is long and expensive the clients want someone they identify with. Most clients are also boomers.

      In the 1970s more than 2/3rds of the workforce was under age 35 due to mass retirement of older generations. By the early 80s many boomers had already become partners in existing firms just 5 to 10 years out of school. Most firms were small. Monster sized firms like Foster were a result of a generation having a monopoly on clients. Once these giant corporate firms became common, clients expected architecture firms to be this way and were suspicious of sole-practitioners. QBS laws were put in place to prevent young or small firms from getting commissions.

      I quickly realized this when I got my first job in 1989 and all of the partners in a 100+ year old firm were 40. Did these guys take any big risks to start a firm? No, they just did like I did and got a job at an existing firm. But for those guys, in 5 years all the principals had retired and they took over. Now 35 years later these guys are still running the office. Literally hundreds of people have come through the office but since then nobody has had the opportunity these guys had. This was repeated all across the country. This is also part of the problem with the economy today. These boomer architects have gotten to that point in life where they don’t spend as much money, but all of the architects who are younger haven’t made enough money to buy or invest in anything.

      When I worked overseas I discovered that ageism in architecture is a US characteristic. As an architect overseas it was expected that I had the ability to do everything an architect does and that I had the knowledge to make important decisions even though many of our clients were older. There was trust in the ability of younger architects. Returning to the US it was back to being treated like an intern even though I had years of experience on large projects.

      That’s about the time they came up with the patronizing term “Emerging Architect.” This term is more about holding young architects back rather than helping them advance in their careers. It implies that maybe it’s risky to trust them because they aren’t fully developed.

  11. Jordi says:

    IMO, the thing is that -generally- people do care about FB, Google, etc… it’s something that’s in their lifes, everyday. Also architecture, with the difference, that they don’t realize about it.

    The only way to bring back Architecture -with caps- goes through education in schools, IMO. Why “everyone” knows Van Gogh and not Mies? And they don’t feel ashamed about that.

    So, Archiecture needs to be seen as a service to our everyday lifes, and not just as a TOOL for MAYORS hiring SUPERSTARS.

    Well, I hope I made myself clear.

  12. Samuel says:

    In a way that’s something I’m glad to hear, since I’m 33 and still dream about studying architecture. :]

  13. Sommer says:

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