Is architectural design a commodity?
“A commodity is a basic good used in commerce that is interchangeable with other commodities of the same type.” – Investopedia
A commodity is something you buy for which there is more than one selection available. Cars, cans of soup and lots in a subdivision may all be considered commodities. Generally speaking, commodities are things that are subject to “market prices”. Because they are widely available, price is a driver for their market success. There are, of course, features that create market advantage (faster cars, “organic” soup or the view from a lot), but generally speaking the market will always control their success.
The commencement speech at the University of The Bahamas graduation ceremony is not a commodity. It is a personal work. There may well be dozens of people who could deliver that speech, but the fee paid is entirely dependent on the celebrity of the speaker. The same would be true for the works of a surgeon, a musician, a painter and a lawyer. The public, for instance, expects to pay more for the advice of a Queen’s Counsel than that of a recently-graduated young attorney, however bright.
This same consideration also applies to design generally. There are celebrity designers of perfume, clothing, jewelry and furniture, whose work is not subject to the market. A Coco Chanel perfume is almost priceless, as is a Picasso painting or an Eames chair designed for a client.
In the Bahamian environment, however, design appears to be a commodity, its market subject to “standard rates” and “published fee scales”.
There are certainly fee scales and published rates elsewhere. While you can’t buy an original Coco Chanel perfume, you can buy a copy, which is available over the counter and is a commodity. You can also buy an Eames chair from Walmart and a really impressive-looking Picasso from Office Max. These legitimate copies are available to all and are certainly subject to market prices, and so are “plans” of houses. No one is concerned whether Chanel designed the perfume for them (except the clients that commissioned the original) and the public at large is quite happy with the copy.
But where does the original come from? Is the original commissioned by a client who cares about climatic design or environmental impact? Is the original designer an expert on design for hurricane zones? Are the copies worth what the market allows for them? Or are there celebrity designers in The Bahamas whose work is not subject to the market pricing for fees because what they create is worth copying? Is design the personal work of an artist? Or is it a commodity?
• Patrick Rahming & Associates is a full-service design firm providing architectural, planning and design services throughout The Bahamas and the northern Caribbean. Visit its website at www.pradesigns.com, design blog at https://rahmblings.wordpress.com and like its Facebook page. The firm can be contacted by phone at 356-9080 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
The firm’s mission is to help clients turn their design problems into completed projects through a process of guided decision-making, responsible environmental advice and expert project administration.