The Millennials by Nico Lopez

Gen Y: Millennials in Architecture

There is a Grand Canyon-esque divide that exists between the baby boomer and millennial generations. What this generation means for the profession of architecture?

The Great Recession in the late 2000’s is mostly responsible for creating this gap that seemingly skips over an entire generational category, Gen X.

Before we explain how millennials are redefining design, we better first explain who exactly these millennials are.

The Millennial generation or as some call them the Generation Y is largely considered to be a group of people born between 1980–2000. Millennials have come of age during a time of technological change, globalization and economic disruption. That’s given them a different set of behaviors and experiences than their parents.

According to Goldman Sachs, Millennials have been slower to marry and move out on their own, and have shown different attitudes to ownership that have helped spawn what’s being called a “sharing economy”.

They’re also the first generation of digital natives, and their affinity for technology helps shape how they live. Finally, they are dedicated to wellness, devoting time and money to exercising and eating right. Their active lifestyle influences trends in everything from food and drink to home design.

I THINK MILLENNIALS ARE A GENERATION UNLIKE ANYTHING WE’VE SEEN ON THIS PLANET.

The age of social media, video games and virtual living is opening the minds and designs of a new generation of architects that is creating today’s housing choices.

Rather than designing via more traditional methods, Millennial architects are inspired by what they’ve seen on their desktops, phones and tablets. Architecture industry leaders believe that the generation known for self-expression and social awareness are destined to change the future of architecture.

“Millennials are unlike any other youth generation in living memory. They are more numerous, more affluent, better educated, and more ethnically diverse. More important, they are beginning to manifest a wide array of positive social habits that older people no longer associate with youth, including a new focus on teamwork, achievement, modesty, and good conduct.” — Neil Howe and William Strauss

In reality, while there are certainly differences between every generation, most stereotypes that get lobbed at millennial employees just aren’t true. Here are the five of the biggest stereotypes, and why you shouldn’t believe them:

  • Millennials are entitled and don’t want to pay their dues.
  • Millennials need special hand-holding at work and are high-maintenance.
  • All millennials are great at social media.
  • Millennials are job hoppers.
  • Because millennials grew up with the Internet and social media, they have no concept of privacy.

This group, which has overtaken the world’s largest living generation, the Baby Boomers, is also anticipated to make up an estimated 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, and with that comes a vastly different set of expectations of the places they work, live, visit and recreate. It will, and arguably is already, having a profound impact on the way we as architects design and curate our cities and communities.

Having grown up in a time of rapid technological, economic and global change, their attitudes, behaviours and indeed their expectations are different to those who came before them.

They are digital natives who prefer to avoid the financial and physical burden that comes with ownership, giving rise to the ‘sharing’ economy, and some would say the ‘minimalist’ movement, where music, clothes, housing and even cars are now commonly shared commodities.

Instead, the money being saved from this new regime is put towards experiences and memories in the areas of health, travel, adventure, the arts and culture, eating out and socialising. To the millennials, these experiences have a far higher value placed on them than possessions.

So what does this mean for designers? It means we can no longer deliver buildings, but places and experiences. We need to continue to always question the brief, and to push the boundaries when they need to be pushed, knowing that something might fail but be prepared to try anyway.

We can’t just build buildings in cities and expect them to work. They need to be curated.

Globalisation, rapid urbanisation and fast changing technology are fundamentally changing the way we live, learn, work and play and our clients and cities are grappling with these dynamics daily. It’s increasingly vital to understand and design for the ‘human factors’ associated with these changes.

Current principals and firm owners have paid their dues for many years and have worked effectively, diligently and meticulously toward truly understanding the practice of architecture. Those hard lessons learned over time however, are sometimes not easily parted with or readily shared. There also seems to exist curiosity along with some undertones of suspicion when new aspiring architects or “interns” enter the work force alongside established baby boomers. For the most part, baby boomers appear to want millennials to learn and gain experience in the same fashion that they did when they were coming up. This can create some resentment toward those that didn’t have to hand-letter annotations for example. Perhaps this stems mostly from the often un-communicated expectations and assumptions that each group has for the other. I think it boils down to two ways of doing things that could be a touch too far apart on the generational spectrum of core values and abilities; so what happens to the profession of architecture? How does it evolve? Can it evolve?

Today’s young architect comes out of school armed with technological knowledge unmatched by any group before them. From 3D printing to the newest innovations in building science and sustainability. These freshly minted architecture grads have been experimenting for the last five years, which in turn represents a wealth of knowledge and opportunities for those available to listen. This new energy amongst millennials complements the vast amount of knowledge and experience that the baby boomers have accumulated. The trick is to find the optimal combination of the two generational camps — it doesn’t need to be all of one or the other.

An exciting hybrid that I’ve seen that is bridging between boomers and millennials; is someone that works very hard to respect the past and pay their dues to build a foundation all while showing a distinct interest in the disruption of the dogma created by the establishment. The dichotomy within these individuals is envious and interesting.

The world is changing and we as an industry need to change with it. In fact, we have the rare opportunity to help drive and influence this change. In responding to the disruption we should be encouraged to push beyond the traditional boundaries of architecture and design to encompass new and innovative ways to deliver exciting and unique experiences that people value, and ultimately, to create places people love.

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