how many architects does a country need?

Today Archdaily, an online journal for architecture, published a graphic from the twitter feed of Monitalia - one of three sections of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale.  Reproduced here, it shows that from statistics for 36 countries around the World, it would appear that Italy has 147,00 architects or one architect for every 414 inhabitants compared with China, at the other end of the table, with one architect for every 40,000 people in the country.

One comment on the original twitter post pointed out that for Italy the figure represented “architects as people with a degree in architecture rather than architects as professionals with an income” and added ruefully “I'm afraid.”

Of the Nordic countries, Denmark is close to the top of the table with 7,200 architects or one architect for every 775 people … just above Germany (in terms of ratios rather than total numbers of architects) and well above the UK. In fact, Norway, Sweden and Finland all have a higher proportion of architects in relation to the population of the country than the UK.

As with most statistics, the stark figures actually raise a lot of questions and prompt a number of comments.

For a start, my pointing out that Italy and Denmark are at the top of the table is slightly perverse because, in terms of the actual table, China is at the top and Italy at the bottom ... but clearly, given the main topics of this blog, it would be odd to say having more architects in a country could in any way be seen as a bad thing that put the country bottom of a league table.

Then, to defend my own country for once, major development projects in the UK - such as the construction of Cross Rail, the remodelling of Kings Cross rail station and buildings for the 2012 Olympics might suggest there could be a larger proportion of world-class engineers here than in other countries.

Nor can the table look at architects working internationally, rather than in their own country, although the table clearly suggests another reason for so many finding work in China beyond simply the rapid economic growth of that country. Basically architects are thin on the ground in China.

Another thought crossed my mind. I would like to see statistics both for investment in public buildings … libraries, schools, art galleries … in each country and statistics for the building of individual homes in each country … that is building a house that is unique and designed by an architect rather than a house built as part of a speculative development by a builder with little or no input from an architect. Would either influence the numbers of architects a country supports?

Some countries have a relatively high proportion of self-build housing but does that necessarily mean less architects? It is possible that with self build or a with higher proportion of single individual houses (rather than developments or estates) a larger number of architects might be employed to see schemes through legal and planning procedures. Although generally modest in scale, do the large numbers of summer homes in Scandinavia create work for a larger number of architects?

Some final thoughts. It seems to me that in Denmark, in the last century, a significant number of furniture designers, interior designers and industrial designers actually began their training as architects and then moved the focus of their work ... Finn Juhl was one such architect who was primarily most successful as a furniture designer and was Arne Jacobsen an architect who produced amazing furniture or primarily a furniture designer who began his career as an architect? 

Is it still true in Denmark that some designers start as students in the schools of architecture and then diversify or refocus their skills? Is that what's, at least in part, behind the statistics for a higher proportion of architects in Denmark than in other countries?