a changing role for architects – repost

repost from bitchin’ architecture

Tara Imani, at AIA, published this post on the AIA Knowledge Net blog in late October titled The Changing Role of Architects: Can Traditional Practice Continue to Survive and Thrive”.  In the article she asks the question: to what extent is an architect needed in today’s society?

This is the kind of question I’ve heard often and have even asked myself time and again as I look around at the state of our industry in these tough economic times. And over the last 3 years of this recession, Architects and architecture firms have been going through something of a “rebranding”, in the sense that we’re faced with finding new ways to market ourselves to clients who perhaps would not normally seek out our services as well as finding new services to offer the traditional clients we do have. Some friends of mine at Content Design Group discovered a new service to offer, it sometimes seems, accidentally. Called the Urban Facelift Project, they began experimenting with derelict buildings in the downtown core of Jacksonville and proposing new facades/uses for them via digital renderings.  This eventually turned into a small design competition hosted by the local Emerging Design Professionals chapter and then into some paid projects for Content Design Group via clients who wanted to “facelift” their homes and/or businesses (you can see some examples on their website).

While I personally think this process of “rebranding” is a good thing for the profession, I also think architects are pushing themselves in the wrong direction.  With each new project that I work on the goal seems to field more and more responsibility AWAY from our profession and into the hands of consultants and/or contractors.  Where previously architects were the Master Builders, at the tip of a very exclusive pyramid, we are now becoming little more than graphic designers for the construction industry.  This is not good.

And I can hear the complaints already: Why should I take on more liability than is necessary?  The obvious answer to this question, in my opinion, is: “It’s your project.  You should be taking as much responsibility for it as you can get your hands on because at the end of the day it’s your vision for your client becoming reality.  Why wouldn’t you want more of the responsibility for the project?”  I can’t tell you how many projects I work on where I’m responsible for the envelope only; where the structural system and all support systems are designed solely by the consultants and an interior designer (nothing against interior designers here) is responsible for all finishes, appliances, lighting, etc.  Why is the architect not an important consultant in the design of all these trades or even the DESIGNER?

So, to ask the question again: to what extent is an architect needed in today’s society?  The answer is, I think, the architect is needed ever more in today’s society.  Architects need to retake their places atop the pyramid as Master Builder’s and not just cad jockeys that make pretty pictures for the magazines.  When an architect has to rely on the contractor’s insight on a particular detail in the field that the architect did not properly think through, there is a level of prestige, and respect, that is lost by the architect.  Obviously mistakes will happen, and contractors do come up with some very creative solutions in the field (speaking from experience), but it is, and should always be, the role of the architect to step up and take ownership of all aspects of a project from conceptualization to completed construction.  Otherwise the project will suffer, the client will suffer, the architect will suffer and ultimately the profession will suffer.

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4 thoughts on “a changing role for architects – repost

  1. I agree with that to an extent. Being behind the front lines, so to speak, I can say with a good deal of certainty that it is not the architects and their crayons but the clients and their total lack of imagination or education outside of their pocket books. Couple that with architects who are either unable or unwilling to educate and work with their clients to produce the best product possible and you end up with the same strip mall quality crap that gets thrown up at breakneck pace these days….well, maybe not these days, but in years past. I could go on for hours about all the projects I’ve worked on where a decent design was stripped down and ripped up in favor of saving $10k on a $2m project…..Why architects haven’t long ago become the developers for housing and commercial projects I have no idea….oh wait, it’s cause we’re constantly charging less than 20% of what we’re really worth. (insert bitterness here)

  2. We’re surely on the same page here! Most definitely. I do, though, agree and disagree on one point – “and ‘old school’ ways just don’t cut it anymore”. I think you and I are coming from this at two different directions. Let me explain. It seems that you’ve had the opportunity to work with some very bad architects, or at least ones more adept at “CYA” than at architecture. 😉 I have been fortunate and not so fortunate to have worked for and with both good architects and bad architects, and the difference that I see in my vast wealth of experience (insert obvious sarcasm here) is there is an older guard that believes in the passing down of wisdom in the profession to the younger, upcoming generation; then there is everyone else trying to hold on to their clients tooth and nail, not giving away their “secrets”. I actually think the “old way” of doing things is what we need, because that is exactly what is NOT being taught in schools today. Our profession used to be one to be revered and respected. Today we’ve become something of a hassle that is required by law for most projects. We’ve lost, as you put it, the ability to properly communicate to the laymen what it is that we do and what our true worth is.
    My favorite part of your comment, and I think the most important message to Architects and designers everywhere is “if we taught more and guided more we could bill more”. This is so paramount for us as a profession it should be stamped on billboards, taped to our drafting tables and computer screens and tattooed on the chest of anyone even thinking about practicing architecture. Change is in the air though. This new generation of architects coming up the ranks believes in the sharing of knowledge in all aspects of design and construction. Just look at all the social networking sites dedicated just to architecture like Architizer and Architecture Linked and Behance Network. Change is in the wind my friend, and it is GOOD. 🙂

  3. In todays world and the demand for more cleaner and greener types of energy I feel that an Architect really needs to push the boundaries and come up with ground ideas that will create a buzz.

  4. GreenArch, I completely agree. But while we remain little more than a service profession, it’s all ultimately up to the client at the end of the day (unfortunately). If we as architects can put ourselves in a position of not just leadership, but also development, than I think we could begin to offer homeowners a real alternative that is responsible, sustainable and appealing to the eye as well.
    I see on your website you’ve been fortunate to have had some great clients that have either allowed you to push that envelope or sought you out for it. I think this is still the exception rather than the rule. But all things change over time.
    Cheers and thanks for the comments!

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