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.