a changing role for architects?

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.


About Jeremiah

Birth: April 6 - Upstate New York Education: Savannah College of Art and Design Bachelor of Fine Art - 2003 Masters of Architecture - 2003 Member AIA National since 2004 Member AIA Florida since 2004 Member AIA Jacksonville since 2004 Member Emerging Design Professionals Jacksonville since 2006 Emerging Design Professional President 2009-2010 View all posts by Jeremiah

4 responses to “a changing role for architects?

  • Tara Imani

    Hi Jeremiah,

    I was informed of your blog by a professional acquaintance. I must admit, I am surprised to see my name mentioned; it is a bit unnerving, to be honest. But, I realize, I did ask a very important (and irritating?) question.

    I see myself as a stay-at-home mom first, and as an architect somewhere down the list. I find it very challenging to try to emulate Julia Morgan, AIA, while adequately fulfilling the demands of my other roles.

    I appreciate your comments here and wonder why you have yet to share them on the AIA Knowledge Net forum?

    It has taken a while for the conversation to begin to flow on this topic, but since my original blog post, there have been several extremely intelligent, eloquent, and helpful responses such as yours above.

    Your forum is new to me, so I am going to go have a look around. At first, on the link that was provided to me, I was a bit concerned that your forum was named after me. I’m glad that this is NOT the case. 🙂

    Best regards,

    • Jeremiah

      Tara, thanks for your comments and appreciation for my point of view. I haven’t posted on the Knowledge Net forum yet simply due to time and laziness mostly. 🙂 I will be posting it soon, though after reading Erin Rawlings post, I’m not sure I want to follow in such well written shoes. 😉
      I’m sorry you felt uneasy. I hope that isn’t the case any longer. If you’d like me to remove the mention of your name, I’ll be happy to do that and simply provide a link to the forum post. Thanks again for your comments. I hope you’ll have more to share on my blog.

  • Tara Imani

    Hi Jeremiah,

    No need to remove my name; I kind of like it now…up in lights. 😉 I think adding a link to the blog would be helpful, though; that would give more people a chance to read it and add their two cent’s worth.

    I saw your post on the AIA Knowledge Net site. That’s great! We need more people speaking out freely on this subject. Sometimes it’s okay not to wear all black or keep the white shirts buttoned up and bow ties tight around the necks. I think our profession needs to loosen up a bit so we can think more clearly about where we need to lead in the future.

    I will need to read a lot more of your posts to make any further contributions. After posting on other public forums, I’m learning, it is best to read first, speak slowly….if at all. I know this is the opposite of what I just said. But it’s the architects who are in the trenches doing the work that need to get their voice out. They truly have something valuable to say.

    • Jeremiah

      But I like wearing all black. Not so much no the bow ties, my shirt collar is tight enough without completely cutting off blood flow to my face.
      I had thought I included the link to the forums, but I had not. It is now updated. Thanks again and please speak up, speak out and speak often! 🙂

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