I recently responded to a comment by Anne where she complained,
“…between 12 consultants, the architect sort of figured out the basic shape of the building, and then selected the paint color and showed the interior walls. The roofing consultant, curtainwall consultant, landscape consultant, acoustician, engineers….did the actual building. I’m not entirely sure what the architect did on that job.”
I responded to her by defending architects, and stating that the level of responsibility on large projects exceeds simple design aesthetics by requiring extra diligence to coordinate the respective collaborative components of all consultants. However, upon self-reflection I cannot defend the actions of all architect drones. Architect drones are the reason why developers and contractors “design” the majority of the built environment. Architects design 5% of all structures,1 but only a fraction of that 5% is even thoughtfully designed. Perhaps Frank Gehry was right and “98% of what gets built today is shit.” Unfortunately, many practicing architects are contributing to that 98%.
I went to architecture school with a person who often took pictures of ugly houses and poorly designed objects. He once was taking a picture of an unsightly designed house, when the owner came out and questioned why he was taking pictures. I looked up to people like this, people who continuously wanted a better-built environment. He didn’t care what other people thought; he would tote his camera around his neck, pulling the car over at a whim’s notice to document the design environment.
However, this guy took a job with a nondescript longstanding architect firm who continuously produces large-scale buildings lacking any design aesthetics.2 Perhaps it was the economy, and he was just happy getting a job, but he adores his current employer and is committed to a senior position within the firm.
Millennials enter the workforce with wide-eyes and believe they can change the world. But after a month of drafting commercial toilet room elevations does one’s creative energy instantly switch from saving the world, to saving the Bonsai in the corner office?
I have another architecture friend whom began his illustrious career working at a “firm” whose only client was a mattress chain.3 All the stores were implemented inside existing malls; thus the majority of his job involved dealing with municipality code reviews.
As this particular friend honed his craft, he took a “better” job at a competing “firm” and now only works for a client who is a national discount shoe retail chain, doing the exact same mundane job. And he still has never designed anything inspiring.
When did this become architecture?
Architects are slowly becoming irrelevant by their own hand by increasingly shirking responsibilities. Most municipalities currently require an architectural stamp for all commercial projects, but I can foretell a near future where developers will bypass these legally mandated developmental restrictions, thereby further diminishing the relevance of many architects.
Currently, many projects that require an architect are mostly devoid of innovative thought. These projects, such as schools, hospitals, or military compounds, solely require an architect for overall consultant coordination.4 I can see a new professional degree offered at Universities: Consultant Coordinator. The Consultant Coordinator would “coordinate” all of the consultant drawings; input these drawings and the relevant IBC code information into Revit. And Presto! Hospital designed! With only an architect needed to dictate the radius of interior corners in relationship to happiness levels.5
Architects are no longer regarded as the world’s “master builders”, and we need to start taking back responsibilities to contribute to a better-built environment. Architects need to stop bowing down to a client’s “wants”, but rather design solutions to a client’s “desires.”
The general population views themselves as hobby architects. They think they can just as easily clip images of spaces/materials, and only need an architect to “draft” those pieces together. However, architecture isn’t a product. It’s a service. Architecture is not a Build-A-Bear business. If architects only pieced pre-selected components together, then what is the need of hiring an architect? You would just need to go to the Build-A-House kiosk in the mall, and leave half an hour later with a finished product.
Steve Jobs famously said,
“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Steve jobs was right, but only within the narrow range of inspirational business models. Architects need to exist within this realm, where creative and talented teams of architects build processes that become demanded. Otherwise, architecture will not survive, unless you want to become a Consultant Coordinator.