Architecture is not just about being Sexy!


When you pick up a magazine about architecture the cover is most likely an oasis of proportion, grace, and detail. The work that we as a profession celebrate most often is beautiful, skillfully done, and probably touched up just a little with Photoshop.… This is not unique to the architectural industry of course, we are a society that loves the book cover before reading the book. We are trained to go see a movie based on 5 seconds of action in the trailer. We are drawn to purchase a car by the smooth lines and sleek curves. We are a society that loves aesthetically beautiful, sexy, dynamic solutions.

Architecture schools spend countless hours teaching design based on drawing hypothesis of connections and focusing of the spatiality of modernity while the functionality of the dynamics are metamorphosised into a instatiation of visualization. OK I just started putting random words together there at the end, but we spend a lot of time training aesthetic thinkers and not much time training functional problem solvers. I am not condemning the profession or academia by any means. I see that successful architects have learned the functional problem solving skills, they simply learn it on the job. The problem that I see is that society gives little value to this functional problem solving side of the equation with so much of the focus in magazines, schools, television on the sexy side of the solutions equation.

There is a lot that goes into the process of design. Architects have to understand the sexy side of the design process and I believe they get that completely. What is eroding the profession is that too many only focus on that part and that part is being taken by others that are not trained in the functional solution part of the design process. The majority of the buildings built in a community are not going to be earth-shaking architectural creations. They are going to be nice looking buildings that hopefully meet the program needs. I see in this community so many people who are not asking for or demanding someone who fully understands design to help them through the process of creating the building. Rather they are relying on someone who can make the building look good and the program fit in the square footage allowed. There is little attention paid to the flow from space to space, the proportions of the spaces, the light coming in, the comfort of the space, the efficiency of the framing, the quality of the indoor air……….. I could go on. We have to raise the bar for the architectural profession and start talking about the not so sexy parts of design that we bring to the table. A high level of understanding of building science should be demanded. We have to stop making partial solutions that lead to big problems. For example, there is a project I ran by yesterday in our mixed humid climate that I am sure will have granite countertops and an incredible front facade, but also has a vapor barrier in the wall system and a vented crawl space. This owner paid good money for a design that is not energy-efficient and will have poor indoor air quality. They are getting an impressive house that will look good from the street, but it will not be durable and long-lasting – if for nothing else the energy bills will be outrageous compared to a well designed efficient home.

Architects should be the leading voice in design solutions, not sexy solutions, design solutions. I don’t believe that any of us have all the answers, in fact I know enough now to know that there are no perfect solutions and many more questions than answers. We need architects that are willing to listen and stop talking. We need to be open to learning new ways and techniques every day. We need this profession to step forward and lead, not just be being loud, but by being examples in the community. Architecture will always be celebrated for being Sexy, we just need to add some practical problem solving specification writing building science efficiency to the equation!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. T. Caine says:

    I think I am in the same position as many architects that would completely agree with the problem statement here, but not exactly sure what the avenue of a solution is. Often, it is not that we are dealing with a client base that is not interested in fundamental building performance. Ultimately we are dealing with a force of societal momentum that is striving for more (often unnecessary) space built and dressed with unrealistic expectations for cost–essentially, pointed in the opposite direction of efficiency and quality.

    “The majority of the buildings built in a community are not going to be earth-shaking architectural creations. They are going to be nice looking buildings that hopefully meet the program needs.” The majority of homes built in this country are not going to use an architect at all, let alone engineers. It is difficult to make the case for upgrading performance and inherent quality in homes when our prospective involvement only incurs a cost that contractors can say is unnecessary.

    “We need architects that are willing to listen and stop talking.” Okay, but listen to who? Who are we having that conversation with? Is it clients that don’t know about the attributes to look for? Is it to builders that still need to learn the methods we are trying to instill? Is it engineers that we don’t have the fees involve in the home building process in the first place? Who is actually doing the talking and how it is ultimately helping to change the minds of the forces that push in the opposite direction?

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  2. I agree that it takes a long time to turn a giant ship in a new direction. We need a common voice to make it happen. When you read magazines, watch television shows, or talk to most architects you hear and see a focus on aesthetics and not on practical and functional design. I am guilty of this myself, I show the best looking work that I do in social media and at job interviews. The problem with this strategy is that it continues to push the idea that we simply make the project look pretty when we actually do so much more.

    The majority of homes are not designed by architects because we gave up that niche a long time ago. The majority of people in this country have never experienced a well designed home and don’t know the value added to their daily lives of having such a space to live and function within.

    I suggest we start listening to our clients and hear what they are saying about how the spaces function. We should listen to society and start leading towards solutions that make sense. We should do what we are best trained to do – identify issues and problems and offer fair and balanced functional solutions that are aesthetically pleasing.

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  3. “A high level of understanding of building science should be demanded.”

    Hear, hear!

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  4. Thanks for reading Allison. You should all check out his blog for incredible information on building science! http://www.energyvanguard.com/blog-building-science-HERS-BPI/

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