Architects have a huge responsibility in front of them – will they accept the challenge?

Why change, after all, we have “always done it this way?” This is an interesting attitude that does not solely exist in the construction industry but throughout society. We don’t like change. Doing things that we are used to, comfortable with, and know the expected outcome does not cause us stress. We want things to be simple. So why rock the boat now?

Things have changed, continue to change, and are changing at a very rapid pace. Look at technology within the last 4 years. If you go to the job site now you may find a site supervisor with an IPad in their hands looking at the drawings, specs, searching product data sheets, logging time, or checking the radar. It was just a few years ago I was working on a project in Charlottesville where I had to fight to get the site supervisor to EMAIL me his question because the quality of his fax was not readable.

Beyond the changes on the job site, technology is changing how we build. It was just two years ago that I designed a home in Harrisonburg and sent it out to bid. I asked for advanced framing techniques to be used in some places on the home and most of the bidders charged extra for that “green stuff” the architect added. Last week when I visited a job site in Charlottesville I found an insulated header I did not ask for from a contractor that told me “I want to do this right.”

A home, commercial building, or warehouse are all very complicated machines that need someone looking at the system in a holistic manner. Buildings are complicated, there are many moving parts, and every decision impacts three or four hundred other items. This is not an industry that should NOT be solely focused on aesthetic solutions when building owners are struggling with energy costs and comfort issues.

Architects need to take responsibility and lead our industry. Architects need to talk about the importance of well thought out designs, specifications, building science, documentation, and functional solutions. Architects need to know building materials, who to call with questions about building materials, and where to find the factual information about building materials. Architects need to demand clear lines of communication, offer documentation is that clear, concise, correct, and complete.  Architects as a profession need to reestablish their value to the construction industry as more than just someone to make it look beautiful. Architects have a huge responsibility in front of them – will the industry step up and take on the challenge?

4 Comments Add yours

  1. This is SUCH a great post.

    As you point out so well, architects should not be “solely focused on aesthetic solutions.” However, architects happen to be the most appropriate people to consider aesthetics in addition to all the other issues you touch on in this post. ARCHITECTS MUST STEP UP and lead the construction industry in these areas of construction documentation, construction communication, and building science. These areas of architecture ALL HELP TO DETERMINE THE APPEARANCE OF A BUILDING, in the short term (for the photo shoot) and over the long term.

    If architects do not lead, architects will end up following, and the issues that architects have historically led, even aesthetics, will all be dictated to us by the people who are willing to step up and accept the responsibility and the risk.


  2. Liz,

    Indeed we are seeing it on so many projects today. “The budgets are too tight to do more than just get a permit set.” This is such a dangerous approach for our buildings. In the residential market – many go to magazines for plans rather than architects to design solutions. In commercial more and more are going to contractors for design build where build is the priority. This is not the case in every solution, but is certainly becoming the norm in our market. I cannot say it enough – design matters. The architect needs to take responsibility for more than decorating or we are going to lose as a society.


  3. T. Caine says:

    I think Liz brings up a good point, and the response to that is just as true as well, but I question the number of available avenues that will actually bring us to a different place as a profession.

    One of the more deeply rooted problems is that architects operate in a field that is amongst the Fine Arts with the added, unique pressure of functionality. The catch is that for most people (certainly in the realm of residential homes) we are being hired as artists, not orchestrators, because the average client does not know about the level of coordination necessary for a house to be built. But the truth is most don’t want to know either. So much of our value falls under an umbrella of topics that most people just want to know is getting done–not be further educated about. So how do you market that? We don’t have the capacity to be teaching architecture to the general populace any more than one could teach respect for painting or sculpture. This is a direction society needs to take for itself. Until then, clients will only appreciate a great space by being in one–by seeing the fruits of our profession next to the developer special.

    The option that architects have is to consume more of the building process themselves. Design/builders shouldn’t be contractors that have compiled enough standard details to wing it themselves. They should be architects that are absorbing the ability to build and integrate the decisions they know are essential for the best spatial and functional solution. I see that as the lead that architects need to take–seizing every opportunity for authorship that we can. As we know very well, if an architect doesn’t author something someone else will. Either “architecture” will evolve to envelope more capacity to decide the end result or architecture will continue to migrate towards a service that is provided to facilitate rather than create.


  4. T. Caine,

    You make a very valid point. However, if our publications, discussions, tweets, Facebook posts, conversations, and interactions focused on holistic design solutions rather than just aesthetics wouldn’t some of the general public take notice. I am as guilty as anyone – it is much easier to post a picture of a project than to discuss the hours of details it took to make it successful. I have also been accused of being too technical in my posts on many occasions and try to balance both extremes. We need to let the general public know our work is more than just a pretty picture or we will be relegated to aesthetics alone. I don’t want to be a builder – I think they do a good job on their own. I do want to collaborate with great builders to make the best project possible.


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