“Love is a battlefield.”- Pat Benatar
Do you think it is important for Architects to be on the same page in order to take our profession to the next level? If so, why? And, on which issues must we find consensus?
Why bring this up?
During a rare lunch meeting with a reputable firm principal he intimated to me- after he had participated in many efforts with the AIA (at both the local and national levels) how: “Architects are not on the same page….they’re just not.” I could tell he was frustrated by this, but not stymied by any means. What he didn’t say was what impact he thought this would have on the overall profession. What was implied, in my opinion, was that things would remain at a relative ‘stalemate’ or slow rate of change as long as architects were not in agreement on certain key issues. He did not mention what issues specifically, but I think he was referring to sustainable design and the green building code, among other things.
This conversation took place about a year ago. Since then, as far as what I’ve observed from reading the Twitter feed and posts on AIA KnowledgeNet and LinkedIn, his observation remains true: architects are not on the same page.
Exploring the Topics
Architects seem to disagree on many key issues such as: what constitutes good design; green design, green building codes, how to efficiently and equitably prepare construction drawings, the essential role(s) of architects in today’s society, what priorities we should be focusing on, how to implement BIM, should we implement BIM- and, if so, which BIM tool(s) are the best; how to educate architectural students, how to fairly compensate emerging professionals, how to negotiate fees commensurate with the services being provided, should we- no, yea, CAN we even discuss how to negotiate fees (no, well, maybe not, but- well, check out the recent November #AIAchat on Twitter where they discussed design fees). You can also read the AIA’s position statement regarding the lawsuit and judgment rendered against the AIA back in the early 1990s that has architects muzzled and running scared).
Did I leave anything out?
Probably. Oh, yes: we also seem to be divided into two camps: Modern vs Vernacular (traditional design); Residential (is it true that “real” architects don’t design houses as the City Architect of San Antonio quoted her previous boss as having said?) vs Commercial; Decorated Box vs Ornamentation, etc. Issues of style are, of course, still very important to us. And, another emergent dichotomy: the starchitects vs the huge aec conglomerates.
Making Sense of these Dichotomies- A Starter List
- LEED vs the IgCC (International Green Construction Code) vs Sustainable Design education inherent in most NAAB curricula vs outright ignorant slothfulness
- BIM and integrated design vs Silos
- CAD and BIM vs Hand-drafting working drawings (yes, it’s still being done)
- Training your employees vs Letting them fend for themselves and wasting your firm’s precious time and money
- Negotiating commensurate fees with your clients vs Allowing one’s self to be beaten down by the client and forced to work for “free”
- Being Innovative vs Producing the “same old, same old” to save money and time because the firm’s powers-that-be failed to negotiate a commensurate fee
- Learning how buildings go together vs Continuing to be the brunt of behind-your-back jokes as you leave the construction site or hang up the phone after a CM calls you for clarification of a detail
- Upskilling currently employed PMs on the latest CAD and BIM tools vs Hiring a young emerging professional who recently graduated with a Master of Architecture
I’m sure we can whittle these down into far more succinct dichotomies. For now, this will have to suffice, as we’re already engaged in battle.
Is this War?
Who is in the war? Apparently it’s not only architects against the elements, but it’s architects against architects. We are not even willing to stand up for ourselves, let alone one another! I find this a complete disgrace. We are so quick to trash architects, in general, in favor of other building professionals that it is embarrassing.
What is the collateral damage? I would say our talents; our knowledge, skills and abilities; our sense of who we are; and obviously, our very livelihoods are at stake.
I admit, it’s very troubling to discuss these ideas. I almost feel ignoble in attempting to do so. But, WHEN are we going to WAKE UP and start naming the elephants- the stampede of elephants- in the room???
To listen to some architects talk, it seems as though architecture and our profession is already dead. They seemed to have resigned themselves to the fact that, piece by piece, architects have chosen (yes, they blame themselves, you, me, the AIA, and other aec-related professions) for the decline in relevance of our profession.
Is architecture irrelevant? Or, are only some architects choosing to be irrelevant by looking at the glass as half (or completely) empty? Has technology rendered some of us irrelevant?
How has LEED and the whole USGBC Green movement affected architecture? Has it informed the general public at the expense of the architect’s employment? I would say, yes, it has. How, you might ask? Well, first of all, by placing unlicensed people and those who have not been educated in a school of architecture on par with licensed architects (and please correct me if I’m wrong about this). What the LEED credentialing process has done, in my opinion, is level the playing field. Essentially, it puts the ‘doctor’ at the same level as his/her ‘patient’ (or non-licensed competitor). The patient can now have the same- or higher- credential as the doctor. This being the case, who needs- or who can and should even trust- a doctor when they have less information than someone who studied the book and received LEED GA after their name? That is the scenario we now have as builders, employees, office assistants, and anyone who wanted to (or the firm thought needed to become so in order to get more LEED points)- but who are actually non-aec degreed and unlicensed “design folk”- have sat for the exam that is more a test of memory (from what I’ve been told) than it is of one’s true understanding of sustainable design principles and how to apply them in the built environment. And, what’s worse, due to the savvy marketing efforts of the USGBC, having the letters LEED after one’s name seems to carry far more clout and relevancy than AIA.
Okay, end of rant. Moving on…
How is BIM (Building Information Modeling, Management) being implemented? Is it a process that’s being “held hostage” by the corporate marketing strategies of AutoDesk? Was I the only person who was shocked that Frank Gehry signed on with AutoDesk (the owners of Revit) instead of “thinking outside the box” in favor of more user-friendly interfaces of Apple-based products? Is it a crime to even say or think this? Perhaps I’m just terribly misinformed.
As I read the recent article in Architectural Record on Frank Gehry’s newest endeavor, I couldn’t help but think: ‘…wow, you know the situation’s getting serious when Frank Gehry enlists a group of architects to set out to save the profession of architecture!’
So, which side are you on in the Battle to Save Architecture?
Are you going to be a total pansy and join the chorus of “Oh, I’ve seen houses or buildings, etc, designed by architects that are just as bad, if not worse, than those designed by:_____________(you fill in the blank).” Or, are you going to “man-up” and start speaking up on behalf and in favor of the strengths that architects bring to the table?
What is the Alternative to War?
Sitting back and doing nothing. Letting someone else define who we are. It is this kind of passive non-resistance that will lead us toward seeking alternative jobs in other professions or into perpetual unemployment.
What is the outcome if we lose this war? I think to do nothing will result in the loss of thousands of well-trained and educated individuals to other jobs. Loss of income. Loss of architectural design and all that goes with it (scale, proportion, beauty, space, light, etc). Have we already lost the war? For example, the new Architecture 2030 movement/initiative (which I respect) seems to promote a BIM process led by Mechanical Engineering and Sustainability models rather than a design process led by Architects. I support the new collaborative process; I just hope Architects are able to remain in the driver’s seat.
We have a choice: Either we stand on common ground and advocate more forecfully for our profession, or we retreat into our silos, rendering ourselves obsolete and becoming “Comfortably Numb.”
A Call to Action!
Do you feel this same sense of urgency as I do? If so, what are you doing to actively advocate for the profession of architecture?