Extinction of Mainstream Architecture. A Myth or Reality?
What is architecture? Who is an architect? What do architects do?
These are the questions that plague my mind daily as they are questions constantly asked by the users of the products of architecture. Hence my dilemma, how efficient is a product when its proposed users do not fully understand the role of the manufacturer or his/her intentions. I dare say that I have not fully comprehended the extent to which architects are needed but my focus here is with a more pressing issue, the future of architects.
Over the last two decades, the construction industry has been subject to dramatic changes, paving the way for a future in which traditional spatial concepts are no longer valid. It is not a secret that technology has accelerated at an incredible pace! Architecture is not an exception. Architecture as we know it is likely to disappear and, in the future, the role of architects may be very different from how we recognize it today. Future projects will require knowledge and expertise from different fields as is evident in some of the projects today, it is reasonable to expect that the emergence of specialists from various fields will eliminate many of the job profiles currently existing in the construction industry.
Architects have a mastery of complex situations and have developed multiple solutions to difficult problems. Design thinking, an intuitive problem-solving methodology, grew, in part, out of our architectural problem-solving design methodologies and has quickly found its way into the business world. Barbara Bryson (2017), while the rest of the world is learning from our processes, grabbing our best material and moving on to success and relevance, we are impossibly stagnant in process and perspective, vulnerable to irrelevance and even extinction.
It has been estimated that 80 per cent of the world is now built without architects and thanks to our reluctance to embrace and manage risk (see the AIA contracts), architects’ contract for a smaller percentage of project responsibilities than ever before. The structure of our pedagogy that focuses on teaching us ‘what to think’ rather than ‘how to think’ about the business of design and construction has left us limited in scope as designers and disabled in creative business solutions. Also, original research and knowledge are ideas very vague and almost nonexistent in the world of architecture. We cannot prove why we add value.
Architects often insulate our profession with lazy, self-indulgent seminars and conferences. In a world where social media and misinformation often reign, it is critical to tell our story clearly and effectively. While other professions are striving daily to improve their communication and reach to the common man, architects communicate with made-up polysyllabic words that have no meaning to anyone but a few architectural theory insiders.
Experts say collaboration with system leaders is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for meeting complex structural needs. Collaboration is key to the future we are rapidly approaching. Sadly, the collaborative process is still far fetched in our world as architects, because we talk the talk but do not necessarily walk the walk. Simply put, there are no original architectural challenges in the 21st century that are simple enough for a single person to resolve on his or her own, hence the need for collaboration.
In Future Practice, Bruce Mau stated, “We are adding one million people a week to the planet and if the average child is 7 ½ lbs., that’s seven and a half million pounds of flesh every week,” and “the way we will solve this problem is to design new ways of living to accommodate our scale and we are a million miles away from that.” As architects who are great problem solvers, we must lift our heads, see what is occurring in the world and we must adapt. We face big challenges and we must grab the opportunity to build on the knowledge of others, even if that knowledge comes from a small irrelevant company somewhere in China.
Mainstream architecture surely would go extinct as the predicted problems of the future would require ingenious solutions with the demand for resources greater than the available resources. Land is becoming scarce as the world’s population grows and environmental changes shrink the amount of livable space on Earth.
While all of these are the realities of the architecture profession, we can stay relevant if we expand our impact by learning to think about the business of design and construction, manage risk, engage in rigorous research experiences and support research that builds generalized knowledge. As architects, we also need to learn the art of storytelling in a manner compelling enough to communicate the value of our profession.
The world is changing and while it is projected that there would be an 8% growth in the employment of architects, it is strongly tied to the activity of the construction industry. Therefore, a dwindle in the construction industry can greatly affect the employment of architects and technology is moving at an unprecedented pace as to cause a shift we might not be prepared for.
- Barbara Bryson (2017) Future of Architects: Extinction or Irrelevance,
- TMD Studio Ltd (2017), Emerging Trends That Will Shape the Future of Architecture
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Architects,
- on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/architects.htm (visited September 17, 2019)