Where I’m Coming From: Architecture as a Discipline

What is an architect?  Well, to be clear, I am not one, since that title requires specific education, experience, credentials and licensing which I am only in the process of acquiring.

Architecture is a big field.  It includes everyone from lowly CAD monkeys, to heads of firms to construction workers,  to academics and theorists.  I think in the future it is going to have to stretch further still to incorporate any number of other less conventional titles.  Architecture needs to refocus on outreach.  Sure we can design up a storm but the real trick of our profession is that we then need to sell someone on our work.  This means reaching out to the public, to the local government, and even to the much reviled developers.

Our ideas can only make a difference if they are used.  Theoretically we already have an organization, the AIA, which is responsible for liaising with the public and with the American government.  This doesn’t seem to be working very well though.  Architects as individuals need to take a more active role in legislation and local government.  Instead of banging our heads against building codes which direct designers toward conventional and unhealthy building we should be actively engaged in rewriting zoning and city ordinances.  We should be involved in educating our fellow citizens about the importance of design.  We can’t afford to sit around and wait for someone else to explain our work to the world.  If the profession of architecture is to continue to exist as anything more than an adjunct to contracting we are going to have to take responsibility for our own outreach.

An architect, in the course of daily duties, is already a draftsman, a project manager, a lobbyist with the city and even a marriage councilor.   I think this is the strength of the profession – it is capable of morphing into anything it needs to be, almost moment by moment.  An ideal architect can be Johnny-on-the-spot, drawing up plans one minute, talking people through choices about the kind of lifestyle they want to lead, the next and perhaps even wielding a hammer on the jobsite when needed.  I hope that in the future architects will also include more ethical and environmental advocacy in their job description.

At some point it will become clear that good design is based in sustainability – because we simply can’t afford to do anything else.  Wouldn’t it be lovely to see architecture leading the charge in that respect rather than being dragged along kicking and whining.  I’d like to see that happen.

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