Architects – Vitally Important
It is an architects job to inspire in others a vision for a better built environment – its what we are trained for. Some say that our purpose is to fulfil the vision of others, to produce their designs. If this is what being an architect is, then I want no part of it. This is about a design expression based on a learnt understanding of the dynamics of spaces and places. We have been trained for this. Tough times are upon us though, and we are suffering, on many levels.
Financially speaking, being an architect isn’t what it use to be, or so I’m told. Over heads are increasing, fees are reducing, and so is our control over design. It is becoming less about what we as trained professionals can give the client, but how we can churn out a job in the shortest amount of time. Where is the creative aspect of the job gone? Where has the inherent trust that comes with being a professional disappeared to? At the small to medium scale project level all I’m seeing is a reduction in innovation, driven by what I consider to be 2 main factors.
The first, as I eluded to before is a constricting economical environment. The second, and in my view, far more serious factor, at least in the long term is a trend I’m witnessing with many residential clients to want to control the design aspect as well as the budgetary, planning and consultation phases of a project. They interject into the design phase, at all levels, to such an extent as to make the role 10 times harder. I can only presume to know why this is, but I have a good idea – the trust the public has in architects has been eroded away as the respect for the profession has been undermined. You wouldn’t trust a doctor if it appeared his role was no longer vital to your health. The medical profession however is protected from such things, and rightly so, but architects on the other hand are not. We may not save lives, but we sure do have an important role to play in the shaping of urban environments, yet why do others think they are better trained than us to do this?
An engineer can make a structure stand up, but he has no idea about the complexities of understanding positive and negative spaces inside a building, or how to cater to them. A builder will not innovate or push the aesthetic boundaries if he doesn’t need to, he is controlled by financial restraints. The planning officer knows the rules, but he doesn’t understand them.
There are those out there who don’t think a professional that has the ability to do all these things is necessary, because its rare that people can look beyond the financial aspect and view the bigger picture. This isn’t meant to sound like an insult, but merely an observation. If an architects role was more heavily protected, then there wouldn’t be questions pertaining to our importance or ability, because they would be givens. They however are not, and there are those who think they can do what we do.
“Do you have a pencil please” are the words I dread to hear, but its happening more frequently. What comes next follows a similar pattern each and every time; the client draws an outlandish concept on paper, usually based on a myriad of photos they have with them, often on their phone, from as wide a range of sources as possible. “what I want is a French Chateau-esqe 3 storey extension, but in a neo-modern swiss style, with african influences, but it must look old, with an edgy look, I want plenty of wood, although obviously brick to match the house 14 doors down, oh, and a swimming pool”.
They will back this wonderful proposal up with plenty more photography, often taken out of a moving train (yes, really) – “you can’t really see it, but that is exactly what I want. It’s on the Birmingham to London train, about 45 minutes outside of the M25, do you know it?” – um, no.
The most favourable client is the one who comes into the meeting with an outline of what it is they need, not a precise idea of what they want visually. By all means, have ideas, provide us with things you like, but please don’t ask for a pencil to sketch out your masterplan. Give us a collection of places you like, but don’t ask (in some cases tell ) us to combine them all. We are experts in the design of the urban fabric, let us design. Trust in us to deliver to you a space, structure, building or environment that provides everything you need and more. Trust in your architect, and we will deliver – I promise.
So, in 2011 I want to call for more protection for the architect. Our job is vital, and without us the built environment would suffer enormously. Give us the right to charge enough so we have the chance to design and conceptualise without the fear of the bottom line. Make our role as important to the built environment as a doctor is to your health. We train for long enough to be able to deliver, its just a shame that those who see it fit for us to train here in the UK for 7 years don’t feel it prudent enough to offer us a stable, financially secure environment is which to work. RIBA, ARB, the government – I’m looking at you.