We live at a time when the question of the architectural profession’s viability and ability to demonstrate value to society as a whole is of concern to many of its practitioners.
Architects have lost territory to many other professionals — the management of projects, cost control and in many cases direct access to, and the respect of, clients.
For architects to remain relevant, and if the future generations of architects are to be able to respond effectively to the new demands placed on the profession, a radical change in the whole framework of architectural education and training is necessary.
Because the architect’s practice in the real world now requires more skills than those available within the artistic paradigm alone, the focus of architectural education needs to shift from the act of design for its own sake. Students must be allowed time and opportunity to acquire a real and broad knowledge of the other disciplines involved in architecture – from art to neuroscience and engineering. It is also vital to allow time for a student’s personal intellectual passions. These may have only a tangential relationship with architecture, but an engagement with philosophy, poetry or any other kind of non-architectural endeavour can bring a sense of unity to thought and action within the architectural realm.
An emphasis on the socio-cultural disciplines will enable students to understand the importance of reconciling theory and practice in the real world. Architectural creativity must be recognised and taught as an interactive quality which expands from within the designer’s mind to include the extrinsic influences, the environmental, social and cultural concerns of the societies within which the architect will be working.
Whereas most young architects soon realise that architecture is a collaborative profession, they must also be taught that it is crucial that architects listen to and involve the people who will use and be affected by the environment in the process of decision making. Learning to distinguish between their personal values and the values of those for whom they design, and the difference between design decisions which are based on the one or the other, will help avoid ‘Starchitect syndrome’.
The question of ethics within the profession must be addressed. If the justification of architecture as a profession is that it provides buildings and urban structures that enhance the physical, social and spiritual environment, then there must be an integration of creative and social responsibility. The value of service to others should be given at least equal weight to the value of the designer’s artistic expression, as the architect should only be celebrated when he/she provides a building or urban shape which serves a community’s needs and expresses its cultural messages.
The architects of the future should be taught to understand the nature of their commitment to architecture and the role of the profession in modern society. They must accept that in terms of their influence on society and the physical environment, they have a moral and social responsibility – namely, to recognise and act on the recognition that what they are doing is not just about meeting the brief to the minimum cost or expressing their personal creativity. As architects, we cannot escape the simple fact that what we design now is for tomorrow and the next generation.
© 2017 Ian Ritchie