Redefining the Design Team: The Need for Synthetic Thinking between Engineers & Architects
Royal Academy Lecture given by Ian Ritchie, 16th October 1995
The reason I have been asked to say a few words at this meeting on Redefining the Design Team is, first, to announce my own personal indebtedness to engineers and at the same time to help proclaim to a wider audience that Art is an essential ingredient of all good design, although that art has, and is still, so often buried beneath an avalanche of the architectural taste of the day.
It was Buckminster Fuller who once said that most architects are simply good (or bad) taste purchasing agents (ie. they’re experienced at selecting from catalogues).
To enjoy the company of engineers, economists and those in the construction industry is a privilege, but for me they must be more than just concerned with their own world. They must be sensitive human beings, who have a personal philosophy about life in general. This is often too rare, or rarely apparent, but I have been fortunate to have met and worked with a few, and there is no doubt in my mind that they deserve public recognition (even if they don’t seek it) on an equal basis to those architects they have worked with.
What these people have in common is confidence, and an intuitive sense of sharing an experience, where the job is the goal, not their job.
Numbers, (says John McLeish in his recent publication) “are not a sadistic conspiracy devised by one half of society for torturing the other half. Instead they are evidence of our inventive genius, and understanding them is one of the most important characteristics that distinguish us (as animals) from other animals.”
If we add culture to numerical literacy, then we really do create the medium of invention. Today this culture, at a personal level, between individuals, can often begin with estranged collaborators, all of whom have to be capable of shedding their protective skins to enable a barrier free exchange to take place – this is the primary move to allow cultural fertilisation and innovation to take place.
This approach is no different in a larger context. History is full of nations and peoples developing philosophies and techniques which have, through mixing, produced the context for extraordinary creativity.
An exhibition is essentially about cultural exchange – the Royal Academy is such a venue. In 1992, an exhibition – Art of the Structural Engineers, had the themes of concept, form, materials, connection and construction – these are no different from the essential components of architecture, sculpture, even music, which is why there should and must be common ground between those of us who are fortunate to be entrusted with a major role in creating our built environment.
The true artist searches for the essence in things and then seeks to express it. It may be in the properties of a material, or how one part interacts with another. When brilliantly expressed it is inevitably controversial, i.e. it makes us rethink.
Engineering is a domain which should seek essence. Engineering is much more than a quiet service industry to architectural egos, but perhaps it is too provocative to suggest that without engineers, Architects would collapse.