The Changing Role of Architects: Can Traditional Practice Continue to Survive and Thrive?
I first voiced this concern at a Saturday morning seminar on Life/Work Balance at the 2008 National AIA Convention in Boston, MA while participating in a small group talk. In that 4-hour seminar, we were set in groups of 10 at round tables to discuss issues we face as architects and how we approach them. When our group leader listed our top concerns about the profession, he did add mine at the tail end, namely, that "architects, as sole practioners, seemed to be facing obsolescence."
To my surprise, no one said anything. No one screamed. No one argued. No response- good or averse.
I suppose it was a subject that no one really wanted to discuss or even entertain- not for a moment. And maybe it isn't something to be said.
Perhaps architects are not facing extinction or the potential of becoming obsolete.
Yet, at a recent statewide Architecture Convention I attended, one of the most respected female leaders did say, during her brief talk as a panelist on the Young Architect's forum panel- when asked what is her next step- she said she planned to work at the national level to address some critical issues facing our profession because, as she stated: "I do think our profession [of architecture] is in trouble."
This theme was openly addressed, albeit in passing, almost as a side note issue in a few other seminars; and it was discussed in hush-hush tones after various seminars by a few attendees who I spoke with. It seems it's an ugly subject that no one really wants to address full-on...yet.
I forget who said it, it might have been the same YAF panelist, but the person further expounded on the problem: that architects have given up so much of their responsibilities that the profession is being eaten away.
Not to mention the capabilities of engineering and construction firms to handle design-build projects on time, on budget and, supposedly, with architectural finesse (due to the architects they have employed).
After hearing someone else voice my same concern, I felt a bit vindicated in having first raised it as an attendee at the 2008 AIA Convention in Boston, i.e. that huge world-renowned firms were going to swallow up our profession. And from the other side, looking to smaller residential projects, many clients seemed to be able to handle designs themselves (or so they think).
The other issue that adds to this is how drawings are put together. We went from hand drafting in the 1980's to blindly accepting AutoCAD in the late 1980's and going mainstream with CAD in the early 1990's. Then, we seemed to have BIM thrust upon us out of nowhere- or so it seemed- including newer programs like REVIT, not to mention older, less mainstream ones like ArchiCAD, etc. still being discussed, debated.
If surgeons operated like this...I shudder to think what would be the outcomes.
In a seminar I just recently attended this past weekend where a group of panelists- all Deans from prominent schools of architecture in Texas- spoke on critical issues facing education, it was mentioned- as a mere side note- that there is now a new software technology (not necessarily created for architecture) that is capable of far more powerful design abilities than BIM; and it supposedly enables lay persons to design in real time 3D, including the use of holograms, etc. Shouldn't we as architects be at the FOREFRONT of such technology? Why does it seem like we're lagging behind, playing catch-up in the area of technology?
I write all of the above as it begs several questions: to what extent is an architect needed in today's society? Are there too many licensed architects for the number of available projects? Or, are there not enough architects?
Also, in the above referenced panel of Texas Architecture school Deans seminar discussion at the most recent TSA Convention, the Dean from Prairie View A&M University put forth this question to the architects in attendance: Why aren't more architects taking a leadership role across the broad spectrum of business arenas?
Again, there was silence in the room.
Also, we explored the question of how strong and effective is the relationship between the university and the work force? Are architecture students being trained to fulfill the needs of firms?
While architects may not be facing all-out extinction, I think there's a major earthquake in the architecture profession which will undoubtedly lead to major changes- for the better- across the profession.
From a legal and building permit standpoint, architects will always certainly be required on many/most projects. Yet, firms like Jacobs engineering, for example, can handle those larger projects. The pie does seem to be getting smaller, or the slices are being cut bigger- thus fewer pieces to go around.
Are you concerned about this?
If, as Lisa Stacholy's video states, 80% of architectural practices are less than 10 people in size, surely this blog must resonate with the majority of AIAKnowledge Net members.
All comments, ideas, and perspectives are encouraged.