Thursday, October 29, 2015

Role of the Architect

By Aaron Neal

What is the role of the architect?  If we look into the past, historically architects were the master builder and sole designer and engineer for a project.  This was the case for most of human history and it wasn’t until the past two centuries that it has really changed.   As buildings became more complicated and advanced the amount of knowledge necessary to design them increased.  This increase of knowledge made it harder for one person to be qualified in every aspect of the building.  This allowed for specialists to come in and advance the construction industry.  Two examples of this, The Crystal Palace and Eiffel Tower, were both designed by non-architects.   What then becomes of the architect and their role in the construction process?  As new structural systems and mechanical systems became introduced into buildings, Architects were forced to hire engineers to design those systems.  Throughout the last hundred years, architects have relied heavily on these specialists to substantiate their designs.  As more technologies integrated with buildings, more specialists became necessary.  While it’s true that architects with their current level of training cannot have the certification necessary in all of these fields, hiring specialists poses a serious problem to the field of architecture.  What has become of our role in the construction process?  As it stands now, we are the overseers of the entire project, trying to make all the specialists work together into one integrated design for smooth construction.  This means that we are dependent on these specialists for major projects, and that means that they have a higher value.  With having a higher value these specialist fields – engineers, simulation analysists, etc – can be getting paid more.  As their value increases, our value decreases to the point to which the mass public has no idea what we even do as architects.  This problem will only increase too as we architects demand more technology and testing in our designs.  For example, with the notion of LEED, or Living Building, to get the design to be considered LEED of Living Building, someone with proper certification must say it is so.  As architects we want to push for more sustainable designs – and we should – but this only adds one more specialist that we need to come in to substantiate our designs.  So the question on the table is, how do we increase our value as architects?  As of now, most new construction isn’t designed by an architecture firm.  Instead contractors build up mcmansions, or corporations throw up offices and big box stores.  How to we reclaim our value as architects, to make these contractors or corporations view us as a necessity instead of a needless expense?  Is it with sustainable design?  Is it with our knowledge of basic design?  Is it our skill of networking multiple specialties together on one project?  An answer may not exist, but one thing is for sure.  Architects no longer have the role they used to, and if we don’t do anything about it, we will only devalue ourselves and become extinct. 

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