Architect – vital or over-rated?
An article in the Guardian this week claimed that “Architecture is a cult and its members build monuments to show off their ingenuity”.
As we work with many architects this led me to ponder whether this is true and whether we would be better off without them or not.
Jonathan Meades berated architects for a “lack of empathy”. This is certainly not my experience.
Architects we work with, certainly the ones we work with repeatedly, are very particular to define their brief. The success or failure of their career will be determined by favourable reviews and those favourable reviews will be driven, to a large extent, by the people who live in and pass through their buildings. Those people will remember all too clearly what they asked for and what they got.
Some architects can look to solve problems that the client didn’t even know they had and this, on some occasions, can lead to imposition of more work than was envisaged or even than was strictly necessary but just as often can lead to a richer solution than was anticipated. Certainly this position of omniscience and trust can lead to elements of delusion and omnipotence but these days architects live in a very competitive market with many capable architectural technicians eager to take work away from overpriced supremoes. This keeps most architects firmly anchored in the reality of budget constraints and planning restrictions. Our simple advice here – speak to more than one; who do you get on with and how much are they going to charge?
One point in the article that I do agree with is the idealising nature of photography in buildings.
Meades claims that the architect is involved in a process in order to produce a beautiful photograph and that the architect is rather disappointed when the building is then used. I don’t see this. To me the beautiful photograph is a by-product of a successful job rather than a driver. What worries me more is the use the photo is put to. Images drive desire. We are all involved in a move away from what we need to what we want and the images will snare and lead us in this journey. Architecture is not unique in fuelling this consumerism escalation but it is complicit. Our advice is to remember what it is you are trying to achieve and to be firm about the price you are willing to pay for it. Treat photos as a demonstration of capability rather than as a shopping list.
Meades claims that architecture is a cult inhabited by “a smugly hermetic milieu” and that it has a language all of its own that excludes others. Again I don’t think that that makes architecture unique. I have a friend who works for Vodaphone and her work language is even more abstruse than mine. Nor do I find it surprising – buildings these days ARE complicated.
Passivhaus’s technical, heritage projects are specialized and structures are complex even when appearing effortless. That a particular language exists to deal with this is not a surprise in fact it is kind of efficient. However building is not rocket science and the principles should be communicable to all. Don’t nod at the incomprehensible ASK, it might be bullshit. The self-build market is great at keeping us honest here as self-build clients often want to know an awful lot about their building and the process they will go through. Delivering this message clearly feeds in to all our other projects.
Finally I’d like to counter the whole tone of the article to say that a huge amount of the study that architects go through is aimed at understanding where buildings come from and how they fit in their geographical setting but also how they will be used and evolve. Given the opportunity to create a monument, most architects would probably say yes but architects are really no more hubristic than the rest of us.
What are our key considerations?
1. Speak to more than one architect. Be clear about what you want to achieve and how much money you have to spend.
2. Consider your checks and balances – our legislature is separate from our executive for good reason. Do you want the same person creating a scheme, telling you how much it’s going to cost and delivering it for you? Where is the control coming from?
3. What are you asking them to do and how much are they going to do it for.
It’s okay to talk about scope, timings and fees with your architect. In fact it’s vital.
We’d like to hear your point of view on this article so we can share it and comment on it.