Why Architects Matter
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Why Architects Matter

Evidencing and Communicating the Value of Architects

Flora Samuel

  1. 252 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Why Architects Matter

Evidencing and Communicating the Value of Architects

Flora Samuel

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About This Book

Why Architects Matter examines the key role of research- led, ethical architects in promoting wellbeing, sustainability and innovation. It argues that the profession needs to be clear about what it knows and the value of what it knows if it is to work successfully with others. Without this clarity, the marginalization of architects from the production of the built environment will continue, preventing clients, businesses and society from getting the buildings that they need.

The book offers a strategy for the development of a twenty-first-century knowledge-led built environment, including tools to help evidence, develop and communicate that value to those outside the field. Knowing how to demonstrate the impact and value of their work will strengthen practitioners' ability to pitch for work and access new funding streams. This is particularly important at a time of global economic downturn, with ever greater competition for contracts and funds driving down fees and making it imperative to prove value at every level.

Why Architects Matter straddles the spheres of 'Practice Management and Law', 'History and Theory', 'Design', 'Housing', 'Sustainability', 'Health', 'Marketing' and 'Advice for Clients', bringing them into an accessible whole. The book will therefore be of interest to professional architects, architecture students and anyone with an interest in our built environment and the role of professionals within it.

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Part I
The undervaluing of architectural knowledge
Chapter 1
Public image, misinformation and the bogey of dispensability
While the architecture profession has been in ‘crisis’ since its very beginnings it seems clear that a new crossroads has been reached. A fundamental problem for architects is that what Kaye describes as the ‘bogey of dispensability’ (Kaye, 1960, p. 1968), the feeling that they aren’t really necessary and that what they do do is of dubious worth.
Reverence for beautiful buildings does not seem a high ambition on which to pin our hopes for happiness, at least when compared with the results we might associate with untying a scientific knot or falling in love, amassing a fortune or initiating a revolution. To care deeply about a field that achieves so little, and yet consumes so many of our resources, forces us to admit to a disturbing, even degrading lack of aspiration.
(De Botton, 2006, p. 20)
It is perhaps this insecurity which causes architects to assert rather than evidence value, often in a manner which alienates others (Imrie and Street, 2011), contributing to the arrogant reputation of the profession. This chapter focuses on the professional identity of architects in Britain today – ‘the relatively stable and enduring constellation of attributes, beliefs, values, motives, and experiences in terms of which people define themselves in a professional role’ (Ibarra, 1999, p. 764).
Media representations of architects veer from adulation to contempt, the latter exemplified by this piece by Michele Hanson in The Guardian in support of the Japanese decision to shelve their planned Olympic stadium to be designed by Zaha Hadid Architects.
But it’s not just the monster egomaniac buildings that enrage me, the ones that heat up like a bakehouse, burn their surroundings, fall to bits, imperil window-cleaners, remain empty, cater only for millionaires, cock up our skylines, darken and oppress our streets. It’s the rubbish built for the poor that is really sickening: cheap, dull, minimum-height ceilings, mean little square windows – no ornament at all, not even a sill – crappy materials and the crappiest possible design. Near me lives an elderly woman in sheltered accommodation, with the fire alarm placed above her cooker. She hasn’t cooked a meal in months. But who cares? These places are for plebs. No architect would leave their dog in one overnight.
(Hanson, 2015)
‘Simple powerful messages about architecture are the ones that get remembered’ (Brittain-Catlin, 2014, p. 20), so how have architects come to be so reviled?
1.1 The image of the profession
Architect = An overworked and underpaid employee – of a pretentious registered practitioner of the arts (a prat). Many years in tertiary education have rendered the ‘architect’ bitter and in debt – and unable to relate to the remainder of society.
(UrbanDictionary.com, 2015)
Architect-bashing is a national sport. They are an easy target as they have neither powerful patronage nor public sympathy and are, in general, poor at fighting back. It is for this reason that Prince Charles has been able to be a long-term and vociferous critic of the mainstream profession (Prince of Wales, 1989) with almost complete impunity. Architects are very often used as the butt of jokes. Recently I saw the product designer Sebastian Conran speaking jovially about what he called the ‘three Fs of architecture’ – ‘finish, photograph and f. off’, a response that elicited a hearty belly laugh from the large London audience, including some significant policy figures, but left us architects feeling distinctly uncomfortable (Conran, 2014).
In terms of career happiness a 2014 government poll had ‘architects’ ranked at 97th (Easton, 2014). Satisfaction with the choice of architecture as a career is deteriorating (ACE, 2012), as is student satisfaction with architectural education (RIBA, 2015a). Architects in the UK regularly work unpaid overtime (RIBA, 2015b) and their average income is little more than that of a train driver. The median gross hourly pay for architects in the UK has remained roughly static at around £17 from 2008 to 2016 (GLA Economics, 2017, p. 27). It is bizarre, given its poor prospects, that architecture remains an attractive choice of career for so many young people and their parents, despite the vast cost of five full-time years of study in a UK university. ‘Through books, film, the Internet, and finally sheer willpower, the cultural idea and self-conception of the architect has enjoyed wild success, while architecture itself has failed both as a business model and as a tool for beneficial social change’ (Ratti and Claudel, 2015, p. 22).
In 1934 Gotch made the wry observation that a ‘“rich architect” would strike most of us as a contradiction in terms’ (Gotch, 1934, p. 1), yet rich-looking (male) architects abound in television and films. Architecture has traditionally been ‘a gentleman’s profession’ (Saint, 1983, p. 160), but ‘only just’ (Summerson, 1973, p. 20). Architects have a status classification of 1.2 in the UK census, along with surveyors, airline pilots and doctors (AJ, 2001). At the same time architecture is well known to be the ‘sexiest’ profession for men; sexy here seemingly relating to the enduring ‘romantic myth of the asocial, creative architect’ (Jones, 2009, p. 2524), the dominating type characterized by Howard Roarke in Ayn Rand’s famous novel and film The Fountainhead (1949) or the sensitive, but strong, architect using his drawing board to new ends in the film Indecent Proposal (1993) (ArchDaily, 2009).
Clothes play an important role in the construction of identity and the development of agency. For Georg Simmel social mobility takes place through adopting and impersonating the clothes of the elite (Simmel, 1957). A case in point might be the nineteenth-century fashion for bow ties among architects, worn to show they were artists and should not therefore be mistaken for the serving class (Shields, 1995) or indeed professionals. H.S. Goodhart-Rendel wrote in The Professions that: ‘In those happy days artists behaved and dressed as a class apart, and professional men slept in their top hats’ (1933). Nowadays fashion is more about the creation of identity than social mobility (Crane, 2001). Cordular Rau’s book Why Do Architects Wear Black? (2001) explores the profession’s obsession with this most negative of colours. The high priests and priestesses of architecture wear black, or its obverse extreme colour – Richard Rogers is famed for his red suits; ex-Mayor of Bristol and ex-President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) George Ferguson is famed for his red trousers and so on. Is the shunning of the traditional grey business suit the twenty-first-century equivalent of the bow tie?
Architects are also known for being unintelligible. Porter’s dictionary style book Archispeak: An Illustrated Guide to Architectural Terms (Porter, 2004) condones the use of ‘archispeak’ for ‘helping students understand the nuances of this specialised language’ and presumably learning to speak it themselves (Porter, 2004, preface). Craig Dykers of the Norwegian practice Snøhetta refers to the use of ‘taciterms’ in architecture ‘uncommunicative but eager to be specific. It is easy to lop off loose bits of a concept to form a categorical some-such that sounds good to the ear while the meaning is lost’ (Dykers, 2015). Such loose use of language may beguile students but generally fails to impress those beyond the profession. While archispeak might be important for the construction of group identity, it is also exclusionary (Richards, 2006).
Acceptance by peers seems to be more important to architects than public approval (Chaplin and Holding, 1998). It is possible that architects suffer from ‘groupthink’, which happens when ‘members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action’. The result is a ‘deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgement that results from in-group pressures’ (Janis, 1972, p. 9). Attoe argued that the multiple conflicting ‘inner voices’ working inside an architect can contribute to a sort of creative paralysis. ‘Knowing that I shall fail, that decisions are ultimately unjustifiable, I avoid decisions’ (Attoe, 1978, p. 132). It may be that architects end up hiding their ‘true face’ (Pels, 2000, p. 137) as they don’t actually know what it is. The Farrell report talks about ‘making the public better informed’ (Farrell, 2014, p. 87), but is it actually architects who need to be better informed?
In 2012 94% of architects were white (Fulcher, 2012). The number of women registered with the ARB (the Architects Registration Board) has only just passed the 25% mark (Marrs, 2017), despite huge growth in the number of female students. The speed with which women have been accepted into the profession does not compare favourably with that of medicine and law (de Graft-Johnson et al., 2007, p. 162). Interestingly there are more women architects working in London than elsewhere (GLA Economics, 2017, p. 23). Those women who have managed to make it into the profession are generally in low-status roles. The gender pay gap across the UK was 9.9% in 2016 (GLA Economics, 2017, p. 28) and a shocking 40% across Europe in 2014 (ACE, 2014), a recent Architects’ Journal survey suggesting a pay differential of some £50,000 at the top of the profession (Mark, 2017). Regardless of practice size, the percentage of women falls steadily by seniority, averaging 41% of architectural assistants but only 13% of Partners or Directors (RIBA, 2014, p. 1). Sociologists Fowler and Wilson have observed that there ‘are few grounds for [the] belief that women are on the verge of “making it” in architecture’ any time soon (Fowler and Wilson, 2004, p. 116). Many of the professions are experiencing a reduction of status in relation to their feminization (Bolton and Muzio, 2008), yet architecture seems to be experiencing a reduction in status even without being feminized. A lack of diversity in the profession continues to be a serious problem for its reception in the outside world (CABE, 2005; de Graft-Johnson et al., 2007, p. 179) and is a subject that will bubble to the surface repeatedly in this text. It is, however, important not to assume that things are the same across the globe, particularly on site.
1.2 Who needs an architect?
The architecture profession has developed in parallel with a growing interest in DIY and self-build. Indeed the DIY market in Britain expanded by 77% over the period 1990 to 2000 (Verdictonline, 2007), rendering architects seemingly more dispensable. The magazine Popular Handicrafts began to include articles on DIY in 1951, followed by the introduction of two new publications, The Handyman and Do-It-Yourself, in 1957 (Design Council, 1977; Powell, 1996). As people have grown more time-poor, DIY has started to decline (Powell, 2009), offering an opportunity for architects to step in to assist. However, the wide variety of material on the web, on the shelves of the newsagent WHSmith and in our libraries pertaining to the issue of home extensions does little to further the cause of the RIBA professional. Design is oddly absent from books such as the Loft Conversion Projects Guide (Construction Projects Association, 2010), suggesting that it is a non-issue. Paul Hymers, in his best-selling book Home Conversion, describes ‘a good designer’ solely as ‘one who possesses the necessary skills of draughtsmanship and is familiar not only with the details of construction, but also with the problems and regulations relating to the work’ (Hymers, 2003, p. 16). Time and time again the architect is depicted as a dispensable figure. The perception from the homeowners that I talked w...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Endorsement
  3. Half Title
  4. Title Page
  5. Copyright Page
  6. Dedication
  7. Contents
  8. List of illustrations
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. Introduction
  11. Part I The undervaluing of architectural knowledge
  12. Part II The value of architects
  13. Part III Making the most of architects
  14. Index
Citation styles for Why Architects Matter

APA 6 Citation

Samuel, F. (2018). Why Architects Matter (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1560632/why-architects-matter-evidencing-and-communicating-the-value-of-architects-pdf (Original work published 2018)

Chicago Citation

Samuel, Flora. (2018) 2018. Why Architects Matter. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/1560632/why-architects-matter-evidencing-and-communicating-the-value-of-architects-pdf.

Harvard Citation

Samuel, F. (2018) Why Architects Matter. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1560632/why-architects-matter-evidencing-and-communicating-the-value-of-architects-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Samuel, Flora. Why Architects Matter. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2018. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.