As an architect I find myself sometimes reluctant, especially in social situations, to tell people what I do. Sounds crazy, considering it is an honorable profession requiring lots of education, training, testing, not to mention participation in many successful designs, and further considering that I am always looking for new projects. Actually, this is an unconscious reaction that, until recently, I neither recognized nor examined, which begs the question; “why now?”
First a word about teaching: For the past couple of years I have been working to develop and refine a presentation designed to enlighten potential new clients and other interested parties on the details of architectural services performed, not only by my firm, but also design professionals in general. In the beginning the project was unashamedly self serving, done because I found that successful projects often resulted when the client had some previous experience with building. These clients were easy to please because their expectations were well defined. My practice involves working with small businesses, many of whom are startups. I thought that imparting some of this experience could prove immensely facilitating for both client and architect. This lead me look for a way to teach about what architects really do, finally resulting in a two part, two hour long power point presentation, posted on our website, Youtube and presented live in various venues. Although these efforts were naturally directed towards our specialized area of practice, there was a larger unanticipated outgrowth having to do with the pervasiveness of misconceptions about the practice of architecture in general.
The American Institute of Architects: Every year, during the first week in April, the AIA, of which I am a member, holds a celebration of architecture. AIA chapters all over the country offer events and activities geared towards architectural subjects of interests to the profession and public alike. In the burst of activity leading up to this event, I came across a request for local volunteer architects able to participate in an event entitled “Working with an Architect.” The event, centering on discussions about the processes and advantages of working with an architect, will consist of local architects making themselves available for free, open, informal discussions on just about any subject having to do with architecture, design, and building. At the time of this post there are ten local architects participating, and considering, my previous discussion, it is not difficult to see why I will be one of them.
What cannot be defined, cannot be valued: I have come to the conclusion that AIA, its members, and architects in general are facing an identity crisis. One manifesting in the assumption that what cannot be identified, cannot be valued, which speaks to my original question. I sometimes dodge talking about my profession because I fear that the term architect has become and empty word, susceptible to all of the follies, misconceptions and romantic notions of popular culture. Clearly most people understand that the Guggenheim in Bilboa, Spain was designed by an architect named Frank Gehry. On the other hand, how the architect relates to the dry cleaner on the corner or their neighbor’s home addition is often a mystery. AIA, to its credit, is taking steps (beyond the scope of this discussion), toward correction, but we as individual architects bear a lot of responsibly. The profession has become increasingly complicated. In addition to design and construction of the built environment, issues of technology and business must be part of the architect’s skill set. How well these many disciplines are managed and assimilated is an indication of a successful project. And if this is the measure, most architects that I know are successful indeed, because what they contribute, how they accomplish what they do, how they practice their craft, is so essential as to completely disappear into the fabric of a project. In short the craft of architecture is successful not a little by dint of how well it dissolves into the buildings it creates. This, of course, is a very “zen” idea, having great appeal to the artistically and academically inclined, while at the same time making life difficult for the more pragmatic among us. Value is easily assigned to the finished house, barn, school, or office building. Defining how that building was actually accomplished, not so much.
What it is like to work with an architect: Architects know in multifarious detail what goes in to one of their projects, what benefit is offered, what improvement is made, how life is made easier, better. Communicating these numerous, lists, plans, sketches, drawings, products, services, consultations, consultants, research…, into some understandable format is our challenge. “Working with an Architect” is an event designed to help us meet this challenge. I am happy to participate and invite anyone interested, moderately or otherwise, to chat with an architect about their projects, their thoughts, their love of the subject, even about their favorite “starchitect.” Please join us on Sunday April 10th. A link to the event and a list of participating architects is below. Samples of their work are in the slide show above.
Refreshments will be served. There is no charge to attend and no reservations are necessary. Additional information may be found here: “Working with an Architect.”
Christine Kelly AIA, Crafted Architecture LLC
Steve Kulinski AIA, Kulinski Group Architects, PC
John Nolan AIA, Maginniss + del Ninno Architects
Rebecca Bostick AIA, Rebecca LG Bostick Architects Inc.
Laura Campbell AIA, Laura Campbell Architecture
Paul Trombley AIA, Studio 66 LLC
Randall Mars AIA, Randall Mars Architects
Eunice A. Murray, AIA, Eunice Murray Architect
Lyndl T. Joseph, AIA, Great Seal LLC
Bridget Gaddis, AIA, Gaddis Architect