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Architects must not fear new technology

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Letters

I was bemused to read Kim Franklin's article 'Don't rely on specialist input to help you out of a design quandary' (AJ 9.5.02). Of particular concern was the quote: 'Architects have to be aware that dabbling in modern technologies may itself be a breach of duty'.

The article appears to contain the suggestion, to quote a song from an earlier generation, that 'fools rush in where angels fear to tread'. Franklin appears to be demonising modern technology and thus maintains a myth about technology.

Any architect can tackle any current technology. The knowledge and skill is there, if he or she knows where to look and who to ask. Yes, you don't have to rely on specialist input. You need to understand and question what is advised, and responsibility does flow back to the architect or lead designer. But as a profession we should not fear this. The greatest risks of building failure and litigation are encountered in thoughtless repetition and copying of details without regard to context or climate.

The headline was a misquotation of the text of the article, which said: 'Architects have to be aware that dabbling in modern technologies that are clearly beyond them may itself be a breach of duty'. Know your limitations is wise advice, but in my experience, communicating with and understanding specialists is the route to solving the quandary presented.

Architects, as the late Steven Groak pointed out in his book The Idea of Building, can do very effective research work on a specific project. Yet one weakness of the construction industry is that too little off-project research is undertaken by architects and this is part of why the role of some architects has been badly eroded.

Architects do not need to abdicate responsibility. As Franklin points out, this abdication may not prove successful, yet their ability to practise will be demonised. As a profession we should engage with current technology. Traditionally, the architect was the person in the construction team with the broad knowledge of materials and construction techniques.

The RIBA and our schools of architecture should take more interest in construction, not just to be safe but because it can be cutting edge. Below the surface and beyond conservatism a truly provocative architecture exists.

Architects are specialists and architecture is a highly skilled profession. Only by fully engaging with the practice of architecture will we sustain our value to society at large.

Michael Stacey, Brookes Stacey Randall and the University of Waterloo

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