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2018 predictions: Will the profession continue to be marginalised?

2018 themes role
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Richard Waite asked leading figures about their hopes and expectations for 2018

‘What I wish for in 2018 is that the RIBA grabs the low-fees issue by the horns and starts talking about architects’ ability to transform value through good design’

Meredith Bowles

Meredith Bowles, Mole Architects

Architects will continue their scramble to the bottom in 2018, competing ever harder with each other by cutting fees and delivering more work for less money.

What I wish for in 2018 is that the RIBA grabs this issue by the horns and starts talking seriously about value: what architects bring to developers and society, and their ability to transform value through good design. The RIBA needs to counter the cultural shift that sees design as commodity, rather than a process.They should get behind architects who insist on being paid for design work, rather than promoting the idea that good design is somehow only discovered through competition.This is a maddening trend, with architects increasingly devaluing their work, offering design as a loss leader so they can complete the technical submissions for a reduced fee. This wouldn’t need to be the case if architects took it on themselves to resist what they know to be a flawed method of procurement.

In 2018 architects might just stand together and resist clients who expect the earth for nothing, letting them know that they would do better to talk to architects instead of seeing a stack of designs into which they’ve had no input. And someone needs to knock prequalification questionnaires on the head. It is this crazy system that more than anything prevents brilliant younger practices from progressing and using their considerable talents. Who’s up for this? 

‘Insurance will soon start to depend upon certainty that the building specification is being followed through and monitored on site’

Jane duncan

Jane Duncan, former RIBA president  

In 2018 architects will need to keep up the pressure on a range of impacts related to the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. Just being ‘horrified’ or ‘aghast’ or even committing to such a sight ‘never happening again’ just will not do. These are empty words. Every part of our working lives will be affected if the RIBA’s fight – for the basic human right to be safe in your home – is implemented. 

Money talks loudest of course, but someone has to pay. Architects’ professional indemnity insurance, and owners’ building insurance will soon start to depend upon certainty that the building specification is being followed through and monitored on site. I know that estate agents are having a hard time selling flats in buildings that even look like they might have the wrong panels on them.

Post-occupancy evaluation lessons must become the norm. Lowest-cost procurement has to end, making way for an expectation of selecting the highest quality and skills, replacing cost as the major parameters in achieving a value legacy. The larger issue of accountability and continuous professional responsibility will have huge educational impacts for architects. They will need to step up if the UK is to adopt something similar to the Canadian system of sign-off. Procurement and selection processes really must be carried out by those who are trained to understand the contributions of design/specification/build/sign-off. 

‘In the face of constant, depressing crisis, the only real response is to make good work’

Sam jacob bw

Sam Jacob of Sam Jacob Studio 

If 2016 and 17 have been anything to go by – or more likely, simply blueprints for an even more dystopian future – then the kinds of things that architecture stands for are only likely to get worse: ever more sidelining of the profession’s expertise; an increasingly challenging commercial environment. In a wider culture, the civic society that all architecture is part of will continue to collapse, marginalising ‘design’ to a thin veneer spread over the private interests of corporations. 

Not much hope then for architecture? Well, the good news is that architecture has always felt this way – think of Vitruvius complaining of the crass commercialisation of architecture in the very first architecture book. So in the face of constant, depressing crisis, the only real response is to make good work. Recognise the powerful small ‘p’ politics of architecture rather than grandstanding and gesturing. Use projects to make the world you’d like to live in. Believe in the possibilities of architecture to manifest change, to bring delight, to organise its own resources in better order. If all the old models are crumbling then make new ones. Refashion ways of working, even ideas of what architecture might be. Making architecture is about making the future – and that’s even more important when the future seems a dark place to contemplate.

‘The solution for the architect is not only to hand, but holds the promise of rejuvenation’

Peter besley bw

Peter Besley, Assemblage 

The recent World Architecture Festival in Berlin noted the proportion of global construction with architect involvement is now at just 2 per cent, and falling. People are finding ways to build without architects as never before. Architects are seen as a peripheral luxury item, a required extravagance for credentials on ‘cultural’ projects, and an accoutrement of the rich. 

There is a haemorrhage of roles previously held by architects to other players. Now an entire army of specialists present themselves: project managers, development managers, masterplanners and urban designers, specialist planners, community consultants, a rainbow spectrum of engineers, interior designers, interior architects, lighting designers, wayfinding consultants … the list of those feasting on the corpse of the architect gets ever longer. 

And yet, the solution for the architect is not only to hand, but holds the promise of rejuvenation. Instead of clasping their title to their hearts and waiting for the phone to ring, architects must get out there, diversify their capabilities, and compete. Not with each other, but with the myriad other agents that crowd the wider field.

Interested in lighting in your buildings? Become extraordinary at it and offer it. Modular design? Learn, train, add to your offer and compete.

For this to work architects must let go of the narrow, historically recent, definition of what they do. An architect’s training remains an extraordinary asset: generalist, and prizing synthesis; seeing potential in disparate elements and bringing these together for powerful effect. Architects are natural polymaths, with diverse interests and capabilities. 

Urbanisation is in ascent, not decline. These should be important times for architects. If they are to be, architects must broaden their field of operation, and compete. 

‘We need to become the leaders of Archipreneurialism’

Darren bray bw

Darren Bray, PAD Studio

In a challenging world, architects must be nimble, flexible and find innovative ways to maintain their position, able to change course at a minute’s notice. We need to become the leaders of Archipreneurialism (Architects as entrepreneurs and create a new model for architectural practice).

Investment in research and development is critical to foster Archipreneurialism, push boundaries and nurture progress in a 21st-century architectural landscape. I see a unique opportunity through both academic and practice-based research, to investigative new ideas surrounding design, process, and narrative. As a result, we have begun to establish a close working relationship with our practice mentor Roger Tyrrell, founder of CHORA. This dialogue aims to occupy the void which exists between creative practice and academia, historically considered as distinct and exclusive. We are striving to amalgamate these territories, responding to our contemporary globalized context, responding to the economy’s demands.

If the currency of the future is creative ideas, it’s vital that we support the conjunction of praxis and research within a single entity, and through innovative processes, encourage rigorous and informed creative pathways that are intelligent and responsive to current and future societal demands.

‘Architects will struggle with the significant governance and technical change resulting from the aftermath of Grenfell’

Andrew mulroy bw

Andrew Mulroy, Mulroy Architects

My hope for 2018 is that companies will develop greater moral principles in their practice. It is incumbent on business to support the society from which it profits. Adam Smith’s invisible hand is needed more than ever as business forks out increasing dividends to appease shareholders’ demands, yet exploits the workers and customers that are the foundation of their venture. There will be rebellion. Money is important but time is valuable. Business will begin to consider productivity more in which every hour, both work and leisure, truly contributes to the improvement of lives and the environment.

My fear: we are rolling with the punches, and learning from the agility of other industries and the developments they make. My greatest fear is that our contribution as architects, micro-living, will become mainstream. At a time when the most vulnerable in our society, the young and old, are suffering from the highest level of mental health issues, it is an architecture that reinforces isolationism.

My prediction: architects will struggle with the significant governance and technical change resulting from the aftermath of Grenfell in the same way that occurred following the Summerland disaster 45 years earlier. At the same time, a new generation will enter underfunded colleges to learn a profession where the technical aspects are seen as someone else’s problem. The RIBA will investigate architectural education, and architects will be required to demonstrate their competence to practice more thoroughly than ticking a box.

‘We are seeing more and more clients coming directly to architects wanting them to deliver from start to finish’

Crop dan hajjar, hok bw

Dan Hajjar, HOK

I am very positive about the profession. We frequently see architects in the public eye, which is extremely important as they articulate the message that what we design matters and that what we do matters. Our work as architects has an impact on quality of life. It is this fundamental trait that we can’t lose sight of as we work to improve the human condition.

We are seeing more and more clients coming directly to architects wanting them to deliver from start to finish, which is very positive. However, there are still significant challenges to engaging with clients, particularly government clients, which is largely because their procurement routes don’t necessarily embellish our vision or design decisions. This is something we need to change in order to see our industry excel.

Our profession has never had a strong role in shaping policy; we don’t push for a seat at the table. This responsibility perhaps lies with professional associations within the architectural community. It is important for the associations to step up for their members, positioning the profession and the important topics so that the role does not diminish. Lobbying has become increasingly more important and this is not something we are engaging with in our industry to highlight our role.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Looking at this, women's voices within the profession will continue to be marginalise, that's for sure!

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