RSA director of design Emily Campbell explains the history and potential impact of the RSA’s Resourceful Architect competition
What gave you the idea for the Resourceful Architect?
The seed was planted at an Architecture Foundation event where I heard three things said in quick succession: architectural education is like training for the priesthood; there are remarkably few architects in generalist jobs; and thousands of architects are about to graduate with slender job prospects because of the recession.
I concluded that architects are going to have to do something with their skills other than design buildings, that the path for them to do this has not been well blazed, and that their training may not have prepared them for this. I wanted to know what architectural training is good for other than the design of buildings.
It also struck me that although the arguments for industrial design as a transferable skill have been well rehearsed in recent years, the same cannot be said for architecture.
As we put about the Resourceful Architect idea, we found it resonated with plenty of architects – there was a need to rethink the strategic role of architecture, and architectural education itself.
What kind of proposals were you looking for?
We were looking for compelling evidence that architects are especially resourceful based on what they have learned about design, managing large amounts of complex information, giving functional form to ideas and, of course, making things. Also a clear understanding of the role architects have in improving things, like resource use, social cohesion and the prosperity of communities.
How well were your expectations met?
Quite well, in that there was a wide range of ideas – innovative ways for architects to connect social need with spatial opportunity, restructure conventional processes, increase the productivity and resilience of communities, and turn limitations of time, space and budget to creative advantage. The last category is probably my favourite, because the test of resourcefulness is so explicit.
However we were surprised not to see any ideas anticipating disasters and emergencies, only one or two ideas that could be classified as a ‘product’, and very few business venture propositions. I was also surprised how few entrants saw this as an opportunity to present an idea in anything other than conventional and theoretical terms.
How would you like to see the Resourceful Architect develop?
My feeling is that there is plenty more potential in the project, and I’d like it to be an annual competition for at least two more years, maybe longer. I’d like to see the winning project implemented, and for it to make lots of people think of architects as useful in ways they hadn’t realised. I’d like the shortlist to acquire some notoriety and help us expand our frame of reference for what architects can do. I’d like the competition to feed into debates about architectural education; that is, debates between architects and those able to interrogate architecture as education – not just debates among architects!