Architects are no longer trusted to be innovative and to deliver inspiring buildings, says Alan Dunlop
Arguably, architectural power and influence started to dissipate in the 1980’s when the profession relinquished the role of the architect as leader and head of the design team to the project manager. The influence of the architect as strategist, designer and artist working for and on behalf of the client has decreased inexorably since then.
The responsibility for interpreting the client’s needs directly and the delivery of architectural quality has been lost, and poor design solution coupled with cost over-runs on major public and infrastructure projects, like the Scottish Parliament, has seen public criticism directed not always unfairly at the architect. This provoked a backlash among politicians and other media pundits questioning the contribution of the architect and our role in civic society.
The utility of the architect as thought leader and promoter of aesthetics and beauty has been squeezed by protocols such as value engineering and cost control. Architects are no longer trusted to be innovative and to deliver inspiring buildings. The work itself has been challenged on all sides and those charged with defending and promoting the profession such as the RIBA and RIAS have done little in response.
It is schools of architecture, not architectural firms, that are addressing the power balance for they are the only places where architecture as art is still practised and where critical engagement, enquiry and placemaking, the real role of the architect, is encouraged seriously.
The profession is not blameless and our supine response to contractor demands and ever tighter fee margins is woeful. There is a move also to lower the bar further by making architectural schools focus more on professional practise, BIM and preparing students to be ‘office ready’. This should be resisted as it impacts the time that students have to acquire essential design and draft skills which are fundamental. The acquisition of administration and project process skills is the responsibility of the profession and not the role of the universities.