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The image of the architect: an Open Charter

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[Public Works, Urban Projects Bureau, Owen Pritchard] ‘The image of the architect and the profession’s role varies around the world, from Bangkok to Ebbw Vale’

After travelling to diverse locations across the globe, this team of architects and writer Owen Pritchard examined how the image of the architect varies around the world. From Houston and Bangkok to Amsterdam and Ebbw Vale, these places reveal a variety of approaches to urban development. The investigation was motivated by a desire to reaffirm the qualities that are vital to the continued progress of society and to the architect’s role as an agent in the world.

Two motivating factors drove their work. First, they aimed to accurately depict an image of architects within varied but specific contexts. Second, they sought to provoke debate about the future of the profession. The group’s findings will establish the basis for an Open Charter - a proposal for a new platform for discussion and engagement to clarify, critique and act upon issues that determine the role of the architect.

Where did your idea come from?

Through working together on a diverse selection of projects in different constellations - in academia, media and practice - and in general conversation with peers and friends, we sensed an underlying frustration regarding the status of the architect and the future of the profession. Although a lot of research exists in this area, it is hard to see how action might be taken. The idea of an open resource which grows over time and develops as a platform that identifies the many roles that an architect must fulfil - both professionally and outside of the legal framework - could act as a catalyst for change.

Most surprising thing you found out?

A house made out of beer cans can be a key tourist attraction and part of Houston’s cultural fabric. Cities can work without zoning. In Thailand, urbanism is nonexistent. Professionals can be Marxist activists and commercially successful. Bangkok keeps building shopping centres but there aren’t enough shoppers to fill them. Architects need a stronger political voice. In essence, there are no simple answers.

Most challenging part of your trip?

The most challenging part was realising the complexity and enormity of the issues we had discovered, dealing with them in an effective manner, then delivering meaningful, proactive and positive outcomes.

How do you plan to take this forward?

The project is open-ended and aims to develop a resource for the continuing discussion that surrounds the future of the profession. We
have opened up a space for discourse, and we hope this will continue to grow and become the eventual space of the Open Charter. The research will feed into an ongoing framework that the profession can share, discuss, critique and act on. It will stand alongside existing research and provide another point of view that humanises the professional.

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