Welcome to the Real Urbanverse. To start: the future of architects

Welcome to the real Urbanverse

This week, I’m presenting at AIA national convention along with two of my esteemed architectural colleagues, Jody Brown @infillnc of North Carolina and Bob Borson from Texas. We’ll be sharing our best blogging and social media tips. There’s a huge flaw in this scenario: I have hardly been posting during recent months.

In honor of the event (which frankly got me in gear), welcome to the new location for Urbanverse. Thanks for stopping in.

Similar to the posterous urbanverse, my trouble-free starter blog, I’ll cover the intersection of architecture and architects, cities and sustainable design, especially with an eye to the future. Sometimes I’m in the story. Most of the time, I’m an interpretor, part-guide, part-scout exploring the urbanverse, an unlimited zone of ideas, images, and people.

Let’s get going. Here’s a topic near to my heart that deserves a closer study, the future of architects (and professions, experts, creative fields, built environment, design schools, they are all related).

An intelligent conversation about architects

Over the past couple of years, an avalanche of criticism slammed architects. We are whiny, navel watchers, the worst profession for getting hired, fetish-driven egomanics, and cheap (even cheating) employers. We’ve created unhealthy, unwelcoming car-obsessed cities full of oversized, energy guzzling ugly buildings. The architecture profession is a place of haves and have nots, frequently practiced for passion more than profit.

Actually that last line is true.

Too much of what is written about architecture combines sensationalism with short-term thinking and amounts to whining or piling on or both. When does the fact that the architecture profession is changing become old news? When do we get bored with one more essay on

  • terrible experiences (low or no-pay interns, disconnected architecture education, stuck in the backroom, lack of respect), or
  • terrible design (starchitecture superficiality, bland buildings which are not architecture, unwalkable districts as unlivable, unhealthy, and un-green)

before we make serious changes? Before we agree to resolve and act or agree to shut up, quit reading or producing these truly unnewsworthy pieces, and move on? When can we say enough of this limbo-land of public thrashings?

Are we stuck?

No profession can advance if it clings to entrenched topics. Either we act to improve by exposing our conversations as ideological, chronic debates with no attempt at movement or solutions, and then agree to collective misery. Or we make changes at the heart of the problem. We pull things apart, look at the environment and technology which we can expect in the next 10, 20, 50 years, and figure out what we bring to it.

Because what I see beyond short term negativism is equally poisonous denial. Let’s call it self-preservation of the status quo. Case in point: recently I heard three deans whom I respect deeply describe the future of architecture schools with a completely optimistic outlook: high demand for their programs, attracting the best of the best students, and offering inspirational projects and travel. While they acknowledged resource limitations and a lack of jobs for graduates, their programs, they could say with certainty, are safe. They saw no imminent danger (or at least none that they were willing to confess in this public forum).

Frankly academics are not any more to blame than any single person or group among us, nor do they alone have the cure. It’s a collective situation that we have accepted and even promoted. When does the way that we have fashioned our roles become the ticket to our demise? Where is the acknowledgement of the sea change the profession faces? Moreover, the built environment and the planet? How can we hope to lead if we are so myopic, so focused on baseline scenarios? Or do we imagine that the threats are just so mindboggling that the only option is to forge ahead as planned?

How do we contribute to the creative universe? Do we consider the range of alternative conditions and influences? Are we ready to see emergent possibilities, and invent the most relevant, poignant, beautiful, resilient solutions? Have we taken assessment and made a conscious choice to shape the function of the architect in the 21st century?

Or are we accepting these cheap punches as though they didn’t happen, as though they didn’t matter? Are some of them more poignant and urgent than others?

Isn’t it about time for some intelligent conversations? Not doom and gloom, and certainly not a bed of roses. But the ability to look at the territory ahead and see how we can most fleetfootedly adapt and contribute.

“When one faces the fold [of transformational change], one is relieved of the intellectual dishonsty involved in holding either branch of the fold as a single-point forecast. One is relieved of the naivete of callow optimism, even as one is spared the amoral defeatism of the all-knowing cynic.

“You have looked at the dark side; you have seen the very real risk; and stil lyou are able to move ahead constructively.” Jay Ogilvy (2011)

What’s my proposal?
Architects are a gentle, genteel group, as a rule. And we’ve come a long way based on society’s need for our services. I’d say that comfortable platform is in trouble. Automation and a massive recession gave all corporations the right to not hire while still staying afloat. Architecture is even more paralyzed, at the extreme, I think it’s fair to say. (and statistically verified.)

Here’s a few ideas about practicing architecture, primarily from a western-centric perspective. I’ll supply more detailed back up eventually.

  1. There may be half as many traditional architects in the next fifteen years.
  2. Contrary to much conversation, you can become reasonably wealthy as an architect.
  3. Licensing and the accreditation process are becoming irrelevant for most practitioners.
  4. When people complain about cities, they blame architects, among others.
  5. There are people who are practicing as future architects today.

I’ll use futures methods to reconsider the profession of architecture, and include some of my experiences and those of many colleagues. By the time we move through the analysis, you might agree with the statements above. Or we will know where we disagree. Eventually, none will surprise you.

At that point, you and I will be looking ahead. We might even be ready to act. Most critically perhaps, we will be more comfortable with the unknowable and uncertainty of the future. The future architect is comfortable with a universe of constant change and able to act responsibly and creatively.

Urbanverse at AIA
First, I’m heading for Washington DC to chum around with some 20,000 of my colleagues at the American Institute of Architects annual convention. If you are there, please come look us up:

  • Thursday 17 May 2012, 2:00-3:30 pm. Architects Who Blog, Room 204A

Be there!

Speak Your Mind

In the meantime, chime in. I’ll welcome long and short posts.

What are the biggest problems in architecture and for architects? Do you have the career of your dreams? What opportunities will emerge? What do you care about? Does architecture matter?

I’ll be responding to ideas, and incorporating in the next postings.

  • Use #futureofarchitects on twitter.

Thanks much for reading the entry blog on Urbanverse.net. Welcome!