The changing roles of the architect (Themes)
The nature of the profession of the architect has undergone a number of changes throughout the centuries, and so has the education of the architect. The most recent trend may best be characterized by the word “specialization”. But first a few numbers from a 2014 sector study of the Architects’ Council of Europe (ACE) on the architectural profession: In the 31 European countries surveyed, there is an estimated number of 565’000 architects, a number which is continually climbing. Out of these, almost 74% are working in single-person offices.
Unlike earlier times, when an architect might oversee the entire process of building from its inception to its completion, the architect nowadays rarely ever responsible for more than a segment of this process. Increasingly, the role of the architect seems to be reduced to that of a “shaper”, a “form-giver”, a “designer” – with very limited responsibility regarding the outcome of the entire endeavour.
We cling to “designing” as being the creative key aspect of building, but it is a mere shadow of the competences an architect in the 19th century would command. Today, the architect’s role as form-giver often remains completely de-coupled from the realization of the building, and even from its constructive conception. The master builder of past times, the generalist-architect who had the competence and capacity to integrally design, construct and build an edifice, is nowadays threatened by extinction.
There are many reasons for this: The sheer size of some projects, their economic and social impact; the complexity of functional demands and of today’s building regulations; the economic constraints and time pressure; the rapid development of building technology; and the dangers of liability, of lawsuits regarding malpractice, just to name the most obvious.
In many ways, schools of architecture lag behind these developments. Still clinging to traded, but maybe outdated concepts of the profession, they offer an education which may not be up to current nor future requirements. Education is of course always a bit “behind the curve”, because it relies on the teachers’ experience, on established knowledge and methods. It has never been the responsibility of the schools to prepare their students for everything that is waiting „outside“, in the real world.
Still there is the question whether the architecture schools must anticipate – even precipitate – such a development by encouraging specialization, by increasingly fragmentizing the education of the architect. Or whether schools should rather make a stand against this by sticking to the concept of the architect as practitioner, as generalist – as “practitioner-generalist”.
With these two poles in mind, we invite you to work with us on a project to analyse the existing role models of the architects in their contexts, to reflect on possible roles of the architects in the future and to define the necessary positions of the schools in respect to these roles. We want to tackle these questions keeping in mind that in average almost three quarter of European architects work for themselves, in one-person practices.
We all believe in the necessity of educating architects not just for their role in the building industry but in society in general – as shapers of not just private but invariably also public space, as even private buildings also inform the public realm. As responsibles of our schools of architecture, we have to be as well-prepared as possible for the things to come. Our curricula have to be questioned constantly – and maybe adapted, too – ,and new skills and tools of the trade may have to be taught. The key drivers for the changes happening – and those looming behind the horizon – have to be known: Which identity of the architect is embedded in the “DNA” of our schools? How can – and must – our schools of architecture influence this identity?