Monday, February 13, 2012

Taking Back the Reins

All readers of SW Oregon Architect need to check out Liz O’Sullivan’s clarion call for massive changes to how the architectural profession conducts its work and educates its young. Architects, Take Back the Reins is her urgent plea for a return to the basics of understanding building technology, good construction contract administration practices, and good agreements that include fair compensation and appropriate allocation of risk. Liz plainly spells out how failing to emphasize these fundamentals led to the erosion of our profession’s stature and why we must reverse this trend.

Liz is a fellow blogger, architect, and specifications writer whose blog Comments from a SpecWriter features some of the most pointed (and much needed) critiques about the practice of architecture you’ll find anywhere on the Web. Architects, Take Back the Reins is her latest common-sense treatise regarding what ails our profession. It deserves a wide audience, so I’m doing my part by featuring it here on SW Oregon Architect.

Liz asserts we focus too heavily upon design (the way a building is intended to look) rather than upon the “technical stuff.” She correctly reasons that disproportionately emphasizing aesthetics while failing to pay due attention to the entire spectrum of our duties as professionals will ironically result in the production of more bad design. That being said, I do not believe we can afford to shortchange the teaching of indispensable design skills in our schools of architecture, especially the ability to think critically and solve problems with an integrative eye.

A crucial challenge confronting architecture is the exponential growth in its complexity and scope. This development prompts specialization because it is increasingly difficult for architects to acquire detailed expertise in all areas of focus. The problem is essentially a budgeting exercise: how do we allocate limited resources (time and money) in the development of future architects? This cannot become a zero-sum game in which sacrificing design acumen is necessary to acquire critical technical know-how. Architects need to retain as broad a world-view as possible, one that applies a systems-thinking approach to every aspect of professional practice. We need to take back the reins, but in order to do so we can’t sacrifice our core duty as designers of the built environment.

Be sure to read the comments at the end of Liz’s post. There’s a lot of good stuff there from some of the growing number of architectural professionals who share Liz’s concern for the role of the architect in construction today. Bookmark or subscribe to her blog to read future posts and follow Liz on Twitter @LizOSullivanAIA. I’ve added Comments from a Spec Writer to my blog roll in the sidebar.

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