The architect is dead. Long live the architect!
In a recent conversation with a respected Dutch architect, I was asked whether the architect will still be around 50 years from now. A relevant question that must be asked over and over again for every profession. Also, for architects.
The background to this the question lies in the perception that the profession is eroding and that the end seems to be near. The end of the contribution that architects make in the construction sector. Due to the transfer of tasks and activities to other parties - builders, consultants, clients - the role of the architect seems to be over in a number of years and we, as a professional group, are condemned to nothing more than ‘idea machines’. It is not an encouraging prospect for the new generation of architects currently being trained at leading universities such as the TU Delft. But is this dark future perspective also the truth? I do not think so. On the contrary.
In the past decades, the role of the architect has fundamentally changed. Especially in the field of technical development and the production of data, things are very different now than back in the 1990s. Today's students are no longer familiar with the ink pens of that time. Together with drawing rulers and tracing paper, they have been replaced by computers with complicated and intelligent software. This development went hand in hand with the automation of society. It is a development that is no longer reversible. And that's a good thing. Automation has given a huge boost to innovation in construction and the coordination and integration of the design process. In the same period, and possibly as a result of these developments, “the architect” has become a less unambiguous profession. The acceleration in the differentiation of architects created by automation currently raises questions in many debates about the significance and relevance of the profession of the architect. Because the work changes, the assignments change, the appearance changes, the commitment changes. We currently see that architects are not only design professionals anymore, but sometimes also act as developers, clients, contractors and administrators. The architect as we knew it is dead.
The importance of architecture is also changing. Namely, it is becoming more and more important. Space and materials are becoming scarcer, inequality and contradictions in society are growing, nature is getting further out of balance. Where differentiation in how we work is increasing, I also see a growing connection to setting important agendas and tackling urgent social issues. Based on opportunism and the urge to make the world a better place, we contribute bottom-up to good spatial solutions. With architecture and in integral collaboration with other design disciplines, we design and divide space and add quality to the living environment. And therein lies the future perspective for the upcoming generation: more than the competencies to design alone, it is this necessary attitude that makes architects distinctive. Time for a new generation. Long live the architect!
An article written by Francesco Veenstra, Founder at Vakwerk, voorzitter BNA, Chairman Royal Institute of Dutch Architects