Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Architecture as we know it is over

Writing in the April 24 issue of archdaily, Steve Mouzon, Miami based architect, urbanist, author, and admirably hyperactive player in architecture for social good,  proposes seven reasons why architecture as we know it might be over.  His reasons, as he sees them, are:
  • The End of Experienced Employees — describing the loss of mid-career employed architects in the wake of the 2005 GFC;
  • The End of Trusting Clients referring to the accessibility of web-based information undermining clients' dependence on professional expertise;
  • The New Frugality not just affecting the likely budgets, but also shifting spending preference from services to products;
  • Smaller & Smarter specific to likely pressures on budgets for people building individual architect designed houses;
  • Younger & Greener ie. Baby Boomers being replaced with GenX and GenY, who are supposedly much more concerned with building and living sustainably;
  • Patience, Generosity, and Connectedness being a somewhat utopian speculation on the transformation of business from the prime virtues of 'better-faster-cheaper', to what he calls the 'Age of the Idea', supported by patience, generosity, and connectedness;
  • The New Tools in which he talks exclusively about marketing, and the inoculation of a connected clientele where impatience with spam means they are not interested in actual information.
OK, let's just get this straight.  That isn't about the end of architecture.  It's about the possible end of an expectation, that certain kinds of people will be gainfully employed in the architecture profession as it is currently organised.  And what's more, it is a very USA-centric view, sort of like calling the baseball grand final the World Series.

Viewed from other places on earth, and especially through the lens of the current deluge of interest in design more generally, the picture is a lot more complex.  Each of Mouzon's points can be seen to be either wrong in some of those contexts, or at least contestable.  Ironically, in spite of that, I agree with Mouzon's core thesis.

But, for instance, in reference to loss of experience and new tools, I find it curious that he completely ignores the advent and impact of collaborative Building Information Modeling.  I have written about that in Will BIM catastrophically divide the architecture profession?

As for information on the web, I can see certain relationships at the scale of individual house projects being strained, by clients who would also find other ways to be a pain in the butt.  In most other contexts, a competent architect will most likely benefit from a better informed client.....just as Italy, where Architecture is an accepted humanities education, provides fertile ground for a design culture.

And as for either 'younger therefore greener' or frugality, the evidence is just not conclusive.  Not to mention that any contraction of consumption in the US and Europe seems to be swamped by the aspirations and rising affluence of other societies.

Read the original article here.

Steve Mouzon, a principal of Studio Sky and Mouzon Design, is an architect, urbanist, author, and photographer from Miami. He founded the New Urban Guild, which hosts Project:SmartDwelling and helped foster the Katrina Cottages movement. The Guild’s non-profit affiliate is the Guild Foundation, which hosts the Original Green initiative

BTW. Why the image of the long demolished Kowloon Walled City? Not my alternative prognosis of a dystopian architecture. Merely: things change.  Get used to it.


Katie Yanjia Liao said...

佳 . 02:47:18
Just like what you mentioned, it is a very USA-centric view. Just take China as an example. According to “2011 Salaries and Benefits of the City's Construction Industry Research report” (Puxin Consulting, 2011), the income of architects in China is likely to increase and compared to engineers, landscape architects and interior architects, the income of architects is the highest among them. Also, the income of all these professions have been increased more than 13%, which means the construction industry in China is still under developing and there will be many chances for architects all over the world to experiment on their concepts.

It is true that many people would prefer to buy a stock house plan and even buy a completed apartment. However, with the increasing GDP in developing countries, more and more people would like to buy a custom design rather than uniformed plan. If the domestic market cannot fulfil the needs of architects, it is not a bad idea to searching for oversea market and that is what many architects are doing.

Sustainability is a trend in all the industries. This is not mainly because of the baby boomers. It is the result of environmental deterioration. Expect for higher cost at the beginning, sustainable design is of great long-term benefits. It is a challenge but also a chance for architects and urbanist. Malmo: Bo01 is a good example. It achieves the goal of strengthen sustainable growth in Vastra Hamnen and Malmo while concerns interaction between people who live in the area. These are the primary requirement for residents and what should be consider prior to forms.

Architects who are easy to adapt and transform themselves would surely get more opportunities. But architects who just insists on their prejudice and consistently criticizing the change of the world are hard to survive no matter in what epoch. Therefore, it is only the architecture in Mouzon’s mind that over.

ALC said...

I have some doubts over previous comment which had made reference to statistics of income of architect in China to refute the author’s points when the author does not mean that architecture (the profession) has come to end. Indeed, he is saying architecture (the profession) has irreparably changed. And those changes cannot be summarized as just absolute positive or negative. In fact, the author did mention that those who know how to adapt just might find themselves in a far better place in a few years. Hence, it is unfair to conclude that “it is only the architecture in Mouzon’s mind that’s over” as stated in previous comment.

In spite of Labor Force Statistics 2011 by US Department of Labor showing that more that 70% of employment from the field of architecture, engineering and related services ages 35 and above, a survey conducted by McGraw-Hill Construction came to a different conclusion that some U.S. firms expect a shortage of qualified designers to meet their workloads by 2014 resulting from a combination of designers exiting the profession, baby boomers retiring and a lack of skills among architects looking for work.

Accessibility of web-based information generates better informed clients who most likely will challenges the profession of architect yet it might as well facilitate communication between architect and client like what Steve had mentioned.

Stock house plans nowadays are available in a wide variety of sizes, styles, and budgets. It is highly desirable to clients who are becoming more frugal. However, stock building plans cannot take into account the nature of your site context. Many people who purchase stock building plans eventually decide to hire an architect to make modifications. In fact, a good house plan does not cost you money, it saves you money.

I as well agree on Mouzon’s core thesis. The Great Recession had placed a pause to the profession in which the gap then incurs some changes to the profession.

However, author’s point of view is rather vague as there is no documented fact as support. Also, whether the changes are good or bad remains debatable.

- http://www.bls.gov/cps/industry_age.htm

- http://archrecord.construction.com/news/2012/09/120925-Survey-Predicts-Architecture-Shortage-by-2014.asp

- http://architecture.about.com/od/buildyourhouse/a/needarchitect.htm

Anonymous said...

I believe the article addresses key issues that signal a large change in the architecture profession. Architecture practice as we know is becoming obsolete, and the profession needs to adjust to social and economic changes in order to be successful. It has brought these issues successfully to the reader’s attention.

However, I think the article is a misleading in a sense. The article is a very generalised argument. The issues are specific to one location, that being the USA, and it assumes the reader realises the location and is from that location. The case would obviously be different in different parts of the world, where technologies are different and society carries different values.

That being said, it saddens and scares me that people’s perceptions of architecture are changing. Most of Mouzon’s arguments signal that the client (or consumers) needs and desires are changing, and this may not be for the better. Perhaps leading to the end of architecture, not what the article puts forward. The way people value architecture is changing, and even diminishing. People are moving away from custom architectural homes, demanding other things, decreasing the demand for architects, jobs and ultimately diminishing the name of the profession.

This will probably happen in the USA, but I hope it won’t in other places around the world, where custom architecture is strongly valued.

On the point of BIM, I strongly believe with you that this point is very important and should not have been missed in the article. It is perhaps even the most important point changing architecture as we know it.

Overall, interesting, thought provoking article.