The Wussification of the Architecture Profession / by S. Joshua Brincko

Michelangelo designed this...and built it. Could you imagine an  architect  doing this  today ?

Michelangelo designed this...and built it. Could you imagine an architect doing this today?

My vision of a renaissance architect is a completely skilled and all-knowing artisan...the go-to guy that can design it, build it, source the materials, coach a team of laborers, and get the job done. Over time, I think the profession has become more specialized just like anything else. Specialization can encourage innovation, and it can also dilute a profession into something which loses its original purpose. The original role of an architect is nothing like it is today. Today's architects don't build. Heck, many don't even design anymore. Many architects don't even know how to build or design. Some architects specialize in things like negotiating contracts, finding new clients for their firm, drawing waterproofing details for facades, managing their staff, interpreting complicated building/zoning codes, or in documenting notes and specifications simply to organize decisions to shift liability when future litigation may happen. None of these things really have anything at all to do with "design," yet they fall under the job description of "architect." 

Architects are sort of ambassadors or a concierge to the construction process. We have a diverse knowledge of the things listed above, so we tend to assist clients by being their representative in maneuvering through this process (maybe because nobody else wants to). What would Michelangelo think if you dropped him into today's professional climate? I bet he would be bored and confused. He'd probably think we are unnecessarily inventing extra work to do. He's also likely make fun of us for being such babies.

Because of all of these facets of the profession that get pushed on to architects, the profession has become quite diluted. We weren't trained to do most of these things. We were really only trained to understand three-dimensional spaces and the experiences of humans as they interact with them. The extent of our other training is really only limited to a couple courses in structural mechanics, environmental systems, a course on professional ethics, and a course on building materials. We also took all the same general level courses as any other college student such as a basic math class, a physics class, sociology, etc. People are always shocked to hear that architects don't take a lot of math classes. In fact, my math class was called "Math For Architects," and it was mixed with other college students taking basic college level math. The difference was that the architects were dismissed after 10 weeks, while the rest of the college students had to finish the entire 15 week semester. Apparently basic math still wasn't basic enough for architecture students. Even more interesting, we did not take a single drafting or drawing class even though we were required to successfully draw and draft in our design studio courses. 

This shows an interesting disparity between the reality of the profession and the type of training architects receive in school. During a required 3-year minimum internship, architects get their first practical training. This is where we learn the technical aspects of the industry. This is also where very little design actually happens. Design is the fun part. The boss of a firm isn't likely to let the intern do the fun part. Although design opportunity is very limited in the profession, design is the entire focus of an architect's education, and design is also the reason why most architects decided to become architects. Many architects just lose that focus as they find their place in a profession that has too many other requirements to fulfill before being entitled to be allowed to design something. 

In a larger firm, it tends to be a better business model to have an individual specialize and do the same thing every single day. Day after day after day after day until they become a zombie and can do the work in their sleep. This also leads to boredom, lack of interest, and errors in the work. Efficiency is a standard goal in any business. Efficiency typically yields higher profits. This model has a very negative outcome in an architecture practice: it does not build upon the creative problem solving skills at the root of an architect's training. Architects in larger firms get pigeon-holed into doing the same mundane tasks every day inevitably losing their creative drive. Would you want someone like that designing your project? Clients have visions of hiring architects to do spectacular things, and architects have the same visions. When reality sets in, the budgets and schedules take over, and the creative juices are smothered.

F that! This is exactly why I started my business. 

Creative problem solving is my thing. Budgets and schedules are motivators for me to be even more creative. A major part of my job is to demonstrate to clients that they can do something special with their project. It is to think differently, set the bar high, be optimistic, and to rely on my creative training and technical skills to develop projects that inspire at any scale. In my small company, I wear all the hats. There is no mundane. I'm awake at 3am sketching ideas at my kitchen table, the next day I'm convincing the building department to consider innovative solutions to problems, I meet with clients to display ideas they had never imagined, and then I teach a college course in between. Creativity is at the core of all of these tasks, and communicating is the product (graphic, verbal, and in written formats).

Maintaining this creativity is my promise to myself and my clients. This is why I do what I do. This is why my clients want to work with me. They know I have the resources to get the work done successfully, and they know I have the mindset to exceed everyone's expectations and creatively come up with inspiring solutions.