Architecture’s Challenge

In a rapidly growing urban world, slums and informal settlements provide shelter for a sixth of the planet’s population and unless effective action is taken they are likely to become the most common form of dwelling on earth by 2030.

Parallel to this lies another inconvenient truth that architecture as a profession is affecting no more than 5% of what is built every year around the world.

This sounds like the loudest call for Architecture to re-assume its political content and broaden its field of action, or to eventually accept, as a discipline, its irrelevancy in facing new and inevitable urban challenges.

Id love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. How can we address these urban conditions and  how do we make a difference?


7 comments for “Architecture’s Challenge”

  • http://archop.org kiel

    This form of settlement has always existed. In fact vernacular architecture or the common buildings without architects are the oldest form of building.

    In many ways the structure that people intuitively build with available materials speak volumes about the culture they are built within.

    The challenge is not how do we get an architect’s hand in more a greater percentage or even all buildings built now. The challenge is to craft culture in a way that vernacular buildings are high quality health built environments.

    The key is the flow and sharing of information and design. Architecture for Humanity is a good model of this. They don’t design every building, but influence the knowledge base of communities so that they can create good architecture long after the architects are gone.

  • http://www.bemakeshift.co.uk Jay

    The modern architectural profession as we know it has only existed for about two hundred years. Before then, we looked to the craftsmen, engineers and the polymath genius’ such as Leonardo da Vinci in the role of the architect.

    To affect about 5% of the built environment says a lot about a profession that has an amazing array of knowledge but lacks a real connection with people.

    The reason is quite simple really: da Vinci never thought himself as an architect – he simply applied his interests and theory into civil engineering projects and proposals for defensive architectures. His inherent value therefore was simply applying his creative genius to a specific function – the built environment. He also applied this to just about everything else too: painting, botany, biology etc.

    Then came along the ‘gentleman’s’ architectural club: the beaux arts schools, etc. But then came along the long term effects of the Industrial Revolution, and all of a sudden there came along this ideological experiment that pitted the vernacular against the possibility of what mass production had to offer us. Suddenly architects offered value because they pushed the technological, social and political agendas of what it means to be part of modern society.

    So what happened? 50 years ago architects were paid as much as doctors and lawyers, and now we have relatively little influence, and we’re certainly not being paid what we’re worth.

    The reason according to Joshua Prince Ramus of REX NYC, has everything to do with liability. As architects shy away from liability, we shy away from responsibilities – and ultimately creative control. And whilst firms continue to undercut each other, control now belongs to contractors, clients and Quantity Surveyors, only a very small proportion of which value good design.

    And it is about value systems. Good Design CAN save clients money, and reap the serendipitous benefits of the social and cultural value that good design brings – which ultimately in the case of well designed hospitals goes for example, saves money.

    But we can go further than this too. With the political agenda now turning its face towards the future of our cities, how can we create value that affects the estimated 5%?

    Simple: bring value to the table that isn’t *just* a proposal for a built form. We’re very good generalists and hopefully at our heart we also are good humanitarians. Shaping our environment is an incredibly complex system involving lots of different people. We CAN bring value to the table by advocating on behalf of underrepresented groups and being agents of change.

    Just like any business, politics will change if there is enough demand. But it takes a catalyst who really knows their stuff to do so. With a shrinking market, its time we initiated projects on behalf of communities – set out minimum standard frameworks or strategies that will benefit all. These strategies are complex design projects in themselves – and it comes down to an authorship of process, not just objects.

    Architects have a deeper understanding of urban conditions than the average member of the public, but it is up to us to engage communities in meaningful ways that empower them to shape their environment, be it a slum or whatever.

    We CAN be the architects of urban food growing programmes, championining sports initiatives, promote sustainable lifestyles, help develop highly dense microeconomies. In time, these will involve the physical creation of space, but we shouldn’t be waiting around for projects to come to us. It’s amazing how many people want to get involved once we actually *do* something.

  • Eric

    A better urban development strategy supported by good infrastructure would probably be the key to address population growth.

    In today’s consumerist culture, the general public doesn’t have the critical perspective that an architect employs to understand and respond to the range of issues when working with the built environment – reason why I’m skeptical about architecture without architects..

    Secondly while I agree that providing quality healthy environments is important, especially in developing countries, this is almost only the basic essential. Architecture can be and should be much more than that.

  • http://blog.dayaal.com Sam

    I was recently at a meeting of architects where some discussion about building development ideas of opposing State political parties was taking place. As a relative newcomer to this kind of forum I chose to listen rather than input, but I found it fascinating that the consensus appeared to be that we shouldn’t comment favourably or unfavourably about one or the other, at least in a public, representative way.

    If a politcal party presented a plan for, say, health care, we’d no doubt hear from the AMA, health care workers and other stakeholders and authorities. And we’d hear quite strong opinions. Why has architecture as a profession retreated into a shell so much that we don’t feel confident as a profession to provide public commentary on topics about which we have unmatched expertise?

    Yes, it’s time we re-assumed our politcal content.

    Another key here is that we, as designers, are able to impact on societies and communities in more areas than just building design. Let’s make the most of our talents.

  • http://www.camilletrinidad.tumblr.com Camille Trinidad

    As an architect, I will save the Earth!

  • http://designerbeveragedynasty.com/ Antione Wortinger

    Freakin nice blog.

  • http://www.theengineeringdesign.com/ Sahaj Patel

    Urban development planning departments have many useful data which can throw light over the development patterns. Many steps are taken by govt. to develop the areas in more organized pattern. But the driving factor to improve this scenario is a combination of efforts by rules and regulation from govt. and some innovative methods from designers who will be designing for such scenarios. In India there is an acute problem regarding the urban planning in major cities because of huge number of population. And sometime inadequate data.