[Image by BUILD LLC]
Looking back on 2016, we can’t help but acknowledge a tremendous amount of good fortune, incredible work, and inspiring talent in the design industry. It was an exceptional year for the design community and, like many of the firms we know and respect, we feel privileged to have a continued role in designing and constructing the built environment around us.
Alongside an appreciation of the opportunities that the last year created, we’ve also been attentive to trends that continue to worry us. In particular, the ever-increasing sensationalism within the design industry. The architecture profession is now saturated with so much design-hype that it’s increasingly difficult to tell fact from fiction.
There are the articles that paint the starchitect as the master creative that spends the day sketching one brilliant sketch after the next. And while that may be the case, to some degree this coverage fails to mention the 50 architects for every one starchitect who spend long days (and nights) drafting details, deciphering the building code, and coordinating with consultants. In short, architecture is not the product of one person; it’s the result of a team of individuals working in harmony.
Then there is the illusion perpetuated by glossy images of a finished project. The work of architecture is praised for its architectural poetry without any mention of budget, timeline, or constructability. Did the design triple the intended budget? What were the repercussions if it wasn’t finished on time? Does the project fulfill its intended use? These attributes matter, and a finished project cannot be judged on photos alone.
Most noticeable is the lack of any follow-up or critique on how designs will actually function over time. As an example, the number of glorified projects we’ve seen in the last year that completely ignore how to properly remove precipitation from a roof is perplexing. What is the project going to look like in five years? Who pays for this lack of sensible design? Good architecture is not a stage set; it needs to last several generations without causing more trouble than it’s worth.
The sensationalism we’re referring to can be found across all media platforms in our information age, from books, magazines, and newspapers to websites, blogs, and television shows. Whether the coverage ignores important aspects of the design industry or sensationalizes others, the result is often the same: they create an increasing illusion around the profession of architecture. The culprits would have you believe that architects spend their days sketching brilliant designs from which buildings magically sprout and are then locked in time, without any need to withstand generations of use and weather. Worst of all, this over-sensationalism often conceals the true ingredients necessary to achieve great architecture.
Media sensationalism may well have a purpose as not everyone has the time for or interest in seeing how the sausage gets made. Others may even take solace in the illusion. We’re not suggesting that this sensationalism doesn’t have its place, but rather that it should exist in a balance. The other side of the equation needs a voice. In addition to all the seemingly infinite venues in which to view beautiful images of built and hypothetical projects along with flowery prose, there should be more venues dedicated to the realities of architecture and the design profession that creates it. There should be more coverage on what the actual day of an architect looks like, more writing on the behind the scenes of what it takes to build a project, and more focus on how buildings perform over time. This lesser known, grounded side of the design industry needs better representation.
We see this imbalance of sensationalism in the architectural industry as antithetical to the very architecture that actually serves society. And considering the year ahead, it was easy for us to make one resolution in particular as a small firm. In our continued effort of keeping both feet on the ground in 2017, we’re upping our commitment to covering the realities of the design industry. We’re committed to representing how an architecture team works, we’re committed to providing useful insights about how projects get designed, permitted, and built, and we’re committed to covering projects well beyond the finished photos. Perhaps what we’re most excited about is simply sharing an environment of people, projects, and situations that don’t get proper representation in the shadows of sensationalism.
As a small firm with an established blog, we’ve found over the years that it’s part of our role to speak up for these projects and represent what is normally overlooked or ignored. But there’s a catch: we can’t do this alone. These smaller firms and lesser-known projects are difficult to track down and learn about. Many of them are hiding in the cracks and don’t even register on simple online searches yet. So this year’s resolution comes with an ask: that you let us know about the unsung heroes of design in your own environment. It’s our commitment that we’ll review and consider every one of them. You can let us know on Twitter and Facebook.
Keep both feet on the ground, and we look forward to hearing from you.
Cheers from Team BUILD