ISSUE 1. In search of a conversation about architecture’s AGENCY by Gabriel Esquivel


01 Sep


In times like today when we have faced numerous important changes in Architecture. The need to look into the future in the era of global warming catastrophe is once again of paramount importance. At the same time we face tremendous and complicated challenges in a context where technology has surpassed our expectations, but we face a difficult political situation all over the world. But the biggest problem for architects is the lack of real political and cultural agency. We need to look into our surrounding ecologies and discuss how we can change our current circumstances.

We have reached a difficult moment; contending with tremendous handicaps and diverse opinions in terms of the practice and the discipline and how to go about recuperating architecture’s political agency. How can an architect be a serious part of the political conversation and share the table with law makers and game changers in a world of impoverished global economies; and the serious threats of climate change? How to design a safe world?

Architecture multiple complexities are difficult to condense into a single formal criterion, it becomes apparent that a more inter-relational set of criteria is needed to develop architecture’s future through collaborative methods. But we need to start by generating a conversation with political leaders, community representatives that are interested in an inclusive discussion about these issues concerning the architect.

Reinventing the World

Architecture is in trouble. The world economic situation and its problems linked to automation, loss of cultural identity, lack of agency and climate change have turned a vocationally liberal, and sometimes even glamorous profession upside down creating a complex relationship between its connection to culture, politics and technology. The data on the employment situation is worrisome, and architects know that they have no choice but to reinvent themselves.

However architecture has the capacity to search for new professional profiles and forms of organization. One of the more serious problems is the cultural belief that only large scale neo-liberal projects are considered worthy of serious consideration so “other” projects like the rehabilitation of homes and neighborhoods, the technological transformation of the construction industry, energy savings sustainability standards, the role of the architect as manager of company assets and the use of their spaces, and many others are considered unworthy of conversation. But above all the need to redirect the individual office towards a more open, multidisciplinary and collaborative work model to provide expertise, more and new services to the client. The conversation can no longer be just with themselves or their clients but with different groups of community leaders and policy makers.

Architects need to work even more as a team. Start over with new ideas and even a new professional ethos after a deep criticism of how the practice has operated in the last decades. “How do we look for clients? Have those clients disappeared?  Do we need to work with new type of clients as part of a group project? These are the first questions we need to respond to and realize that these inquiries suggest a new constructive process, a package in which the architect is no longer just the one doing the project. The architect must also be involved as a manager of the work, technology supervision, eliminating intermediaries, controlling costs and avoiding commission agents. Architecture is still suffering from the burden left by the modern tradition and the resistance from certain groups within the discipline and the practice to keep alive such a failed project. We should talk about the departure from what has been the era of great icons of architecture, into a paradigm shift.  Do we have to regret that for the last few years the "media world" has associated the profession with only a few figures, and forgetting that there have always been many great architects at the service of society, this association with the great icons distorts the perception of the profession?

Since the explosion of the real estate bubble in 2008, the conception of the world of architecture has changed. If it used to be a profession with high levels of employment, they were expecting that they could easily go back to numbers before the 2008 economic crisis. The recovery was somewhat stable but at the core it remained subjected to become one of  the highest unemployment professions with less capacity for recovery and reintegration. However after COVID 19 things will dramatically change and we need to keep our eyes open. Up until a few months ago the economic recovery had revived the architecture market and the academic field has proven the need to escape from old patterns and reinvent the architect. Pointing towards the need to rethink architect’s training not only focused on technology, but in the end, we should aim to create a new architecture culture.

The change needs to start at the academic level, for example: the master's degree is designed for students to receive a technical and creative training that is directed mainly to become part of the practice, nothing wrong with that, however this training looks down on any kind of speculative proposition. It is important to incorporate different workshops, studios and seminars, technical and creative that discuss the reinvention of the current world going all the way from cultural and aesthetic innovation to management discussing new business entrepreneurship strategies, different of what we call now “professional practice” which focuses mainly on the neo-liberal project. 

Several recent articles discuss the future of the profession that it seems to be established around two structures: those organized as service companies, that is, studies with a certain size, a varied range of services and a great capacity for teamwork, and small companies highly technological and specialized or they try to do everything with not enough resources. These two structures are increasingly moving away from the multipurpose organized architect.  Therefore it is important to reintegrate the architect to all the necessary professional practices, which are decisive to the labor market but above all to find strategies to regain the profession’s strength and agency. If we would have to define in a few words the work and career of the new architect, we would definitely define them as cultural “reinventers”.

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