From the very simplest Stone Age huts to the Egyptian pyramids in 2,500 BCE, from the fortresses and castles of the Middle Age to the skyscrapers of this century, the architect’s task has endured, and become more complex.What sets the work of an architect apart from many other professions is the longlasting nature of the objects architects create. The result of an architect’s work may only last a decade or two, but will often survive for several hundred years.
Isn’t this a strong motivator for an architect to leave a footprint in his or her region, contributing to the cultural heritage? Just think how many people are drawn to visit the Eiffel Tower, Tower Bridge, the Alhambra or Neuschwanstein Castle. The economic contribution of such buildings to their locality is incalculable. What a profession!
What does it take to be an architect today, and what are the day-to-day challenges they have to cope with?
First an architect needs to attract individuals, investors or companies who want to construct a house, building or other structure. Creativity is the characteristics that distinguishes him or her from the competitors to win a commission. The design must be creative; the architect also needs a realistic understanding of what is technically feasible and affordable within the budget. This puts an architect right in the nexus between the building developer, the budget, and the planning laws and requirements of the planning authorities.
But budget, technical feasibility and legal requirements are not the only constraints: there are also the people involved in the project. On one hand is the architect’s own team, who have to be led and aligned to deliver the project – which is typically unique and will be built only once. On the other are all the suppliers of materials and services and the authorities who are also involved.
The architect orchestrates all the different parties in order to deliver. The budget has to be handled carefully, and risks assessed and treated realistically.
Does it mean the architect has to be like a chameleon? In some ways, yes. On the construction site the architect has to become a hands-on person speaking the language common on building sites. At meetings with the building developer or investors the architect has to become a business executive, convincing his clients the project is progressing well and mastering technical and budgetary constrains.
Isn’t there a conflict then, between the ideal solution and the budgetary constrains?
An architect’s dream commission would have an unlimited budget, unlimited resources and lots of time. But in reality, every project is governed by its budget, timeframe and legal requirements.
Did architects in the past have more freedom to create extraordinary objects like the pyramids or the castles? They weren’t necessarily more fortunate. What happened to an architect in those days if their design didn’t work out? The price was high.
What parallels exist between architecture and the aircraft industry? How do they contribute to the good of society? The products of both:
Put them together. With a 3,000m concrete runway and an Airbus you can reach the world.
© Ronald Hoppe
© Copyright 2015 Ronald Hoppe & Andrea Deckers