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Back to the future... or why I'm thinking about tomorrow. 

 

Oriel Chambers by Peter Ellis 1864

 We, as architects, have been told that there are potential technologies that allow us to leverage our knowledge, design process, team, and intelligence. Two articles (1, 2) recently published at AN make a confounding pair to read. The articles make two problems readily apparent: Architecture practice doesn't have the time or resources to focus on leveraging the information they create and second, architecture is secondary to the business of building. 

In 1901 FLW read that "Today we have a Scientist or an Inventor in the place of a Shakespear or a Dante." While the technicians of digital design have been crowing about their machines for years, rarely do we see them utilized in an architecture practice. There are a growing number of consultants who are in the position to devote their time to elaborate the design information between the design and construction team. At the heart of the matter is a conundrum, many in the design profession have recognized that the profession of architecture resists taking on more risk (see article 2 mentioned above) firms like Shop are the rare example. 

In fact the architecture of yesterday used new technology to achieve it's effects far more regularly. Oriel Chambers is an excellent example of this concept. In a time when the architect was at the heart of the construction process (The Harvard Design Magazine had an incredible article on the office's of 19th C architects in all cases the estimating, engineering and construction team shared the same space) Ellis was able to utilize completely new fabrication, installation technology and materials to achieve a piece of architecture that pushed the discussion of building and design forward. It may not be the lightest curtain wall (Gropius) but it may be just the first in what has become a dominant technology in the industry of architecture. I find myself asking, has a generation missed the forest for the trees. The ethos of the arts and crafts movement was not just the creation of art (architecture included) but the the goal was to integrate the emerging technologies of the day into a new kind of practice.

If anything there must be an increased appetite for projects and risk. The comments from the second article are not only entertaining they are scary. Suffice it to say that architects, may be good at selling the dream of their design ability, they seem to do a less convincing job leveraging the value that they truly could bring to a project. If the profession spent less time navel gazing and more time creatively focusing their energies on understanding and implementing the technologies they use and build, architects have an opportunity to sit at the table. Isn't that where we want to be?

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