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B Kenny

I have discovered this site and this thread as an outsider from the U.S. in Seattle, and the immediate thing I’m struck by is how this discussion is about my city too. Developers trashing the cityscape, the landscape, putting up junk and getting out of town with their money. Actually, where would this description _not_ apply is my question… The thing to do is to understand in depth how it all happens, and then respond with precision.

Two years and counting out of architecture school, and I’m trying to honor the ambitions I nursed so closely “back then”. I’ve only begun to taste the range of difficulties architects face in trying to make their life, their careers, and their buildings. I’ve listed those three things in order of importance, I think. Or have I? You tell me, because my mind keeps changing.

I say it that way because I can appreciate more now, having left the “ivory tower” and green fields of school, just how many decisions an architect is faced with in a day. I’m now making some myself. One of those decisions is quite often “Do I keep working on this, or do I go home today?” The quality of the building can be at stake if you take that decision and multiply by months or years, for the life of a project. For those whose fire to conquer the world through architecture did not burn as brightly as they’d thought, the easy way becomes more and more seductive. The difficulty grows with family and other commitments. The smartest figure out how to do the good work without becoming martyrs in the process. That’s the place to be, I think, but I don’t think it’s easy to get there.

To be less forgiving, many other architects see the paychecks grow as they take on more work; the staff and commitments grow, and our former hopeful design-king just simply sells out and makes Dublin’s cheap flats, or my city’s cheap condos and apartments which go begging for 2 million-dollar repairs three years after they’re built. I don’t think any city has cornered the market on shoddy, ugly buildings, I’m afraid. I’ll visit Dublin this summer, though, and I’m curious to see what’s happening to your home. Most American cities lack the centuries of built form and history that are threatened and ravaged in Dublin, but we’ve certainly mastered raping Nature’s designs on a vast scale. I return to my childhood home in the Eastern U.S. every year, and every time I rage and weep at miles of forest that I remember being there turned into developments (or housing estates, as you may call them). Now, I work in an office that designs buildings for developers who aren’t the worst, but they don’t care the way I care. Opportunities are often lost, and the city or the land is diminished for it every time.

All human endeavors, architecture included, are subject to the foibles of human nature. Developers are so very often humans who exploit and benefit from a situation no one else has taken advantage of. It’s their singular goal, and they often make lots of money by doing so. Why should they stop, for benefits that they imagine threaten their profits? They will do what they can get away with. So, control them when possible with limits and guidelines and review, but seduce them through your skill. Show them how to build sustainable and context-sensitive, and _quantify_ for them how they’d be more profitable because they reduced their mechanical costs by 30% or made their units more marketable with “design features”, then you’ve controlled their game. Easy, right? Of course not, but it’s the only path I see that can be sustained in today’s world. Burn ‘em down if you feel that strongly, but you better have an answer people can live in. A critique won’t keep the rain out.

Be unyielding and realistic simultaneously. Be a good architect and lead.

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