Re: Re: Future for Irish Architects..

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I hope this will become a final installment. Enjoy. Best of luck all.

Part I: The Early Days

I remember I went looking for work experience as a student and found that architects were hiring non-architects with computer aided design skills instead. Why are we taking some of the most intelligent young people our nation can produce, and putting them through five years of training at Bolton Street, UCD, Limerick, Belfast or Waterford to become architects? When the first thing they face outside in the real world is some form of rejection because they don’t have the correct skills? That set me thinking at an early stage, about what else the Institute isn’t doing to protect the youngest and most vulnerable members, or potential members of its profession? What I discovered over the next ten years of experience was startling to me. The Institute of Architects wasn’t in touch with the requirements of its younger members at all.

This is still a present problem today, and I don’t see any published documents which compile together feedback gathered from the younger members. The RIAI pushed through some legislation to protect the title of architect. Look at all of the good that did. What the RIAI’s legislation did was to protect the older and better off members of the profession, who gets their hands on the incoming fees first. From there a couple of scraps are distributed down amongst the assistants to the assistant directors to fight over.

Part II: AutoCAD Training

Zoe developments was itself a low end disruption, in the classic sense of Clayton Christensen’s model. When I was in architectural school in Bolton Street we would talk in discust about how ’18 year olds with AutoCAD training’ were filling up Bachelor’s Walk with bad apartment developments. We agreed with Frank McDonald’s analysis to that effect in the Irish Times. The trouble is that Frank’s intial analysis of the facts and the reality of a decade later, regarding Zoe are altogether different. Ten years later, Zoe developments were hiring guys like myself to become involved in their operation.

I was thrilled to get the opportunity, because it offered me a different setting to that of a small architectural consultancy practice. One in which I was always likely to have the worst office freak out ever. But when working in project management or working for Zoe developments, I felt a serene sense of calm come over me. Like I was at home, and doing what I should be doing. At one stage in my career, I left a good position at a successful small architectural consultant in Limerick to go and work on the production line at Dell computers in Raheen industrial estate. The fact I was having lunch in a canteen at 2.00 AM in the morning with 1,500 other workers was enjoyable to me.

Part III: Systems Engineering

Systems engineering is an interesting concept. It means going about your design in such a way as not to create difficulties for people further down the track with implementation. I listened to a lecture this year presented by WaveBob, the wave energy generation startup company. They wanted to keep their staff quite small and only do the design. But they were also very cognescent of the fact, that someone would have to drag their device out into the ocean and deploy it. They were cognescent of the fact, that their skills and knowledge were not, and never would be in deployment. Furthermore, the devices will require maintenance. Routine maintenace should not be executed by dragging the device all the ways back into port. It has to be performed on site in a way that conforms with good health and safety practice. All of that awareness has to be present in the initial design. The Hubble space telescope is a similar project, in which sore lessons on the concept of systems engineering were learned, at great expense to the American tax payer.

I learned while working for a dedicated project manager how to use the tendering process, in order to gain feedback from the more practically minded experts in the construction industry. In terms of social and affordable housing, we are miles behind the curve in that regard and we do need outside assistance from companies such as Corcoran Jennison. The department of the environment introduced Part V legislation in the planning and development act. That was on one end of the process. But on the other end of the process, they didn’t interface with the social housing departments of the local authorities. When Corcoran Jennison property developers tried to introduce a new sustainable model for social housing provision in Ireland – one that has proven itself over a thirty year period in Boston – they met with all sorts of resistance from the encumbant housing department in Dublin City Council.

In fact it was worse than that. Not only were individuals employed on the property development end of the spectrum to try and ‘beat’ the Part V legislation. But in the very resource limited departments of the local authorities, they became obsessed with the exercise to try and make the developers pay their dues. To force them to build social and affordable units. In total, the Part V legislation created a cottage industry that stole valuable fees away from qualified design professionals. It also tied up countless bodies who engaged in a game of hide and seek with each other. When I looked at this, and tried to imagine how better the talent could be employed I became very disillusioned. In the end, North Wall Quay project was stopped, an excellent development company went into melt down and everyone got ‘their pound of flesh’. Good result you would think, for a billion Euros expense and several million man hours.

To see if I could find solutions to how resources can be used productively, I wrote the paper attached below about the Dublin Airport Authority capital investment program. I sent this paper to Tom Parlon of the Construction Industry Federation and several other people. I listened with interest to Tom Parlon speak about the new ‘Retrofit contract’ which the CIF published in order to remove roadblocks in the way of the retrofitting industry in Ireland. But useful ideas like that never find their way into the columns of Frank McDonald. It would be of much greater benefit to young architects than a quotation from Yvonne Farrell. Not that Yvonne’s voice isn’t useful too, but Frank seems to over emphasize that perspective in his writing.

Part IV: What Now?

Thinking about the architectural profession is like thinking about a marriage doesn’t work. Do you continue to try to ‘make it work’ after it is repeatedly unfaithful to you? Do you try to make it work, when clearly the important soul part of it has died? The recession performs a very interesting function for architects. It serves to conceal the true nature of the problem, that most members are disillusioned with their situation to begin with. Indeed the reason why James Pike has to confront this series of catastrophic failures has less to do with the economy and more to do with the marriage being disfunctional in the first place. Recession enables us to avoid dealing with reality.

I first encountered this concept in business – of one thing which conceals itself behind another – while reading about ‘System Dynamics’ in a book by Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Disipline. In a manner similar to Clayton Christensen’s model of disruptive innovation, the model presented in Senge’s book offers us a better tool to confront reality with, than our brains are able to do on their own. Indeed, as Senge points out in the book, that failure to diagnose the problem accurately has the effect of making it worse. The article written by Frank McDonald is a perfect example of that. The basic problem is that architecture can only draw from within the ranks of its own tiny community. The Institute of Architects doesn’t run a training program for architects who want to develop better models, by attending a masters in business administration course. It is time we all modernized a bit. We are still running the profession like it was the 19th century.

The automobile manufacturing industry is one I have studied in some detail. From the early days of Henry Ford’s production line, to Alfred Sloane’s contribution at General Motors in the field of business management. Later, the Japanese and the development of lean manufacturing. Indeed, I spent a good year myself at Dell computer factory, which is based loosely around the concept of lean manufacturing. But basically the RIAI still awaits its Alfred Sloane, someone who can take the profession forward. That person will not come from within the ranks of its own members.

Brian O’ Hanlon

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