The Architect as a Lethal Weapon.

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      Architects are re-moulding themselves lately as ‘lethal weapons’. Much in the style of Ronald Regan, with his ‘Star Wars’ style defense weaponary. All that can ensue from this, is an arms race amongst the professions to decide who has the most, and/or biggest missiles. By passing some bit of legislation, the architectural profession in Ireland, is about to gain several thousand nuclear warheads, but in the process is doing a great disservice to it’s youngest, bravest and brightest. It is only a matter of time, before the opposition catches up with some counter-punch, and this will be another ‘chapter’ in the arms race. What is the architect’s core advantage, what skills should it struggle to master for the future? Most people in society today, get to choose from a preset menu of ‘desirable’ products. In everyday life you are bombarded with menus of things which claim to make you a different person, allow you to stand out from the rest. Architects are lucky, they can design things for themselves. They already stand out from the rest in that respect, and no legislation will augment that. All of the things the architect needs are god given, but if you are to believe the RIAI, god-given is not good enough. Basically, we are back to choosing from menus again.

      Architects have abilities which nobody else has, that gives you market differentiation. That differentiation should be a recipe for making money. Why does one need legislation to increase that differentiation. The architect’s problem is not lack of differentiation, but a cronic inability to use their differentiation. Instead of embracing the difference, building it into the core of their daily lifes, architect’s core talents have been allowed to migrate to the edge. While at the centre of their daily business is something, he or she cannot gain competitive advantage from. In a good business model, everything should be modularised so as to fit snugly around your core capabilities. Not the opposite. The architects biggest priority is to learn what their core competencies are. Passing more legislation, will not find that for them. It didn’t work for Ronald Regan, and it will not work either for architecture. In fact, it all stinks of laziness on the part of architects, to try and find their ‘true business model’ and execute it well.

      A whole generation of young architects are walking around, comforted by some piece of legislation. Having a monopoly over the name ‘Architect’ does not target the true problems young architects are facing. Their talent has become commoditized – it has to fit around the optimisation of other peoples’ skills – namely the developer, local authority and the city planner. With the result that architects live a miserable profit free existence. Architects know something is wrong, but they have failed to analyse exactly what. The right answer is in having a good business brain. The creative economy cannot sustain itself without becoming a working hybrid of business and creativity. You see this in other areas of life too, such as agriculture, where the farmer needs to look at his operation as a business. Farmers like architects need to learn in baby steps initially. One of the clearest examples is Duncan Stewart. Duncan has sucessfully managed to combine his core skills, that which makes him ‘unique’, with another business, TV broadcasting. TV is a very modular activity, programmes are heavily packaged for efficiency. But Duncan is unique. The modularity of television levers the uniqueness of one individual.

      You only have to look at architectural education to find the bad seeds to the architect’s dilemma. I have learned that architecture school is backways. The original theory of the architecture school, was to ‘build’ a series of standard modules around the architect’s core skills, which needed to become optimised and honed in organic-like fashion. Because that was ‘the product’ that architects were selling – their unique-ness, not the modularity of the other components. However, what has happened? The architecture schools themselves have become these finely tuned and optimised institutions, while the core competencies of the architect have had to become ‘modularised’ to fit around the course!!! In other words, architects have thrown away their core advantage to begin with. What has happened over course of time, is the architecture schools have become too sucessful, and now they create the play. The ‘better’ the architecture course gets, the more you find the individual’s core competencies are shoved to the edge. Unimportant compared with the massive, expanding wonder that is the architectural course curriculum.

      I have learned through practical experience, that what architecture schools say they have ‘optimised’, are things that lend themselves to being modularised. Things like planning regulation need only be approached, when you need to – and then first principles will do. But architecture schools don’t want to hear that! Things like thermal performance, or fire safety are very interesting – but you learn them best, when you encounter them through your work. Then you can insert an intensive ‘module’ about fire safety, or thermal performance into your life. Taking great care not to lose sight, of what your core competency actually is. By spending five or more years in architecture school, the young student is being encouraged to dis-integrate and dilute that core competency. It gets lost and sliced up a hundred times into small chunks, just to accomodate the ‘wonder of optimisation and integration’ that is the architectural course. Until the student finally leaves the school, only to realise they have ‘lost’ basically what made them special in the first place. This recent legislation to ‘own’ the title of architect, which many young people are resting their hopes on, is a white elephant. It is a ham-fisted and ugly piece of legislation. It can at best serve to ‘retrofit’ an already broken system, with some degree of integration. But that is a very poor second, compared to what architects should be aiming for in their lives and work.

      Brian O’ Hanlon.

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