The changing role of…architects
In a new series, PlaceTech explores how different roles within the property industry are changing, and asks are they still relevant?
Manchester-based Just H Architects offer two different perspectives, one from Hamza Khan, a Part 1 architect assistant who is in his first year of work experience and looking through the lens coming out of education, and the other from Lekia Lebari-Orleans, who has been an architect for five years.
Khan: “During my Part 1 Architectural studies, I was taught the notion that the architect’s role is primarily as a designer. Someone who creates buildings and spaces which have aims to enhance the quality of life for its users. After working in practice, I have come to the realisation that the role of an architect is broader. Many of the projects I’ve worked on required a more managerial process. Not only were there aspects of design which were needed, but also co-ordinating, costing and quality assessing. Architects’ responsibilities are far greater than I first thought, and architectural education should look into teaching the future generation how to manage a project rather than just design.”
L-O: “As a qualified architect I believe most of the practical skills many people will require can be picked up along the way. I’ve worked with a lot of designers in various disciplines, over different levels of qualification and the key to most good teams is character and rapport. For young trainees curiosity and the ability to build rapport is important. The capacity to learn using a mix of confidence and initiative within company protocols have been key to seeing good trainees develop into good architects. I have felt that the more sheltered individuals who struggle to interact within a studio environment, for whatever reason, have suffered a lot more. An example of that sheltered individual was my younger self as a Part 1, when I first came to work for Just H (then Harrison Ince). My first few months were a struggle but once I broke through the barriers of my personal reserve and reluctance to ask questions at the risk of sounding incapable, I was ok. The same principle actually applies for more experienced architects and construction individuals, the sooner they were able to break those barriers, the quicker we can integrate into the team and expand our learning.”
What will their daily routine include in 2040?
K: “By 2040 I aim to establish myself as an architect, potentially having my own practice. Advancements in technology will certainly change the way we work and collaborate within the construction industry. I believe that communication and design technologies will become easier to work with. Architects will be able to work around the globe without having to leave their offices. Drones will become tools to conduct site surveys and produce measurements, remotely operated. Virtual and Augmented Reality will become main design tools.”
L-O: “2040 is not far off. By then it seems we may have commercial space travel, however, the daily routines in future will still heavily involve a key part of today’s routine, networking. The need to grow a network and draw in a pool of expertise as and when required is crucial. In the design environment, there seems to be a consultant for everything and building relationships to create a reliable wider design team pool is fast becoming crucial to the success of most projects. Networking does not just mean attending events and exchanging business cards. For example, one of our main tasks is to continually review the stock of consultants we use for projects and ask questions about reliability. Knowing that a consultant whom we work with is reliable saves a lot of time, cost and most importantly can be sold as a better joint venture proposition to a client. By 2040, that client may be in China and our collaborator in Germany. We may end up communicating differently but the principles will remain the same.”
Examples of tech that’s changing the role
K: “The introduction of Building Information Model (BIM) paved the way for subcategories and specialisms to evolve within the construction industry. These specialisms include CGI artists, BIM managers and graphic designers. These specialists provide services which include the detailed design of building elements that better connect the supply chain.”
L-O: “BIM is changing the environment. This is not just pertinent to the use of BIM software; 3D ArchiCAD, Revit etc. but more to do with the way we collaborate. In a BIM environment the client is becoming more involved in the design stage for example, where both build and running costs of a building is becoming important to the early stage design process. Coordination is key to this process and technology is the fundamental component to design control. In real time we model buildings accurately to site conditions to test the performance of a building, structurally, sustainably, and aesthetically amongst other criteria. To do so, we require input from a variety of disciplines and in the BIM world, this is knitted together either by a BIM manager or unofficially the architect.
“In a sense our role is evolving into more of a collective responsibility as these days a client can be left with a fully collaborated 3D model, compared to old-fashioned alienated design drawings from separate disciplines.”
What will be the benefits?
K: “BIM has caused a solution for a more realistic approach to building design which incorporates real world parameters. It provides a solution to traditional design which has been criticised to be of no real use to clients and is very time consuming to produce.
“Traditional drawing is very slow. Individually drawn documents can take a long time to produce. This adds to the detrimental status of the UK construction industry. BIM creates the opportunity for architects to have all the required drawings under one file which can be read by other industry professionals. BIM has changed the architect’s role by allowing the integration of collaborative design and information management.”
L-O: “The strength of design projects will be the core benefit of positive changes in the construction environment. On a slightly less positive note a conflict in roles and responsibility especially on the architectural side begins to arise. To explain this conflict, we can first identify that in the absence of a client representative, project manager or BIM manager for example, it is often our assumed role, within a design team to coordinate all of the aforementioned pool of ‘networked’ consultants, without any extra fees associated to that. Part of the reason is that most architects like to be in charge so that they can protect the design a lot more, and rightly so. This extra responsibility can be very arduous and time consuming over the course of a large project and making small losses for practices is often the norm.
“This is not simple to remedy by just considering and increasing fees as we then run a risk of pricing ourselves out of the competitive market. Another consideration is to manage that responsibility and coordination process in a more efficient manner using communication, technology and most importantly that networking process. Knowing and developing a deep understand of the methods of most consultants and clients that we regularly collaborate with allows us to coordinate design more efficiently.
“Our work on Castle House in Sheffield exemplifies this process as we were able to draw in a pool of engineers, interior designers, makers and graphic artists whom we know. The client on Castle House is also someone we have a long-standing working relationship with, for the best part of 20 years. The relationships that had been built away from the project ensured a successful design and delivery and for us and made the project far more streamlined for the communication process using technology. In my view, without that good relationship and understanding of our peers, the communication process using technology – BIM, CAD, email – is less efficient and in some cases falls down.”
When do you expect to see the tipping point for adoption of more modern approaches?
K: “I believe the role and value of an architect has been transitioning for some time. It is unclear what the direction will be next for architects, therefore, it is important that architects become more concerned with keeping up to date with the advancements in technology. With the rise of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, architects are given the opportunity to convey their designs through simulations rather than floor plans. Clients can experience their potential buildings in real-time. As part of the future generation of architects, I believe we need to catch up with other industries on how they use technology, such as the arts and media. Video games are created with hyper-realism, this way of design should be adopted by architects for how we model buildings and explain designs.”
L-O: “I think that tipping point has already occurred. As previously discussed, the client has become part of the design team in a modern approach but often is still a lay person. We still need to use coordinated BIM technology appropriately to communicate, deciphering architectural jargon and technical information into easily understandable images, drawings, diagrams, charts, graphs.”
Who will be the winners & losers? Why will some fail? What are the implications?
K: “A main concern with the increasing technology is the saturation of the architectural profession. Early adopters will be the winners as they will be ahead of the competition. The losers will be practices that try to imitate. The market for services will become very elastic unless they provide revolutionary ideas. Many duties an architect specialises in can be adapted and learned by non-architects. Building modelling software such as Google SketchUp and Autodesk Revit can be learned without the need or an architectural qualification. The amount of CGI visualisers and modellers has been increasing in recent years. The supply for designers who can provide architectural drawings questions the value of an architect in society.”
L-O: “I’d like to focus this question on architectural practices. For me the smaller, nimble operators I believe will benefit most. Not for a long time has there been such an advantage to remaining small. Picking up on earlier ideas expressed in this thought piece, for smaller practices who benefit from smaller overheads, networking is key. Through creating large networks, practices of 8-10 people can now compete with the larger 100+ strong companies who may have onsite expertise in every department by widening their network. In a previous professional life, I worked exclusively in the transport sector on and saw that many large value projects that are commissioned through government frameworks are made up of smaller groups of practices, partnering up to pull together expertise. It’s an idea that I would very much like to pick up on at Just H.”