Debunking Myths About Architects
28th October 2017Considering how integral buildings are to human life, it is a shame that so few people fully understand what architects do. It makes me sigh when people ask “so what do you do all day, just draw pictures of buildings?”, or even worse, confuse my degree with archaeology (which is a lot less important, and let’s face it, boring, than architecture). As a result of the lack of knowledge regarding architecture, some myths have sprung up over time that only serve to further alienate architects and their work from society. This saddens me as involvement from the communities which will be affected by a project often leads to more successful designs. A lack of community involvement is a failing of the profession, as we should be able to engage society and use our creativity to encourage excitement and enthusiasm for architecture. With more and more people living in urban areas it is vital that the relationship between architects and society is repaired so that an open, trusting and positive relationship can be developed. With this in mind, I’m starting the process today with a post debunking five of the most common myths about architects.
One of my drawings from first year, nothing special but it can convey an idea or concept. Drawing by Barney Sheppard
All architects can draw and do mathsA common response when people find out that I studied architecture is “oh so you’re good at drawing then? “, no way. Whilst basic drawings and sketches are a useful tool in order to develop ideas quickly with clients or visually explain a concept, many architects are far from being artists. In the past architectural drawing demanded a skilled artist, however with the speed and accuracy that computers now provide, hand drawn presentation and construction drawings are becoming increasingly rare. Another preconception is that architects are fantastic mathematicians; if anything this myth is even more false than that regarding drawings. There is one reason why architects (and no other professionals) need to do complicated maths anymore, calculators. It is useful as an architect to be able to do simple mental arithmetic for time saving reasons, however these calculations are limited to addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and everyone can do them.
The Canary Wharf masterplan was developed by architecture firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill. Photo by Skidmore Owings & Merrill
Architects just do pretty drawingsThis is the most frustrating myth to hear as it discredits the efforts of a lot of very talented and dedicated people within the profession. Architecture is not the drawing of “pretty” buildings, this is a horribly basic and ignorant definition. Architecture is the design of space in order to improve the lives of those who use and interact with it. These improvements could be increased efficiency in a train station, more joy and community in a neighbourhood or home, better functionality in an office, or a sensitive and educational renovation of a historical monument. Architecture is not just limited to buildings either, architects design exhibitions, public spaces, cities and even rollercoasters. Architects skilfully work in a range of environments and different scales, from the way a door handle feels to touch to the way traffic and pedestrians flow around a city.
This building is simple yet exquisite. Photo by Luis Asín The architect's creativity has elevated it above typical mass produced houses. Photo by Paredes Pedrosa Architects The elements in the design add up to more than the sum of their parts, that's what an architect can do. Photo by Paredes Pedrosa Architects
Architects are unnecessary in the construction industryBearing in mind the preconception above it is logical that some people question the value of architects in the construction industry. After all, without architects I’m sure buildings would still be built. However, with a skilled architect on board, a design project can be more than the sum of its parts. The important role of the architect is to consider all aspects of a project, from its setting to it uses to its community values, then design an ideal solution that improves the lives of everyone involved. Alongside efficiency and functionality, this includes the design of solutions to make people feel happier, safer, and more satisfied and connected. Architects use their creativity to solve problems in novel ways, and link seemingly distant concepts with subtle and beautiful ideas. If we want to create urban environments that are unified, interesting and charming, architects are vital.
"It's organised chaos I promise."
Architects are disorganisedI will admit, architects can come across as disorganised, however in my opinion this appearance comes from the busy and frantic nature of their work. The thing about architecture projects is that they are never completely finished, there is always more that could be done. This fact, coupled with the desire of architects to produce successful designs, results in them putting in a lot of effort and time into their schemes. Also, they normally work on many different projects at once which further increases complexity. Another major facet of the role is overseeing projects in order to ensure that everyone is working together and pursuing the same goals. Designing and building is a highly complicated process with dozens of different companies involved and thousands of changeable variables that can impact construction. I would challenge anyone to seem organised in such a changeable and responsive environment. Since it is the architect’s job to resolve all the issues that arise whilst keeping to schedule, they will often be rushing around taking phone calls, having meetings and completing site visits. Architects aren’t generally disorganised, but the architectural industry is.
Community consultations are a highlight for many architects.
Architects are detached from the real world and don't listenA long held belief amongst sceptics of architects is that they are arrogant, stubborn and have a very high opinion of themselves. Maybe in the past this theory had more legs, however nowadays it is far from the truth. Architects of my generation understand the value of working with the client and community in developing a design, and are open to ideas from any source. A fantastic example of this is Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, where the design was inspired by a drawing done by a 14 year old patient. As an architect more than anything I love discussing designs with other people; it is a joy to share my passion with them and stimulate them to get involved.
The label of being detached from the real world comes from the belief of others in the industry that architects don’t care about budgets and set unrealistic timing targets. Whilst budgets are important, what’s more important is that the building is able to improve the lives of everyone involved with it for decades to come. Many architects think long term (as mentioned in Should you Study Architecture?) and recognise that spending a little more money at the offset often saves money further down the line and maximises the success of the project. If it costs more than expected to achieve this outcome, it is the fault of the quantity surveyor and not the architect. The timing issue relates to my earlier point regarding architects being disorganised. Whilst many architects don’t expect tasks to be completed on time, they set unrealistic targets in order to galvanise workers and catch up time that has been lost. Whilst this is an effective technique, personally I feel that it introduces unnecessary stress and so would like to see a move away from it.