Why Isn't Architecture Mainstream?!
18th September 2015According to the Environmental Protection Agency the average American spends 87% of their time indoors. Most people on the planet interact with hundreds of buildings every day, whether that’s using them as a vessel for tasks or glancing at one from across the road. Urban land development is increasing in the form of ever larger cities due to population increase, causing more and more people to be intimately entwined with large scale architecture. So, as it’s clear that architecture impacts almost everyone on the planet, why does no one seem to care about it? This is a question that puzzles me a lot, and I’m not sure if I know a definite answer.
In my opinion there is a fundamental lack of communication between architects and the general public. There is an incorrect perception of architects that they are stubborn and do not listen, so many people just accept buildings for how they are even if they are terrible. However whilst in some practices the egos of their architects hinder successful and inclusive design, from my personal experiences I’ve found most architects to be open and responsive to alterations if they are appropriate. I think this is especially true in younger architects and my own generation that are currently studying, which bodes well for the future of the profession. Of course architects have superior knowledge of the field than an average person, however the latter normally plays the part of the client who is more invested in a given project and aware of their personal requirements. As a result, frank and focused communication is needed between the architect, client and public in order to create the best design possible.
Another reason that architecture only lurks in the corner of the public eye is that there is a lack of understanding of the profession. Not many people actually know what architects do. This is clear from people often confusing my degree with archaeology, and then asking “so you just draw houses all day?” when I correct them. If the process of designing then constructing a building was more well known, then the public might feel less intimidated to get involved.
A focal point for the local community. Photo by Hollwich Kushner The design is bold and unapologetic. Photo by Hollwich Kushner Timber has nautical connotations. Photo by Hollwich KushnerArchitects should make an effort to listen to the stakeholders. After all, architecture is for the people, and including them in the process will ultimately result in better design. It’s up to future architects to make sure they engage the public in projects through emerging social media pathways. Nowadays, it is easier than ever to communicate with wider audiences, and I feel that this is not yet being utilised by architecture firms for positive effect. An example of a project that made itself mainstream in the local community was a pavilion in the centre of Fire Island Pines in New York State. The architects proposed an audacious design, and were worried about how the public would receive it. Instead of lazily going ahead with it without consulting the population, they made the community aware of their Instagram and other social media, on which they posted renders and drawings of their design. It was fortunately well received, and so the construction went ahead. However, the firm didn’t stop there, throughout the process they updated the community on how the project as moving along, keeping them in the loop. This inevitably increased the feeling of ownership and pride the public felt in the pavilion, as well as helping them to understand the role of the architect and their worthwhile contributions. Upon completion, the opening of the pavilion was met by a large number of people that already had a relationship with the building despite never having stepped inside.
This example shows how architecture can be done successfully whilst involving the public and without sacrifice on anyone’s part. Architecture should be mainstream, since it directly shapes the world we live in. I’m not sure why it isn’t, however it is slowly is creeping into the public realm. Hopefully this evolution will continue, benefitting the profession, public interaction with buildings, and the general quality of architecture.