Architects’ value is their combination of deep generalist and broad specialist knowledge, says Alan Jones
We are witnessing an accelerating shift in emphasis from what architecture is to what architecture does. Society and government are realising that it is about not just appearance, but a manifestation of balancing large-scale issues with fine detail delivery. This is changing how architecture is created, what it allows to happen, its impact and how it performs. Architecture and what architects achieve through how they work with others is being recognised as integral to the success and wellbeing of society.
With the optimum, most valuable intervention and solution not necessarily being a building, the RIBA is championing architects and the value that they create.
Our value starts with seven years of education and professional experience to registration. Our ongoing professional development, mandatory competencies, practice and being the subject of a government regulator (in the UK) give architects a strategic, theoretical, ethical, technical, and professional overview. That is why it takes so much to become and be an architect, and why we need to realise our value to society and for ourselves.
The deep generalist education of architects makes them a natural fit to be the ‘guardians of the built environment’. Many collaborators and professionals involved within the built environment have specialist blocks of focused knowledge and associated expertise, and others have generalist knowledge. Architects connect multiple fields of knowledge and cross-disciplinary thinking; they are the modern-day polymaths of the built environment, whose knowledge is deeper than that of generalists and broader than that of specialists.
Government must understand that a fractured and lazy "single point of contact is easiest for us" procurement process, with your best team members on the bench, needs to stop
Instead of continuing to encourage greater levels of specialism, the government, society, academia and the industry must realise why they also need deep generalists who draw on a complex body of knowledge to help solve problems, balancing risk, opportunity and interdependency across a substantial number of issues. Without the deep generalist, from start to finish, solutions cannot be truly and effectively identified and developed, with gaps in the consideration of risk, opportunity and interdependency occurring, manifesting in the result, as anything from a sub-optimal solution to a Piper Alpha or Grenfell Tower type disaster.
This is more than a golden thread of responsibility or a simple ability to hold to account. Government must understand that a fractured and lazy ‘single point of contact is easiest for us’ procurement process, with your best team members on the bench, needs to stop. A more integrated process, with deep generalists from start to finish, is needed to realise the optimum, most valuable, safe, uplifting outcome for everyone. Government needs to lead, accepting that shoestring fees, unreasonable time schedules and low budgets keep the industry in perpetual decline.
My two years as president started with our trustees taking the high road, followed by more mandatory competencies, a CPD recording platform, RIBA Academy, an enhanced technical-professional curriculum for future architects and The Way Ahead. We have created the strategic tram tracks of the President’s Fact-Finding Mission for council, board and incoming presidents to follow and inform the masterplan towards our 200th anniversary in 2034.
We have started and more is to be done. As I handover the presidential baton to Simon Allford, the RIBA must put out our best team as we aim to realise greater funding of the education of future architects, show why the right person must be in each function of the design and realisation process, respond to new legislation, and address procurement. We must take these opportunities. I will not wish us luck, as preparation, research and advocacy will prevail.