23 July 2011

‘Tough Times’ Student Forum

The RIBA’s ‘Tough Times’ student forum (21st June 2011), held at its Portland Place Headquarters in London, was an attempt to gather the opinion of students about the issues they are currently facing. 26 students attended the event, representing architecture schools from across the country, and although not every school was represented 6 main themes (highlighted by the post-even report prepared by Laura Broderick, Special Projects Co-ordinator, RIBA) were common concerns: finding a job, the cost of course related materials, relationship between practice and academia, low salaries, high tuition fees, and employability skills. Also present were the 6 external speakers, the RIBA President Ruth Reed, President Elect Angela Brady, RIBA student reps, the chair of Archaos and journalists from both The Architect’s Journal and Building Design.

Niall McLaughlin, Principal of Niall McLaughlin Architects and a visiting professor at UCL, chaired the forum and began with his own personal story – his father, a chartered accountant, discouraged him form a career in architecture as he believed that as a profession it was low-paid, ‘weak’ and struggled to define what it does and they value it adds. Now running his own successful practice Niall sees architects as “synthesisers” and that this is their unique selling point.  He also drew on his experience in academia, referring to the acronym ‘PTT’ (Portfolio That Thick!) with students under pressure to produce copious amounts of work and that there was a gap in expectations between graduates – who want experience on site – and practices – who want ‘CAD monkeys’ or read-made technicians.

Following the introduction Laura Broderick and Joanna Parry, RIBA Professional Education Manager, gave a presentation on recent RIBA initiatives designed to further understand and improve students professional experience: RIBA Student Destinations Survey, ‘Part of the Picture’ case study project, and changes to practical experience rules. Of particular interest is the new RIBA Appointments project called 'Part of the Picture' that attempts to demonstrate graduate value. The case studies show a sample of architectural assistants working in practice today. They highlight the contribution young professionals make to the successful delivery of architectural projects, small and large.

A panel discussion about the culture of architectural practice brought together Dale Sinclair, Dr Rachel Smart and Chris Hildrey. After an opportunity for each panellist to share his/her perspective on the culture of architectural practice discussions moved onto the importance of BIM. Instigated by Dale Sinclair, an architect with the global architectural firm Dyer and chair of RIBA Large Practice Group, he told students that “We know you can design but how are you going to deliver?” He said that students need to understand processes more and that BIM begins to question the status of the architect. Dr Rachel Smart, a management consultant educated as a designer, said that students “need to show imitative” and to “open [their] minds to what it means to be a professional architect”. Agreeing with Dale Sinclair she stressed the importance of understanding the architectural process and that students shouldn't “wait until your Part 3” to start doing this. She added that “Architects are problem solvers” and students should “use [their] design skills to tackle business and processes”. Students should also show an awareness of contract administration and management because architecture is a “synergy” of design and excellence in business. Chris Hildrey, a post Part 2 Architectural Assistant at Jestico + Whiles who is currently undertaking a piece of post-grad research at the Bartlett tracing the causes of unpaid overtime within architecture, spoke about the deficit of the cost of producing architecture and its value to/on the market. He said that as technology and systems advance different services are split apart, shrinking the remit of architects. In the past fees covered these ‘other things’ (an architect would ‘make back’ lost fee from the value-added process at the beginning of projects through drawing production information), but now architects are “just left with design”. In Chris’s opinion we now have ‘architects of systems’, with a focus on the construction side of the process and how can we design these systems. He closed by saying that the education system currently allows you to leave and become a ‘designer’ or become an ‘architect’.

The next session was focused on policy, pay and conditions, with Ruth Reed giving a presentation that aimed to provide attendees with a better understanding of the national policy context; hear what is happening at a government level with internships and student fees, and what the RIBA is saying to decision-makers. Ruth Reed explained that it now costs more to become an architect than any other profession and that the profession needs to try and remove the ‘self-imposed’ costs of the education system (models, presentation, ‘free work’, etc), this would require change within the profession, especially with regards to internships. She felt that for the profession and designers “creative thinking is our big export” but that “architects [in the UK] have consistently undersold themselves … forever”. She also spoke about a need to “rethink our obsession with vocational education”. Advocating BIM she said that it “leads to an integrated team working together much earlier on in the design process” and that this is a ‘complete game-changer’ for projects/architectural practice. It was during this presentation that she also voiced that apparently there is an opinion in the UK government (through conversations with civil servants) that ‘there are too many architects’. Ruth Reed explained that this was a very short sighted view as whilst there may be a surplus at present, as the economy recovers demand for their services increases. These comments were reported the following day in The Architect’s Journal the following day by Merlin Fulcher, at the expense of other discussions that had been taking place at the forum.

ZAP have been carrying out a survey into the cost of
architectural education in the UK

Led by Joanna Scott, RIBA Education Projects Co-ordinator, and Zohra Chiheb and Pol Gallagher, ZAP Architecture, students then took part in table discussions about ways to reduce costs in architecture education, topics included: model-making, printing, study trips, part-time work, portfolios and presentations. Students fed back ideas to the rest of the forum. ZAP, architectural design partnership led by Chiheb and Pol, are currently working on the ‘Pavilion of Protest’ project to uncover and share how architecture students feel about the cost of their studies.

Professor David Gloster gave the last presentation, emphasising the importance and benefits of an architectural education, speaking about initiatives, such as Polyark, that are designed to bring various schools of architecture together to work collaboratively. He also spoke about how design isn't just spatial and formal but it is everything needed to go from a hole in the ground to a building (doors, specifications, contracts, etc). Students, in his opinion, need to be “thinking politically and acting architecturally” and there is a need for a forum for “a call to ideas to empower ideas”. At this point the discussion was opened up to the floor and there was some debate amongst the audience about possible ways forward to ‘empower students’. Caine Crawford, Chair of Archaos, spoke of Archaos’ successes but also the difficulties it had faced in recent years. The two RIBA student reps felt that they were in the best position to directly interact with the RIBA although there was concern about why this wasn’t happening at present and whether just two students could be representative of such a large student body. The Architecture Students Assembly that had taken place in Manchester the day before (20th June 2011) was also raised (see previous post here).

The forum was closed with a brief statement form the chair and some closing comments from others who had attended the event. Their was a sense that the architectural community needs to work more closely together to support students during these ‘tough times’ but also, as James Benedict Brown put it in his piece in Building Design about the forum, “that students want a national student body with a wider membership; perhaps somewhere between the alluring summer school of the EASA in Europe and the well-funded political campaigning of the AIAS in America”. The RIBA Education team, following the event, has said that they will support any future initiatives and will look into the scope for the RIBA to establish an e-platform for students to communicate/debate issues with each other and the institute. Following the event in Manchester and the RIBA instigated forum there is perhaps the beginnings of new framework that will provide students with a platform to raise concerns, voice their opinions and take action.

21 July 2011

A short note on housing in Cornwall

During a recent trip to the north coast of Cornwall (more specifically the area surrounding Polzeath and Padstow) I was struck by the level of modern design being implemented in the construction of residential properties there. In many cases these houses could simply be described as 'new' or 'contemporary' but are markedly different to the typical housing designs utilised across the UK by volume-house builders. The houses, generally, make use of local materials (slate, stone) with render and timber, simple geometries that evoke the more traditional pitched-roof forms of housing in the UK, and also feature extensive areas of glazing and careful detailing.

The reasons for the apparently wide spread use of 'new' architectural styles, as opposed to the kitsch re-imaginings of past architectural styles (such as mock-Tudor), could be anything from the fact that property prices in the area are considerably higher than UK averages, the climate may be better suited to it or more 'enlightened' planning officials, clients, builders, etc. It could be that there is fewer of the 'other' styles to reference although there are obviously considerable areas of Cornwall (and this area in particular) that have buildings of historic values in other styles. When these houses are seen in the picturesque setting of the north Cornwall coast line arguments that modern or contemporary architecture are unsuitable for anywhere but dense urban locations clearly don't stack up. It is as much about the visual quality of the design as it being representative of that time.

The reason I wanted to raise this point, albeit in a short post, is that over the past 12 months I was involved in trying to get planning permission for a small collection of residential dwellings for a small-scale developer in another rural area of the UK. The ambition from the developer was to build houses to a similar style and quality to these 'new' dwellings I saw in Cornwall but came up against opposition from the local authority. Without looking to go into the nuances of why or why 'contemporary' design was deemed appropriate in that situation I only wanted to bring attention to the successful application of the 'contemporary' and my belief that this needs to not be the preserve of certain enclaves but taken up across the country.

20 July 2011

The First Architecture Students Assembly

The Architecture Students Assembly aims to be a new independent network of student representatives from the schools of architecture within the United Kingdom. It came about as a legacy project from the European Architecture Students Assembly (EASA) who last year (2010) held their annual event in Manchester. During the two weeks conversation with the Standing of Heads of Schools of Architecture (SCHOSA) took place, principally at the SCHOSA Summer Meeting on Friday 6th August 2010 that was held in Manchester, about the establishment of a new student network (and issues of European mobility). The conference on Monday 20th June 2011 was the next step in this process, having been instigated by the EASA organisers of the 2010 event and members of SCHOSA. Manchester was chosen as the venue for the event as part of the EASA legacy and because the Manchester School of Architecture were willing to provide a co-oordinator/secretary to help stage the event. Invitations were sent to every school of architecture in the UK, via SCHOSA, calling for two representatives from every school to attend the event.

Colin Pugh spoke about how SCHOSA was
eager to support an active student network.

Eleven students attended the conference, an additional 5 students who had expressed an interest in attending the event were unable to, and representatives from SCHOSA, Archaos, RIBA Education and EASA. The event began with a brief introduction from Tom Jefferies, Head of the Manchester School of Architecture, and Luke Butcher, a student at the Manchester School of Architecture who was chairing the event. Sam Patterson, a UK National Contact for EASA, gave a presentation that outlined the nature and scope of EASA, highlighting the sort of event that can result from communication between students across Europe. Colin Pugh, a Principal Lecturer at the Manchester School of Architecture and a representative of SCHOSA, then outlined how SCHOSA would be able to support the new student network and how they would like to see a durable network that would offer a point of reference of harness student opinion.

Following a lunch break, where students were able to view the Manchester School of Architecture End of Year Degree Show, the afternoon was a three hour discussion about the nature of this new independent network, what its aims should be, its structure and organisation. The original intention of the day had been to draw up a charter or constitution during this session but as the afternoon progressed it became clear that this would be an ambitious task. James Benedict Brown documented the discussion through two mind maps that were presented ‘live’ on a screen in the room, providing a live ‘map’ of the discussion.

Caine Crawford, a co-chair of the national student body Archaos, gave a brief presentation during the afternoon session about the role of Archaos and its achievements in its ten years of existence. Caine explained how he thought that the time may be right for Archaos to be refreshed by a new body of students and made an offer to the students that the new student network could take on the Archaos brand, 10 years worth of research and papers, website and funding.

A series of key aims were decided on however it was agreed that this would need wider discussion with a wider audience and that this would take place at a second event to take place in October, again in Manchester due to the financial support (in the shape of coordinator/secretary) being offered by that institution. The name of the network was also debated. The discussion about whether the new student network should be agenda or event based, or a combination of both, was mainly unresolved. Despite being unresolved the discussion and debate were both positive and constructive and it is important that this continues so that the new student network can gain momentum.

Moving Forward

With the first conference complete there needs to be continued discussion amongst those who attended the day and a wider audience who were unable to attend. A method/forum for this needs to be arranged.

A number of attendees were present at the RIBA’s ‘Tough Times’ Students Forum on Tuesday 21st June 2011 in London. The Monday conference was mentioned by Professor David Gloster in a talk about communication, raising awareness for the idea. Some members of the student audience, principally the RIBA Student Representatives believed that any new network should make use of and build upon the RIBA Student Representatives however others felt it should remain independent.

The conference was mentioned in Building Design Online in the following article from James Benedict Brown – ‘Could tough times spell the end of Archaos?’ – 22nd June 2011

A date for the next event will be announced in due course but in the meantime there needs to be more discussion about the agenda for that event. If you are interested in taking part or finding out more you can contact the Manchester Student Society of Architecture via email.

19 July 2011

Review: The Architect

Inspired by real life events The Architect, by Charles Bancroft (2009), is a fast-paced thriller that tells the story of architect Rob Gilbert and the series of events that coalesce to potentially wreak his position in the pantheon of global architectural stardom. The story turns on the fatal collapse of a newly completed building that Gilbert has designed, to critical acclaim, with media swarm focusing on his role in the project. Whilst his career is unravelling his personal life is also coming apart, with deaths, affairs and the appearance of a mysterious woman adding an undercurrent of sexual intrigue. As the architect attempts to wrestle back control of his life he becomes embroiled in the sinister underworld of London, Russian gangsters, money laundering, computer hacking, people trafficking and prostitution, with the only constant being his constant level of intoxication.

The Architect (Raptor Press, 2009)

This is Bancroft’s first novel and the Brighton-based author, working under a pseudonym, draws on “25 years of service in construction and from the wealth of experiences, people and nightmares that exist in that industry”, to ensure the story stays grounded in the real nuances of the architectural profession. Familiar locations, such as Frank Gehry’s Serpentine Pavilion or The Building Centre, along with discussions about concrete testing and PI insurance, are though in stark contrast to the colourful characters. Gilbert, as main protagonist, is a character that could easily divide opinion, brazen in his arrogance he ticks every box one would expect from a self-obsessed, image consensus, individual. His relationship with the engineer, Alfred, is also stereotypical, and less about working in collaboration and more about the architect exploiting the professional services of his colleague (and friend) to enhance his own infamy.

The outlandish behaviour of Rob Gilbert has drawn
comparison to Will Alsop (Image: Sarah Lee)

As the story develops it begins to take on elements of a James Bond novel, with the short chapters lending the book a fast pace, quickly cutting between scenes in a cinematic style. In reality architecture is a secondary element, any number of other professions could have been chosen, and the real story lies in the complex character relationships and the consequences arising from the ethical dilemmas that lie behind professional and business decisions. The story is most interesting when these relationships are expanded upon and the stereotypes are not so heavily embellished.

Moving away from the methods of story telling utilised by Bancroft the book does raise some interesting issues for architects. The ethical dilemma facing architects (and other professionals) in who they accept work from is often debated, particularly in relation to the governments they choose to work for. Gilbert is happy to accept commissions from the Russian Mafiosi, turning a blind eye as to where the money is coming from, or the Chinese government, as long as it leads to projects that enhance his own image. The uneasy professional relationship this establishes is portrayed in the book although it seems unlikely that real life would take such dramatic turns. Similarly, posing the question as to who is to blame for the deaths from the building collapse, the architect, the engineer, the contractor or the client, raises questions about professional responsibility. Despite the act of building being a collaborative process it is often the architect who is singled out for a building’s success but this level of fame comes with a price when things go wrong, as Rob Gilbert discovers.

It is inevitable that any piece of architectural fiction is compared with Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, arguably the greatest novel with an architect as its main protagonist, and the character of Rob Gilbert presents a very different type of architect to Howard Roark. In many ways Gilbert draws more parallels with The Fountainhead’s Peter Keating, with an emphasis on wealth and image over morals. Both Roark and Gilbert though would seem to be uncompromising in the convictions of their designs, even if the motivations behind both are notably different. The two books present very different ‘images’ of architects that perhaps reflect the wider perception of the architect at their respective times. Whether or not Gilbert though is truly representative of architect’s today is highly questionable, the starchitect that he is obviously based on are in short supply, but if this is indeed the opinion of architects held by others it is worrying, particularly at a time when architects are being asked to justify their value.

The Architect then is an interesting read. I must admit that at first I found it difficult to get over some of the characterisations but once they had been established, and the characters were allowed to flourish in their own rights, I found the story thrilling, eager to see how the plot developed. If you approach it hoping to find a realistic account of the architectural profession you may find yourself disappointed. I recommend you take everything it says with a pinch of salt and remember that it is, after all, a work of fiction.


Bancroft, C. (2009), The Architect, 1st Edition, London: Raptor Press

17 July 2011

Thesis: Online Survey Results

This post outlines the results from a recent survey that examined the perceived role of architects in the design and construction processes that shape our built environment and asked whether “architects have a role to play in shaping 21st century cities?’” The survey results are part of a wider investigation into issues of professionalism, the future role of architects and the complex design and construction processes that shape the built environment. The research is being conducted as part of the Masters in Architecture and Urbanism programme at the Manchester School of Architecture (2010-2011) and being supervised by Eamonn Canniffe and Dr Craig Martin. The survey was conducted online using the Google Documents service and was live for 28 days, between April 11th 2011 and May 9th 2011, with questions designed to test any assumptions drawn from various sources that have informed the research to date. Completed by 105 respondents, from both the supply and demand side of the built environment industry, invitations were sent out to every architectural practice in the AJ100 (2010), the largest engineering firms and contractors, and promoted online through social networking media.

The survey begins by examining the role of the architect and asks participants to select the tasks that they would expect an architect to undertake. In the next section the relationship between architects and wider society is examined, including questions on risk, liability and value. The third section presents respondents with a series of statements made by key figures in recent discourses on the future of architects, asking them how strongly they agree or disagree with them. Finally, respondents are asked how they feel the role of the architect, and his or her relationship with society, will change in the future. Demographic data was also collected, with participants filtered into two types: those who consider themselves to be part of the architectural profession and those who do not.

There is growing speculation about the future of the profession, highlighted in the recent report published by the Building Futures Think Tank at the RIBA The Future for Architects (2011). This survey reveals that the majority of respondents do believe that architects have a role to shaping 21st century cities but that the way in which they practice, principally the relationship between ‘design’ and ‘construction’ processes will have to change for architects to continue to be relevant.

If you took part in the survey, or are interest in reading the full report, please contact me via email for a pdf copy at mail[at]luke-butcher[dot]com.


Demographic data about participants was collected at the end of the survey but it is important, before beginning further analysis, to make some observations about those who completed it. The survey results should be considered in relation to this data as it frames the personal experiences of respondents and their relation to both architects and the architectural profession.

Respondents were able to select whether they classified their primary occupation as architectural or not and a larger proportion of respondents were ‘architectural’ (77%) than ‘non-architectural’ (23%). However, of those architectural respondents only 39% of these classified themselves as architects with 16% being students, 2% technicians or technologists, 7% academic and 36% classifying themselves as ‘other’.

Non-architectural respondents were further differentiated into those who work in the ‘built environment industry’ (79% of these respondents) and those who don’t (21%). Of those who do work in the built environment industry occupations and job titles included: civil engineers, mechanical engineers, environmental engineers, planners, project managers, developers, tradesmen and journalists. Interestingly a number of non-architectural respondents described their occupation and job title as something that other respondents considered to be architectural, such as interior designers.

International breakdown of survey responses

Information on the geographic distribution of respondents was also collected. 89% of all responses came from the UK, meaning that the survey results can be said to have a UK focus. Other responses did come from Europe (Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Ireland and Spain), North and South America (United States of America and Chile) and Australia, although there were no more than 2 respondents from any of these countries. The majority of UK responses came from either the North West (32%) or the South East (31%), with two major metropolitan centres (London and Manchester) accounting for 51% of total responses.

UK breakdown of survey responses

Gender breakdown reveals that 54% of respondents were male, 41% female and 5% preferred not to say.

The Role of the Architect

The survey began by asking “what types of jobs/tasks would you expect an architect to undertake?” these functions were defined by those used in the 2005 report ‘Architectural Practice Around the World’. With the exception of ‘other’ all functions were selected by at least 60% of respondents. Of the functions with the lowest responses there are other professions within the built environment industry who would be accepted to carry out these tasks; for example, ‘Territorial Planning and Development’ (60%) could be handled by a planner and ‘Design of Structures’ (62%) by a structural engineer. ‘Design of Buildings’ (98%) received the most followed by ‘Drafting or Technical documentation’ (89%) and ‘Feasibility Studies’ (88%).

What types of jobs/tasks would you expect an architect to undertake?

The architect, according to respondents, is an individual whose primary responsibility is the design of buildings but who is also involved in a range of other activities associated with the built environment including producing technical documentation, feasibility studies, urban planning, conservation, interior design and the supervision and coordination of construction. These functions should be protected in law although the difficulties of doing so are obvious when you consider that an architect might be expected to undertake tasks that may be the responsibility of other professionals, such as the design of structures. As well as protection of function, the title of architect should be protected in law. Furthermore the practice of architecture is neither solely an art nor a profession but a combination of both.

How important is the architect in leading the design and construction process of ...?

Participants seem to agree that design and construction are treated separately under the current system although a greater proportion of those who do not classify their primary occupation as architectural view them as being separated. Within both design and construction processes respondents agree that the architect plays an important role in leading these processes. The architect is seen as being more important in leading the design process than the construction process but nonetheless has an important role to play. That the architect is less important in the construction process is reflected in the tasks an architect is expected to undertake, with more emphasis on design tasks.

The emphasis on design shows that architects have lost some ground compared to what a practicing architect would have been expected to undertake 50-100 years ago, when they would have been expected to lead both design and construction. Tasks such as controlling the construction costs would have fallen under the jurisdiction of the architect but with the advent of quantity surveyors they are less expected to do so, the same can be said where other professionals have emerged within the built environment industry.

The Architect in Society

If an architect is both an artist and a professional it can be assumed that, as a body, architects will share common characteristics with other professions. These include having a skill based on theoretical knowledge derived from an extensive period of education and having attained a prescribed level of competence in order to join a professional body or to work autonomously. This sets up an interesting relationship with society and the wider public and it is not uncommon for a professional body to have its own code of ethics, to monitor the relationship between those within the profession and those outside of it, including the public.

The survey asked participants to consider whether an architect’s primary responsibility should lie primarily with the client, who employs them, or society, who the work may have an impact on. Respondents could also choose to divide this responsibility between client and society and 39% of all respondents opted to share responsibility equally between both client and society. Perhaps unsurprisingly 95% of all responses showed that architects should accept some level of responsibility in the design and construction process. That 47% of respondents felt architects should accept more responsibility in the process is of more interest.

Should an architect’s primary responsibility lay with their client or society/the public?

Respondents were asked to give their opinions on why architects can or can not add ‘value’ to a project and to give an explanation of what they understand value to mean, when applied to architecture and the built environment. Common explanations of value given by respondents involved the architect adding a qualitative, social benefit that improves the quality of life, aesthetically and experientially, for all who use and experience the built environment. The idea of ‘doing more with less’ was also prominent, maximising potential with a given set of inputs. Some participants did stress the importance of economic and monetary benefits, with a number commenting that an architect can add economic value to a project through his or her expertise.

The general consensus from the comments was that architects are limited in the value they can add to a project. These limitations though are on both the demand and supply side of the industry. Architects were criticised by some for being ‘ignorant’, lacking integrity and professionalism, and for being short-sighted in their outlook. Concern was also raised over limitations from private and public clients who are only concerned with project margins and that certain types of contract, such as design and build, have shifted focus away from design quality. Some respondents were more optimistic, pointing out examples of where architects have been able to add value by working with society and working closely with the client.

The survey results would suggest that architects should have a relationship to society where they are equally responsible (and perhaps by extension accountable) to their client and society. Architects should be accepting both responsibility and liability in the design and construction process, and in the future the level of these should be at least equal to current levels but a large number of respondents believe they should accept more responsibility. Proportionally more non-architectural respondents believe that architects should also accept more liability in the process. There seems to be little appetite for architects to become further removed from positions of responsibility. It remains unclear as to whom they should be more responsible for and accountable too although it would seem that they should be accountable to both their client and society. The survey could have asked respondents to comment not only on issues of responsibility but also accountability as this is different to liability. It would appear that value can be added but it requires all parties involved to be working towards it. Architectural and non-architectural respondents both felt that architects do accept responsibility in the design and construction processes. They could though accept more responsibility.


In the third section respondents were presented with seven statements and asked to what degree they either agreed or disagreed with them. The statements were chosen to reflect the current debate on the role of architecture and the future for architects. Any number of statements could have been chosen due to the frequency of discussion at present. These statements could be assumed to be representative of wider opinion, due to the prominence of the individuals who make them or the medium in which it is presented. It is therefore useful to gauge opinion on them.

Recent discussions have focused on the social implications of architecture. These have been fuelled by the world financial collapse in 2007 (that forced many practices to reassess they way they worked) and the growing awareness of the ‘sustainability agenda’. It is also a reaction to the last 15 years of architectural practice where architecture was closely aligned to the market-driven ideology of ‘architecture as spectacle’.

It would seem that respondents share the views of these commentators at the forefront of the discussion. There is overall agreement that “Architecture is essentially a social activity” (Sir David Chipperfield) and that “Every architect should, at every minute, be aware of the sociological implications of his or her choices” (Eric J. Cesal). Further comments about the “dysfunctional relationship” with society and the “fragile professional position” (Sir David Chipperfield) this creates demonstrates that architects are not currently able to best serve the society they should be serving (based on results from the previous section).

There is less consensus about how “marginalised as a luxury” (Finn Williams) architects are as a result of their relationship to society, with no agreement as to whether architecture is “unnecessary” for the majority of the built environment. Evidence already presented in this report would suggest that ‘good’ architecture is necessary to improve the quality of the built environment and therefore it shouldn’t be considered otherwise, perhaps explaining the lack of overall support, for or against, this statement.

The Architect in the Future

If the role of the architect has changed over time it may be safe to assume that in the future architectural practice will differ from what has gone previously. The future for architects will be difficult to predict and may or may not be markedly different from the type of practice that dominates today. It is with the future of architects that the final section is concerned, with respondents asked to consider not just the future for the architectural profession but the current design and construction processes at work today.

Architects, based on the results of the survey, do have a role to play in shaping 21st century cities but it remains unclear what form this role will take. The architect in the future may have to be involved earlier on in projects to make the best use of their skill set and then remain involved as the individual ensuring the “vision is created on the ground, not just on paper”. Examples of architects already doing this exist, and were given by respondents, but perhaps the wider profession is restricted by the design and construction process itself.

Whilst some participants saw the architect as one of many specialists contributing to the processes that shape the environment others were wary of further specialisation, fearing that this will dilute the profession’s decision making abilities, and that instead fewer professionals are be needed, each accepting greater responsibility. It would appear that what are currently treated as two separate disciplines ‘design’ and ‘construction’ need to be closer aligned and that this will only take place following changes to the processes involved in both ‘design’ and ‘construction’. Few respondents expanded on the exact dynamics of these processes or how they could change, with many focusing on the need for change in procurement, legislation and politics, believing that this would in turn enact change in the profession and the associated processes. There was little said about the need to change the way architects actually work, with the exception of having a greater awareness of sustainability in their designs.

The majority of respondents, based on results in previous sections, would seem to agree that architects have a range of skills to enable them to contribute to the built environment. If architects are to have a role they also need to better promote themselves and communicate with other professionals, and the wider public, about the skills they have and the value they can add to a project.


This survey shows that architects do have a potential role to play in shaping 21st century cities but that the exact nature of that role is up for debate. The primary responsibility of an architect today is the design of buildings but they are also involved in a range of other activities associated with the built environment including the production of technical documentation, feasibility studies, urban planning, conservation, interior design and the supervision and coordination of construction. Respondents felt that both the title and function of an architect should be protected in law but as it is difficult to define an exact function this would prove difficult. Furthermore the practice of architecture is neither solely an art nor a profession but a combination of both.

Questions persist not just about the future for architects but the wider industry, with a consensus that both design and construction processes, within which the various professionals operate, need to change. Again, the exact nature of this change remains unclear. It would seem that ‘good’ architecture does enhance the built environment but that it is questionable if the architectural profession, in its current form, is best placed to maximise on this potential and in turn maximise potential for both society and their clients. Although there are many examples of successful architecture enhancing the built environment respondents are critical of numerous projects that do not. This is surely not just a criticism aimed at the architectural profession. Judging by the responses from architects, and other professions, they seem eager to improve the situation and are frustrated at other factors that are making it challenging for them to do so.

Participants seem unclear on whether the future will lead to greater specialisation within the industry or if reactionary processes will lead to a generalisation of the services offered. It seems unlikely that architects would be able to oscillate between these two positions and it may lead to them becoming more ‘specialised’, shedding certain tasks that are more suited to other professions and taking on responsibility for others. There does seem to be an appetite for the architect to act as some form of ‘enabler’ who is able to bridge between both design and construction and coordinate projects, although this will surely be dependent on other external factors, such as project size, procurement method and other professions. It would seem architects need to become better communicators and more focused on selling to others what skills they can offer.

In some respects the initial survey did not probe far enough into these possible futures whilst some questions themselves may have been unintentionally leading. It would also have been good to have more responses from the demand-side of the industry, and to make comparisons between the wishes and beliefs of architectural and non-architectural respondents a little easier to see. Certain question types also had their own inherent limitations; for example the Likert-type scales (strongly disagree to strongly agree) offer no indication of rating between the intervals, nonetheless they are still useful for indicating order.

The findings from this survey were used to stimulate the next stages of this research project, the next step of which included a series of interviews, round-table discussions and case studies.