So many people call themselves architects: the software developer, the campaign manager, the author, the enterprise strategist – so on and so forth. But can we as architects call ourselves doctors, managers or authors? The title just doesn’t seem fitting.
So why is it that so many can freely call themselves architects of in their professions?
It is because an architect is so much more than a person who designs buildings. An architect is an individual who can co-ordinate, organize and integrate information – a person that make words into an image – and knows how to translate an image into a physical reality. It is someone who can see the system and can understand how it all comes together.
But what else can an architect do? Is it nothing more than design and supervise construction of buildings that comes to mind? If so, why have we all sold ourselves short? Is it that we are satisfied with what we do, or are we too saturated by the amount of time and energy which goes into it?
All these questions need answering. Because it is the lack of answers to these questions which have stifled the architectural industry and left people with a lack of interest in the field.
“There are simply no jobs,” was a response I was once told when speaking to a high school student during my final year of undergraduate study. This resonated with me and so many others in my year – within a struggling economy, it was a time of great job uncertainty for us all. It is why many will never go to university to study architecture.
Yet the course engages us as human beings: it makes us critically see the built world around us and challenge the way we live our life within them; it pushes us to refine our arguments to such a level that we have reason for every word we say and every element we design; it expands our understanding of structure and physical science to create buildings which can protect and serve us beautifully. There are so many reasons to study architecture, but so few interested because it seems to be exclusive to those who are passionate, privileged or predestined.
So why can’t the industry develop into something else? Something progressive and forward thinking…?
To answer these questions one has to tackle the significance of architecture in society: see what its value is and where does it rank on its scale. What does architecture contribute to and how does it benefit mankind at large? Some answers are very simple and take no guesswork…
Architects provide the structures we live in and do everything in. It protects man from the elements. It keeps us within safe and comfortable spaces within which we can practice daily life. This is one quite obvious, so let’s move on…
Architecture facilitates social change by holistic architectural interventions. It can provide spatial design solutions to social problems by adopting an inclusive design approach with communities. Look to Nabeel Hamdi’s book Small Change to see just how much of an impact consultation with the community has.
The more buildings which are built, the more money it costs to run them. This creates new work within trade industries such as carpentry, brick-laying, plumbing, electrical installations and the like. And so the maintenance of such buildings provides continued demand for such industries to keep itself sustained. Structures of significance also lead to increased activity within the tourism industry and this in turn creates jobs and generates in many cases substantial revenue.
As the greatest contributor to global energy consumptions resides, the built environment needs serious rethinking on its energy efficiency – much of which has already been sparsely executed. Architects play a vital role in developing technologies which can aid in the reduction of energy wastage. For more on this, look to retrofitted brise soleil and water storage systems within existing buildings and passive design principles within the new buildings being constructed.
Architecture can provide the premise upon which politicians sway votes. Build homes, schools and facilities for people and you can win them over.
But this is all pertinent to structures alone. And most of which have to be built over many years and require tonnes of funding to become a reality. What do we as architects do in the meantime to sustain our businesses? Surely we can contribute to all these fields, but in other ways.
Architects need to develop a broader range of skills and show just what else we can do.
Architects can improve on many spheres of life from the skills they have acquired and key abilities they possess to create, organise and integrate.
So based on this definition of architects as people who can do more, why not do more in practice? Why not make our businesses more profitable by offering other professional services? Ultimately we may gain more than just profit, we may actually gain more stress – but in the end possible self actualization from time well spent and a life well lived.
The following are ideas which are just that – ideas. To some there is backing as few practices have adopted and executed such ideas successfully, but to others it is merely a question of why not? The intention of such is to stir thought and stimulate the motion of growing the architectural field into something comprehensive and economically more sustainable. Many of the below will most definitely require itself to be subjected to feasibility studies and research, however there may be people who can take these ideas further and see whether it really has potential to produce profit. Either way, the loss of trying is never a failure, but a success in the long road of learning.
Architects as property developers
If architectural practices purchase land, develop an appropriate and successful building which seamlessly integrates into the urban environment and thereby activating the spaces, it could be used as a marketing tool and means of generating passive income by letting out the building monthly.
Architects as project managers
This is another obvious one – through our years of experience in co-ordinating building projects it is only natural that we could fill the role of project managers. Albeit more responsibility (and possibly more headache) it can be a service which will provide some extra income.
Architects as social catalysts
Looking at South Africa’s Design Indaba, we see how architects can act as designers to solve social problems. One such an example would be how architects provided portable maneuvering bottles which could transport water from far distances to rural townships.
Architects as design consultants
From branding to user experience in stores or on the net, architects through their meticulous attention to detail and refined understanding of ordering principles can design almost anything. Using this knowledge to advise currently existing companies on better marketing or assisting start-up companies or just individuals who wish to utilize the tools of design for personal development such as graphic design layout allows architects to grow their portfolio and offer services which require less effort and faster results.
Architects as value adders
Rental agencies very rarely produce plans when showing apartments for rent online. It is an idea to approach them, say you will do as built plans and make it look presentable for a fee and they can then use the plans as a marketing tool on the sites. In this way people can make more informed decisions on whether they wish to choose the places they intend to rent.
Architects as events coordinators
Architects are master planners. We are capable of co-ordinating spaces as well as the professionals required to build those spaces. Why then do we not extend our services to events planning as well?
As a separate department within the practice, it is possible to dedicate members of staff to run this segment of the business. And if the practice manages to do an annual event well, it will definitely secure work for the same or similar events to come.
Architects as writers
Architects have a vast knowledge of building design and construction as well a good knowledge on history of places. Historical writings pertaining to buildings worked on and booklets on architectural construction are very valuable pieces of information people will be willing to buy. Another value added service an architect can provide is a well documented book on each of their clients projects. Such books encapsulate the experience and tell of problems, solutions and eventual successes of the project. This could be given to the client as a gift and sold as an educational tool to others who may be beginning a similar project – architect and client.
Architects as part time lecturers or university consultants
We talk. A lot. So as obvious as it is – why not become lecturers? We can speak vastly on various topics in architecture and on experience form the built environment to educate new comers. We could also create partnerships with higher institutes of learning – where the university pays a fee to send select students for practical architectural training. This training could be well structured and tailored to fit into the curriculum and courses of the university and be of great benefit to students.
An added advantage would be that students are a great tool to complete little tasks which no one seems to have the time to do!
Architects as detailers
We dream details in our sleep and draw them by profession. It is part and parcel of what we do. However it is what consumes much of our time and efforts. So what if we specialize detail to such an extent that it becomes a specialized service we offer? Allocate particular members of staff to focus solely on detailing. Or incorporate detailing as a separate component into the fee structure? The more time and energy used equals a higher rate paid.
Architects as energy efficient product developers
As we are quite aware of the systems required to incorporate sustainable design into our buildings, we possess the skill and knowledge of how to develop these systems further.
Why not produce our own rain water collection devices, our own precast shading elements or our own water purification devices? Design them to look good and optimize functionality. Thereafter sell our products as individual items or implement them into our own designs. This would greatly reduce expenses paid on third party sources and keep costs in-house.
Architects as 3-D Model Makers
We pay a grand fee for rendering and CAD software. Perhaps it’s time we find an easier way to pay it off. Why not make quick models of structures and spaces and package it as a sellable product?
A client who just wishes to have an idea of what he can do with a space can be easily shown by way of a 3-d model and rendering. Why not offer an affordable option to sell this as a quick product?
Many spaces do not take a great deal of time to create when no fine detail is considered. Even product elements such as furniture can be modeled in this way.
Toward a New Architectural Business Model – The Hybrid Firm
I see the future of architecture as a collection of small hybrid firms operating from smaller and more intimate settings – driving the economy into a positive direction. And what is a hybrid firm? It is a firm which does not solely provide strict architectural services, but a combination of services which complement each other. Firms as marketing agencies, design consultants and architectural practices:
“WOULD YOU LIKE TO DESIGN YOUR OWN HOUSE?
WHY NOT DESIGN YOUR DREAM CLOTHES TOO?
AND A DREAM CAR?
IN FACT, WHY NOT DESIGN YOUR DREAM LIFE?
YOU CAN WITH US”
A poster reads…
And who is the provider of such a service?…
An architect. Because architects do so much more than just design buildings.
Akheel Naicker is an architectural technologist and designer based in Durban, South Africa. He earned a degree in Architecture from University of Pretoria and works at Creative Blueprint Architects in Pietermaritzburg, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa.
Akheel connected with me early on in his career and recently shared with me his thoughts on expanding the way we practice as architects. I found his enthusiasm contagious, so I invited him to develop his ideas and share them here with you.
Question: What are some other ways architects could leverage their skills, talents and education?
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Main Image Photo Credit: Shutterstock / ESB Professional