The more architecture students that I converse with, the more I hear this common dissent amongst them: “I don’t want to become an architect.” Despite participating in long studio hours for a five-year professional degree, somehow very few peers actually want to become the kind of architects that create buildings.
Aside from the conventional alternatives of interior or graphic design, there is a rising trend in the popularity of firms that use architectural skills for beyond the scope of designing luxury condominiums for wealthy clients. For prospective architects (and current ones), below are examples of firms that may not be what one initially imagines to do with their degree, but a taste of the potential of what they can.
The recently shortlisted nominee of the 2018 Turner Prize, Forensic Architecture, is a group based at Goldsmiths University of London that utilizes graphics software and spatial knowledge to analyze conflict-stricken regions. While many of the members are trained in architecture, the team only broadly uses architectural tools as a means of investigation. By stitching together photographs, videos, and audio recordings procured from citizen journalists and professionals, the team worked to develop the three-dimensional depiction of the bombardment in the 2014 Israel-Gaza war. Investigations like this, and more, have been utilized to aid Amnesty International and the United Nations in visualizing and analyzing conflict zones.
In this instance, architecture is engaging directly with world affairs and policy. Certainly, infrastructure can affect urban conditions and contribute to socioeconomic change, however, architects – to an extent – are taught that by building community centers and housing prototypes, they will revitalize cities. These positive intentions, many times, result in high budget projects and low measurable impact. This calls for architects to critique the degree to which they are actually making a change in their respective environments.
A non-profit organization, Emergency Architecture & Human Rights, based in Copenhagen, produces architecture for people in need-based regions in accordance with the UN Human Rights and Sustainable Development Goals. In this case, architecture is now a response to an exigent social circumstance. Design is not simply appreciated, but rather it becomes a solution that is demanded. In contrast to the cycles of the proposing and critiquing of existing architectural manifestos that elaborate on extensive solutions to solve housing crises, perhaps architects should simply consider changing one small-scale condition at a time.
Architecture-trained innovator Daan Roosegaarde, whose firm he calls a “social design lab”, produces installations and urban design projects that enhance, alter, and change our view of public space. In Studio Roosegaarde’s hands, architecture is investigative and paradigm-changing, rather than passive products subject to the whims of clients and the economy. Not only is can design directly influence the environment and people, but it inherently has a purpose of social change 0 all through beautification and social change.
This is not, by any means, to suggest that every design must have an altruistic or humanitarian purpose, but rather to display the extents of the architectural thinking in other applications. This is to recognize that design solutions do not have to be limited to a material exploration or an innovative structural study, but instead, the way that architects view the world can become a tool in itself.
From Vitruvius to Brunelleschi, these architects were artists and scientists and mathematicians and leaders whose diverse knowledge is now being traded off by education systems who want to specialize in creating the “Architect”. Have we forgotten to explore the world in our quest for creating autonomous buildings? We need schools and architecture communities to recognize and develop projects beyond the scope of designing a building, and recognize the skills to become multifaceted designers.