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The modern profession of architecture echoes with its origins, its rich history, and the fast-paced changes of the 21st century. Through antiquity, architecture and construction were united by the cultural intentions of a "Master Builder," who balanced art, science, materials. form. style and craft to achieve his vision.

"The regulated profession of architecture is relatively new. Yet there have been architects for as long as societies have built, with little distinction between designers and builders. In ancient, traditional cultures and languages, the same word was used for both architect and builder. Construction was an integrated craft in which the master mason or master carpenter knew how to design, to assemble labor and materials, to estimate costs, to manage the construction process, and to erect structures from foundation to roof."

(Roger K. Lewis, p.149, from Architect? A Candid Guide to the Profession)

Roger K. Lewis illustrates that architects balance ideas, form, and function.

Beginning in the seventeenth century, with the rise of professionalism, the discipline of architecture became increasingly specialized. With the nineteenth century expansion of scientific knowledge, the evolution of other technically oriented disciplines such as engineering, and the corresponding introduction of more complex construction systems, the discipline of architecture became more focused on questions of basic functionality and aesthetics. In pursuit of professional status, architects wanted no longer to be perceived as craftspersons. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the profession made conscious efforts to distance architects from contractors.

This specialist role now forms the basis of most widely accepted modern definitions of architectural practice. For instance, the United States Department of Labor defines architects as licensed professionals who transform space needs into concepts, images, and plans of buildings to be constructed by others. Still, echoes of the "Master Builder" remain, as architects are usually responsible for orchestrating and coordinating the work of many disciplines during the design phases. It is not unusual for architects also to be involved in the early stages of project feasibility, to help clients define a program. choose the site. and otherwise decide on highest and best uses.


Legal and Cultural Definitions

The discipline of architecture has both legal and cultural definitions. In the United States, all states have regulations that govern conditions of licensure, registration, use of the title "architect" and the provision of professional services, succinctly summarized by The American Institute of Architects. Each state or jurisdiction creates its own requirements for each of these aspects of the discipline. While legal definitions mandate the ways in which the profession is responsible for safeguarding the health, safety, and welfare of the public, cultural definitions characterize the ways in the discipline responds to social, aesthetic, and ethical aspects of making cities, buildings, and landscapes. A "whole building" approach must necessarily incorporate both sets of disciplinary definitions.

Architect's Role

Sometimes beauty and functionality are in tension, as seen by Roger K. Lewis. (Courtesy Roger K. Lewis)

Today, the required legal, technical, and cultural knowledge base has such breadth and depth that it is no longer in the best interest of the project for one discipline to hold, implement, and be responsible for all building-related knowledge, as did the Master Builder of old. Professional malpractice concerns have led liability insurance companies to encourage, even implicitly force, architects to limit activities to design. For example, "construction supervision" became "construction observation," moving the architect further away from the risks associated with construction activities.

According to some industry analysts, such as Carl Sapers, the architect's role has been further limited by the idea that buildings are commodities, consisting of assemblies of standard materials and systems best understood by their suppliers and constructors. New forms of project delivery. including "design/build", "bridging", and "construction management", come out of a belief that architects are no longer able to stay abreast of complex information in order to lead the design process on the owner's behalf. (Carl Sapers, "Toward Architectural Practice in the 21st Century," in Harvard Design Magazine, Fall 2003/Winter 2004)

However, this standardized approach to efficient building design is not necessarily synonymous with the requirements for whole building design. Integrated. high-performance design requires both efficiency and innovation. It requires a design process in which the users, owners, and project participants are all integral team members.

The Composite Master Builder

An innovative approach to efficiency: a prefabricated structure for an ecologically-sensitive site. Kingman Island Environmental Education Center competition finalist

(Courtesy University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.)

With whole building design, the project team can be guided once again by a collective vision. This structure, along with the process by which the design team works together, has been termed by Bill Reed as the "Composite Master Builder". The term recasts the historical single Master Builder as a diverse group of professionals working together towards a common end. The intention is to bring all of the specialists together, allowing them to function as

if they were one mind. The process avoids, as Mario Salvadori says, the "reciprocal ignorance" of the specialists in the design and building field.

The cast of specialists is potentially quite large, and depending on the complexity of the project, can include:

  • site professionals, such as planners, civil and environmental engineers, and landscape architects;
  • design team members such as programmers, architects, and interior designers;
  • building systems experts, such as structural, mechanical, fire protection, and building science and performance engineers;
  • construction professionals, including cost estimators, project managers, tradespeople, and craftspeople;
  • owners, including financial managers, building users, and operations and maintenance staff; and
  • local code and fire officials.

A cast of specialists worked together to design building systems using the building section as a tool. Kingman Island Environmental Education Center competition finalist

(Courtesy University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation)

The Team Needs a Leader

The legal obligations of the profession, comprehensive training in holistic problem-solving, and an understanding of broad cultural concerns make architects ideally suited for the leadership of design teams.

Architects in the United States have historically been bound by comprehensive legal requirements and responsibilities for the building design. They are legally obligated to safeguard the public health, safety, and welfare. This presumes that architects maintain at minimum a clear overview of the project team's work. Arguably, the most effective way to discharge this public duty is to oversee and coordinate the work of the project team.

The profession emphasizes comprehensive training in the arts and sciences, as well as a holistic approach to design problems. Architectural education teaches both abstract and concrete problem-solving. Its core skills are learned and re-learned, in an iterative process that incorporates history, theory, technology, and other social and cultural factors. Architects are both specialists and generalists, which ideally enables them to communicate effectively with other specialists while maintaining the "big-picture" view of the project goals.

In addition to health, safety, and welfare considerations, buildings incorporate the culture that created them. The built environment is both "mirror and lamp", shaping while acting as a repository of cultural meaning. As Churchill said, "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us." With their knowledge of the arts and culture, architects hold a comprehensive understanding of the project context and can help the design team move beyond mere problem-solving.

Education, Training, and Process for Whole Building Design

Holistic building design comes out of a comprehensive understanding of the project context. Kingman Island Environmental Education Center competition finalist.

(Courtesy University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation)

As leaders and participants in the design process, architects need to understand and work collaboratively with other disciplines. To this end, architects need to pursue education and training throughout their professional careers. Many excellent examples of interdisciplinary design studios exist in the United States. These studios involve students, faculty, practicing design and engineering professionals, and even clients and regulatory officials. Some studios participate in service-learning projects to build structures for deserving clients. Everyone involved—students, professionals and members of the community—benefits from the process itself, as well as the cross-pollination of ideas and techniques. Examples include Studio 804 at the University of Kansas School of Architecture and Urban Design, and Architecture 600 Comprehensive Design Studio V at the University of Maryland's School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.

Continuing education is a lifelong endeavor for practicing architects and is mandated in many jurisdictions, as well as by The American Institute of Architects (AIA). Typically, this education involves technical training, management courses, legal and liability issues, and learning about new materials and products. The practice of seeking out training in the various aspects of leadership of an integrated design team, such as workshop facilitation, is not yet common. However, critical skills are needed to assume this role, which was addressed in a recent article in Environmental Building News. Current practitioners of integrated design, such as Terry Brennan of Camroden Associates, observe that architects have the intention to become cooperative but lack the skills. "The lead designer must be skilled in nurturing and giving form to the collective vision, rather than expressing his or her own vision. Not all architects are comfortable with this role, which is more akin to that of a midwife than to that of an individual artist." ( EBN. November 2004, "Integrated Design" feature article)

Project charrettes for the Kingman Island Environmental Education Center establish early and regular interaction among design team members.

(Courtesy University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation)

In daily practice, early and regular, structured interaction of the "Composite Master Builder," is critical to establishing a project vision and maintaining momentum throughout the design and construction process. Activities might include charrettes, workshops, peer review, and post-occupancy review.

The whole team interaction focuses on collaborative, integrated problem solving, to address issues such as:

Category: Architecture

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