An architect’s job is to envision the future, and to make that vision become a reality.
You thought we designed buildings?
Far in advance of their occupancy, buildings are first imagined. Usually, these initial ideas come from the people who will either use the facility, or pay for it.
Ideas for a project float around, people start to commit to funding a project, and sooner or later an architect comes on the scene.
At this point, the architect’s job is to collaborate with their clients to work out what the future might hold. On a technical level, we establish physical needs, adjacencies, sizes. We research the impact of climate and location. We develop budgets. On a poetic level, we work to uncover the spiritual and emotional needs of the owners, users, and others who might be affected by the building. We research the history of the owner and the site. We look for physical connections – to the past, the surrounding community, to a larger meaning.
Through this process, the architect, the owner, and the other stakeholders begin to establish a shared vision of what might be. Together, they begin to think, not only about this facility, but also about its impact.
This is step one toward building the future.
It’s a long way from a shared vision to a constructed reality, and there are many revisions along the way. Sometimes an unexpected feature is discovered on site; an underground stream, antiquities. Sometimes the major donor lays out unforseen requirements: that the building be brick; or that it face north. Client needs will change. They will require more security, more data, more a/v. They will need more collaborative spaces or more privacy. The boss will move on, and there will be a new decision-maker to satisfy.
San Antonio Business Journal, November 2009
Always there’s the issue of funding. The project must continually justify its value; always be worth the cost.
Throughout this process, the architect keeps one eye on the future and one eye on the present. The architect understands how the myriad decisions will affect the end result, and works to help everyone else understand these implications as well.
The job of guiding a decision-making process starts with the first phone call and never ends. There is always a question of the best way to do something. The best materials to use, the best consultants to involve, the best way of making sure the air-conditioning ducts don’t leak. The best way to bounce natural light into the space, the best way to provide clean and unpolluted air, the best way to get water to the irrigation system.
Often you will hear architects talk about the “built environment.” We cannot help but think about the size and shape of everything around us. It is no wonder that architects think constantly about transportation, air quality, light pollution, water.
It is ever apparent that the projects we guide are bit players on the world stage. Our project may be part of a complex, a campus, a city. It may punctuate a vista, cozy up to a mountain, speak to a ravine. The projects we build may facilitate human health; or harm it. This is also true of the cities we live in, the utilities we drink from, the transportation we utilize.
In San Antonio, as around the country, architects are engaging ever more profoundly in civic discourse about the future. AIA San Antonio’s new Center for Architecture is our latest and most significant investment in this discussion. The Center for Architecture has hosted forums, exhibits and lectures about public investment, including the Riverwalk Extension, and the University Hospital System’s projected investments of $900 million dollars in a new hospital and $200 million dollars in a new clinical campus. We have hosted movies, which are fun and also give architects and non-architects a shared starting-point for discussions. We have hosted so many educational events geared to architects that we’re all starting to think of the Center as the center of our professional lives.
For our city to develop in positive ways, everyone will need to think deeply and creatively about architecture. We will also need to make greater use of the architect’s professional skills; not just for designing buildings, but for designing the city. We can look to architects to help formulate a vision for the future. We can count on the architects’ expertise to help move this vision forward.
Together, we must develop a shared vision for our city’s future. We must think about transportation, land use and development patterns. We must think about jobs, and entrepreneurial opportunities. We must plan for appropriate ways to provide power, water, and sanitation. Infrastructure decisions will affect the shape of our future for decades, if not centuries, to come.
This column appeared in the San Antonio Business Journal in August of 2011.