This year has seen dramatic changes happen within the field of architecture. Ranging from alterations to the licensure processes to AIA organizational and legislative structure, the profession seems to be moving defiantly forward for the first time in quite a while. In a time where the numbers - both in terms of people and money - are dropping and hope can be scant, change was absolutely necessary. To cap an amazing year of forward progress, last week saw the release of the much-anticipated #ilookup campaign which seeks to garner larger public awareness of architects and Architecture. Short and sweet, the video was an ode to the profession and its often under-told stories of the other 98% who work in the midst of the shadows of 'starchitects'. It told the story we want the public to hear; we do care about our clients, we are forward thinkers and our trends typically transcend larger movements in society. Architects are much more than building designers, architects - in terms of how the AIA has portrayed them through their new campaign - are society's greatest thinkers, dreamers and doers.
Quite simply, the video which serves as the primary communication from the website thus far, is a beckoning to the public to put themselves in the shoes of an architect. How little or much attention do they pay to their context on a daily basis? How much do they incite change or dream of breaking all of the limitations set before them? How often do they think about buildings? At the time of writing this post, over 9,000 views have been clocked on the YouTube version alone (above) not counting the number of page views the actual website has gotten. Much of the video highlights architects in their inglorious settings. Reviewing drawings, constructing computer renditions of their dreams and thinking too much about questions many others don't care much to ponder. It sheds a real light on the day of an architect and the (many) trials one must go through to simply reach a single triumph.
Architecture is a well-respected profession outside of the confines of the studios which produce the built environment. Generally, however, most people are unaware of what an architect is fully capable of doing. The professional organization which supports our craft does its best to raise awareness through its websites and community outreach. However until this point, nothing quite seemed to be working. Public's opinion of architecture and architects often lay at either end of a spectrum. An op-ed in the New York Times this week pointed out a man (an architect) and his 88-year old mother who saw a new house (designed by an architect) in her quaint, older neighborhood. The mother trashed the new edifice calling it an abomination to its context while the author actually believed the structure to have merit. It showed the dramatic difference of opinion architects typically have about a 'successful' building compared to that of the public. And that is where we see a ferocious double-headed monster.
Fighting for a Voice
The new #ilookup campaign attacks the first head of our multi-craniumed public beast - public perception and understanding of the profession. The AIA wants to grab more people's train of thought and just for a second show them what it really means to 'architect'. With high quality videos and increased public showmanship, there's no doubt that #ilookup will amass civic response and input, especially with the tech-savvy and candid constituents it represents. The second head of the beast, however is one that is much harder to harness and control; the public's perception of what 'good' architecture is.
Most architects will probably struggle to understand or describe what the true definition of 'good' architecture is themselves. Honestly, the answer differs depending on personal preference and ideological background. Good architecture is subjective within our culture, however it seems to lie more consistently when it comes to public opinion. In the case of the man's mother who disliked the boxy, metal-clad house - she is part of the voice that we ignore everyday. So while we gain the respect for all that we do, we are also written off as narcissistic, haughty, non-listeners because of our desire to stray away from the norm and reach for outer limits, disregarding public opinion and desire. These outer limits happen to lie outside of the reach of the vast majority of the public we lay claims to work with. For most of us, we're okay with that critical perception. But what happens when that perception cripples the jobs we rely on to make our living? How can we effectively balance fulfillment with progressive and audacious structures yet still assuage the public's worries that we're creating too much crap and not enough buildings?
It's a tough stance at this point in time for most architects. Highly respected but also somewhat despised by the public for thinking too outside society's box. Our clients (most of us) represent the top 1 or 2% of financial standing, we cater to a much more extravagant taste disregarding the fact that all we create will affect every single person that ever comes into contact. A balanced approach must be found to alleviate the stresses that have led the public to thinking they cannot afford an architect, but they can speak highly of them from afar. Now that the general population has a beautiful campaign that boasts the skills and desires of architects, a second one may benefit to discuss what 'good' architecture is. This campaign won't be from architects to the public, though, instead it will be a cohesive message from the public to the architects. If we want to continue to have the ability to create and foster progressive thoughts, there must be extensive efforts put in to listen more to those who give us the work. We must learn to listen just as they have learned to respect us. Not all buildings will be the next Bilbao, but the family down the street just saved up enough to use the services of a professional to make their home work for them. Even if it won't end up on ArchDaily, that doesn't degrade the problem-solving or product that comes from the fruits of the labor endured.
Let's give everybody a chance to engage an architect and see the worth we truly have.
VIA | #ilookup