The responsibility of the architect
Architects are trained to imagine in three dimensions how their design decisions will perform and how the style will fare in the future. They look into their drawings and models, imagining movement of people, the quality of light, or a detail of a room.
Architects consider how the materials will wear and how difficult they will be to clean and maintain. Their love of good design tells them one thing while their practical side counters. Architecture demands a balance between the often opposing elements of aesthetics and function. Overly designed elements can become trendy and short lived, whereas highly functional solutions can be boring and inhuman. So those of us practicing architecture struggle in our imaginations with the future, trying to see the truth. The test of time will certainly be passed, yet we must wait.
Through direct experience and knowledge of history, architects slowly improve at predicting the longevity of their work. Their judgments become more educated as they practice their craft. They build and store layers of knowledge all their lives gaining credibility. Responsible practitioners provide tremendous value to society because through their creative work they reveal the ethical prospect of the future. What we build can affect thousands of people every day for as long as the buildings are standing. It is their responsibility to get it right.
Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings, then our buildings shape us.” This conviction is the clearest description of the power and responsibility of the architects work. So our clients retain us to build something that represents their needs and values. That is a contractual responsibility. What is implied and without agreement is the professional’s accountability to the community. Architecture is both an effect of social condition and a cause. Working with the best professional possible can result in architecture that is responsible to our patrons and addresses a broader social demand.
The ultimate decision maker is our client. In all likelihood, the client is uneducated in matters of design, function or style. With this lack of experience, he or she must rely on a good deal of professional advice. The selection of an appropriate architect for a project is the subject of a complete seminar offered free of charge by the American Institutes of Architecture. The AIA also has an online a brochure entitled “You and Your Architect – A guide for a successful partnership,” a must read for anyone considering commissioning a project. The complete process is visually portrayed and verbally described from the point of view of building a new home. This document spells out the role of the architect, owner and contractor. The selecting of an ideal professional should consider experience, location of firm, creativity, technical skill and sustainability.
Considered by many as one of the most ambitious undertakings, planning and building a home or addition can be challenging, yet the promise of a unique home built for you and your family is compelling. We all love to watch This Old House, which compresses into a few hours the complete design to building sequence. The complexity of the process is ideally portrayed illustrating how the architect is intimately engaged in advising and building.
In Oak Park we have 43 architecture firms listed in the business pages, plus dozens of talented architects who live in the village and work in the metropolitan area. Good architects listen closely to their clients, striving to understand and solidify their goals while expanding the vision of the project to positively affect the public.
Architect selection should not be about competition for fame and recognition. Responsibility stems from a deep belief that passionately and absolutely, of the potential of architecture to contribute to the quality of all our lives.
Garret Eakin is an award winning residential architect, the co-author of Interior Architecture, and an Adjunct Professor at the School of the Art Institute.