Our mystery editor for the Jan/Feb 2017 issue, Helen Henzen from Studio 3 Design House, urges architects to uphold their ethics, stand up for the profession and exemplify accountability in a fast changing world

By Helen Henzen, Studio 3 Design House

The world is spinning fast and we as architects have to keep up with technology, maintain a high level of excellence and quality, at speedy turnaround times, produce ecological conscious designs and adhere to council regulations… all while clients demand the lowest price possible.

I don’t believe that architects are functioning as we were trained to. Being an architect is a calling. To be focused on, and responsible towards, people, spaces, cities and the environment – that is our calling. We can achieve this only if we have the correct architectural approach, both in terms of architectural theory and with core design principles.

Architectural theory has degenerated into a narrow point of view neglecting architectural space and meaning. Proper backing of architectural theory and basic design principles are core design generators and form an integral part of the design process:   

•    Ergonomics
•    Privacy Gradient
•    Natural light
•    Access & circulation
•    Spacial experience…..

The QUALITY of LIFE in a building and its surroundings = the SUCCESS of architecture.

There is nothing like a quick design. It takes time and evolves according to many different influencing factors. It is NOT generated by a computer… design is informed.

We as architects need to speak “client talk” to help them understand what we do, and that it is not only done by the click of a button – whether it is a full design or a revision with major knock-on effects. This is what the world out there (clients) needs to know and understand.

We often face fee cuts, yet are expected to take the full responsibility of a project during the project and after completion/hand over. Still, we see non-compliant buildings and wonder who signed those off? They are proof of architects carrying out unethical practices, despite the very fact that architects have been empowered again by the new compliancy laws.  

Be ethical
Living in this ever-changing environment, we have to honour this profession that has always been known for high ethics and high standards, for using materials carefully and creating environments that are good for people to live and work in.

Let’s be fair
The professional team needs to be fair to each other, to the contractors and even to product suppliers. There are amazing products and innovative solutions out there that are Proudly South African, green and sustainable. We do the research, build the relationship with suppliers and put the specifications down, but all too often the contractor comes with cheaper options, the QS questions the necessity of the premium product and the client insists on changing the specification to that of the cheaper and, most often, inferior product. Then the architect ends up working harder to save the building.

We have even experienced the same thing at our office in Mauritius, which goes to show that the world has become small and the influences strong.   

Our clients
The only way that success can be achieved is by overlooking self (client included) and seeing the greater good, to design the built environment fit for human habitation. The built environment has the capacity to shape people’s thinking, interactions and even culture. This is the kind of influence that exists in the architects’ hands.

So maybe it is time to educate our clients better and then work with people who understand and respect what our job entails.  

Studio 3 takes a stand
When it comes to the realistic economic side out there, we have to adjust and put up our firewalls. Urban explosion and climate change have fortunately forced us to become aware of sustainability.

We need to, however, also change our thinking to understand our role to SERVE… the public and the community. We need to ask ourselves how we respond to our current space and time. Before us lie the tension of both our personal life and the NEEDS of the world. We need to lose a sense of our true self to realise our potential.

It is not enough to outline gigantic programmes on paper. We need to write our ideas on the earth. If our plans and programmes do not translate and affect the earth and its inhabitants then they remain theory. Programmes need to come ALIVE through our hands. How loud must the ALARM of our time become before we are aroused and fully AWAKE? We need to CHOOSE to RESPOND.  

Ultimately, we want to redefine who we are, remember why we are here and be accountable to those who are watching us do our work. Then I think a new level in the architectural profession will evolve as we get back to these basics.
The needs and opportunities of the world are immense, and we as architects and developers are responsible to the environment and people can play an incredibly strong role to turn the world’s thinking and behaviour around.

Studio 3 Design House
Tel: 012 348 2005
Website: www.studio3designhouse.co.za