Opinion: Architects must reclaim the discipline

by Ofentse Sefolo
Opinion: Architects must reclaim the discipline

By André Eksteen and Braam de Villiers from Earthworld Architects

Architects are the only professionals who can truly integrate all the network systems in the building industry. Architects can conceptualize designs and build, BUT we can’t do all at once. So we either have to do fewer projects and play a bigger role in those, or we have to collaborate as a team of specialists.

Unfortunately it is this collaboration that has led to architects passing on a large part of the responsibility for a building project to others – the quantity surveyors (QSs) are responsible for the financials, the engineers takes charge of the structural design and other services, and the contractor becomes both project manager and law specialist and does all of the building works. All that is left to do for the architect is administration. We have become the secretaries of the building industry and we are missing out on huge opportunities.

Essentially, we have to start to build buildings again – and if we outsource everything, there is a huge disconnect. It is after all the architect who comes up with the creative, systemic and integrated thinking. It is these aspects that can’t be replaced by software, or a fresh engineering graduate with very little experience. The dilemma is, as more of the responsibility has shifted onto engineers and other professionals, developers started trusting them more than the person who first analysed the problem and conceptualised the design.

As architects, we need to reclaim our discipline and start taking more responsibility for our designs. We can put together buildings from start to finish, we can innovate with different materials, and we understand the aesthetic composition of a building. However, in order to manage the whole system, we need to supplement and refine our skill sets by employing personnel proficient in project management and finances.

House Mouton. Credit: Courtesy of Earthworld Architects & Interiors

Do more, not less
Ultimately, an architect’s most important function is to find innovative solutions for the client, and not to propose a standard, generic design that has been done before. Yes, if you are pressed for time or a little lazy, it is easier to pull something out of a drawer that you have worked on before and adjust it somehow, but then you are missing out on coming up with something new and innovative. We have to turn over each rock and look for the best solution for the client. Only if you start at the beginning and address the challenge systematically, will you achieve innovation.

Honesty of materials
Many architects have lost the understanding of different materials. Function should not be the inspiration because it is non-negotiable that the building should be functional. Each material has its own character, place and capabilities. None should be hidden, but rather use it in the pure form and nature.

When picking a product or a system out of a directory, the responsibility remains with the manufacturer, because the manufacturer has already determined the properties and capability of the material, and the architect is excluded from that process. In order to really use materials innovatively, we need to understand not only what is available, but also what the material can do and where the limits are.

We are evolving
As you grow in your career, designing buildings or creating an image starts to come almost naturally, and then one starts to delve deeper into other more peripheral aspects of your work. This in turn leads to a new thinking. Earthworld is seeking new challenges and inventive ways of bringing together digital and parametric design, manufacturing and assembly – exciting ways to translate these disciplines into buildings.

One such project that Earthworld Architects is currently working on, is the University of Pretoria’s Future Africa Campus, which challenges traditional design and construction processes to provide alternative solutions. For example, the dining hall’s timber walls were designed by a graphic designer and assembled by unskilled people.

These are the kind of things that excite and inspire us.

Stortemelk Hydro. Credit: Courtesy of Earthworld Architects & Interiors

Inspire the future
Another idea that is growing in importance, is the extent to which we as architects can stimulate new industries. And this lies in the digital realm – we as architects should start to use technology better. Often the typical architectural software promotes “catalogue” architecture, where the architect can basically just choose a system in each category. And that is not necessary design.

We should rather be upskilling ourselves in modelling software such as Rhino as well as modern manufacturing technology, and return to providing real, cutting-edge solutions for our clients.

Tribeca Central. Credit: Courtesy of Earthworld Architects & Interiors

The sustainability question
In all that we do, we should remember that buildings must be designed for people.

While environmental sustainability should happen as a given by now, it has become somewhat gimmicky with architects adding a few green features for marketing. To really integrate a building as part of a total natural system is rather complex.

But nature should be redefined as the whole urban environment as well. Buildings should be both environmentally and socially sustainable. It is about the ecology of a community – how do we create coincidental interaction through our designs? Does it address social need?

In our designs, let’s start with the most mundane. First we create square metre dimension, then we create space, but the most important part is to create place. And place is about choice, security and the “feeling-at-home”, and that adds the humanism that makes a design truly sustainable.

Earthworld Architects
Tel: 012 346 5400
Website: www.ewarch.co.za

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Caption main image: House Mouton. Credit: Courtesy of Earthworld Architects & Interiors

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