An Architect in 2033?

One emerging professional's look at the future

By Nicole Graycar, LEED AP BD+C Posted on January 22, 2014

This weekend, the AIA will bring together thought leaders from across the profession – including students, young architects,  firm owners, academics, and more – to address how practice culture can be shaped to prepare current and future architects for their role in society at the Emerging Professionals Summit. Meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, they will look ahead 20 years, hoping to address the question of what role architects will be playing in society in 2033 and how to best position the profession for the future. Attendees were asked to tackle the aforementioned questions; here is one local Emerging Professional’s response.

w-landing-ngraycarIt’s 2033. In a perfect world, architects are heralded as visionaries, as innovators, as civic and private sector leaders. The American Institute of Architects and the design community it represents has earned a reputation for solving the big problems, and doing so with a great respect for feasibility and a palpable understanding of the intricacies of designing for a diverse population. Architects are no longer seen as an impedance to affordable projects, but rather a valuable asset in creating spaces that will work for years to come. The designer’s intrinsic ability to look at a problem from all angles and see new solutions has shown the community at large the value of having a seasoned architect at the helm. In the past when the economy faltered, architecture jobs were the first sacrifice. Now society looks to the design community to take tough times and turn them into opportunities. Architects have made their way into politics, as mayors and state representatives. A “citizen architect” is no longer just a tag line, but an obligation. Organizations like Architecture for Humanity have further blossomed to provide like-minded designers a way to impact the global community. Despite all of the progress in the past twenty years, architectural gatherings still look more like funerals cloaked in blackness than optimistic brainstorming sessions. Architects and contractors still, and without fail, have a hard time getting along because, well, hell has not frozen over yet.

In 2013 as I embark on the beginning of my career, I unfortunately do not yet see a profession ready to reach such high ideals. Graduating from architecture school in 2008 introduced me to a profession in turmoil. Extensive layoffs and an economic recession seemingly marginalized an entire generation of graduates. Months earlier, my classmates and I hoped to create positive societal change with informed and participatory design. Graduation came, and cotton candy dreams turned into worries about paying back increasing student loans and musings if working for free was really as bad as it seemed. In my case, two months turned into two years of unemployment, spent waiting tables until all hours of the night. When the tide finally turned for me personally, I started the long process of reinserting myself back into the profession. Weeks and weeks of overtime provided necessary IDP hours and slowly I began to trek toward registration. My experience is not unlike many of my peers, some of whom have abandoned the profession entirely for more stable careers with higher earning potential. What am I most scared of happening in 2033? I cannot help but think of all the great architectural minds of my generation that will never even desire a seat at the table. There must be something that can be done to make sure we retain those individuals and give them a career trajectory that one can be confident investing in.

The most important aspect of my development has been relying on mentorship from others. With some firms still running on skeleton staffs, time for quality mentoring instead is allocated for other demands. Professionals, concerned with their own utilization and effectiveness, seem to be reluctant to give over responsibilities to up and coming professionals to maintain a greater sense of job security. This profession rests squarely on on-the-job training. Mentorship is the only way, and a way to easily maintain excellence within our own ranks.

I do believe with some determination I will be prepared for a long career, as long as there is a career to be had. The changing landscape of the construction industry is worrisome. There appears to be an ominous development across the country where architects are losing more and more of their control over the built product and a lessened role overall. Architects should not be relegated to the outskirts of a project. We have a purpose and value through the end of construction and beyond. The perception of the architect as arrogant and countless blown budgets haven’t given us the best reputation for value. New technologies could be utilized on a greater scale for both design and coordination, while giving firms the ability to keep budgets lean and manageable, and allowing the architects to stay involved long-term. New methods of project delivery should be explored. Younger staff can lead that charge. A greater emphasis on developing leadership skills, business skills, and interpersonal skills should be prioritized. Also, even though I do not identify as a feminist, I am concerned that many women may eventually leave the profession. We don’t see women leaving law, medicine, and politics. It needs to be addressed so we retain all of our talented professionals.

Architects are by their very nature optimists. However, quite honestly, I have my doubts about the health of our profession, and my ability to have a successful and well-paid career with consistent employment for the next thirty years. I would prefer to be a part of the conversation now, to help in any way that I can, and to understand the challenges that the previous generations have struggled with in their own time so that we can begin the planning for effective long-term solutions. I look forward to the Emerging Professionals Summit giving me that opportunity.

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