Architecture is an art and a science, in the context of academia, but its also a business and a tool for human development in a societal context.
To this end, architects while in training and as professionals/practitioners, must be able to balance the art and science, with a sense of commerce and socio cultural sensitivities. I’ve often believed that the study of architecture in most schools including mine is largely too academic and does not involve or give a sense of the reality that an architect must face in the real world. This coupled with a number of other factors are why some architects are unable to succeed at their chosen field and abandon the practice altoghether, citing it as not favourable, whereas some not only succeed, but, thrive, building enduring practices that in some cases outlive them as founders.
I recently read an article on arch20 that listed 7 things that make architects fail. This inspired me to write one of my own, which is a slightly modified version of the original skewed to suite a more African or Nigerian context.
So here it is,
7 Reasons Why Architects Fail
1. THEY STOP LEARNING
One of the biggest pitfalls for architects, as well as any other profession really, is the illusion that one knows all there is to know. So you’ve done a few good projects and you find yourself being content with regurgitating the same ideas and concepts each time a new brief comes along. This will ultimately lead to stagnation and irrelevance. There is a pertinent need to keep learning at every phase that we find ourselves. Its not enough to have done some good work and choose to stop there. There must be a continuous pursuit of knowledge and a desire to innovate and remain relevant as the times change. Architects should always be willing to learn, be it from books, articles, blogs, exhibitions, workshops and sometimes even from other architects, both in their successes and their failures. I believe it was the great Greek philosopher Socrates who said, “a man is wisest when he knows that he knows not”….so, never stop learning.
2. THEIR DESIGN WORK LACKS CONTEXT
In architecture, there must be a “WHY”, to your “WHAT”. Nice forms and pretty colours are not enough. Context today goes beyond what a building looks like and how it relates to the site. An architect must have knowledge of his or her client, local culture, target demographics, typologies, socio political trends etc. Without these insights, design solutions would lack meaning and end just being pretty pictures that have no relevance or connection to where they are and who they’re for. This is not to say, one’s work should not stand out, but, it is necessary for stand out work to also have some sort of anchor to its location and function.
3. OVERTHINKING AND PROCRASTINATION
Fearing the unknown is nothing to be ashamed of. Even the best of athletes, performers and professionals admit to be nervous when faced with certain challenges and obstacles, most especially those they’ve had no experience facing. Its natural. However, when that ‘fear’ causes you to overthink or over-analyse it can be dangerous. “How will I solve this design challenge?”, “Will this design solution be effective?”, “Will I be able to build this design?” All are valid questions but without action they only lead to procrastination or worse, total inaction. The truth is, you’ll never know the answers to those questions till you actually take steps to do them. Designing and re-designing helps to refine ideas and distill them till they offer the best possible solution. But, if all you do is keep asking questions and having mental debates, you’ll never make any progress. Like Thomas Edison said,”The value of an idea lies in the using of it”, You should spend less time thinking about ideas and more time creating those ideas.
4. THEY’RE NOT OPEN TO CRITICISM
So you graduated top of your Class, with a first class the best record in the history of your school. You see yourself as the best there is, was or will ever be. Thats all well and good, you’re supposed to be confident in your abilities and capacity. But, you still need to leave room for constructive criticism, because contrary to what you may think, you’re human and every now and then you may make a mistake or not deliver what a client needs.
Put your ego aside, (if you can) and listen to what your boss, colleagues and most especially a client has to say about your work. You shouldn’t feel angry or frustrated because you spent hours creating that design, revisions are part of the process and more often than not the process that creates some of the most astounding designs.
If you’re in the habit of turning your nose up at critiques to your work, you’ll find that over times your professional credibility withers away and your contemporaries with a better attitude begin to rise within the ranks while you get left behind all because you couldn’t “throw your pride on the rocks and swallow it all”. The better thing to do would be to pay attention to every point of view in a critique and see how you could adapt most if not all to your work. This could invariably make you a much better designer than you currently think you are.
5. THEY DESIGN FOR THE SAKE OF DESIGN
One of the most debatable issues in the field of architecture is the paradigm that “form follows function”. Some disagree, believing the function should be dictated by form. Whichever you align with, you’ll notice in both cases, “function” is present.
Design that offers no practical function is basically useless. Much like the image above, that swaps out the stainless steel body of cutlery for sisal ropes. Its nice to look at but useless in carrying out the function for which it was created. So as an architect, one must ensure that function is a central theme to their work. Its never a good idea to just design for the sake of design. Doors need to have a certain minimum width, desks need to have a certain height and without these ‘functional’ dimensions a very lovely looking door would be to narrow to pass or a sleek, contemporary table to low to use. Architecture allows you to be as creative as your mind can imagine but that creativity needs to be tempered somewhat by practicality and reason.
6. THEY LACK PASSION
There’s a fairly popular hip hop track produced by DJ Jazzy Jeff, “For the love of the game”. In it, you hear a line repeatedly which repeatedly sings, “love what you do, and do what you love”. Thats a mantra to live by, most especially as a creative. While the reality remains, that you may not always be in high spirits 24/7, its important to always do your work with as much passion as possible. Don’t just be motivated by the paycheck, but, by the possibilities of your work and what you can create from it. Work that lacks energy and passion, will be evident. There will be something about it that comes off as mundane, it will lack a certain character and intent. Moreso, if you’re a reasonably good designer with a portfolio of impressive projects. Churning out lacklustre work due to a lack of motivation is never a good thing. Seek out inspiration for every project. It could be other architecture or totally abstract concepts that somehow relate to the context you’re working in. (You see, context is important), which could lead you down the path to a great outcome.
7. THEY ARE NOT READY FOR BUSINESS
Chances are at the start of an architecture career, most architects are idealists. They desire to create unique design work and be the next Frank Lloyd Wright. However, such ideals are hardly ever rooted in reality. Its not bad to be ambitious or want to be the next big thing, but, the problems stems from architectural training and education. I’m of the opinion that entrepreneurial studies need to be integrated into how architecture is taught. What we mostly see is experimental theory based projects which are good in their own right but need to be balanced with the reality of practice.
First and foremost, an architectural practice is a business, and an architect is a business person. He will need to think like a business person and be able to creatively match his visions and ideas with client expectations and requirements. He doesn’t exist in a magical vacuum where designs spring forth from the computer screen to the site instantaneously. Building and Construction costs money, so does his time and ingenuity. He will need to be to quantify all of these elements to make financial sense or at least be able to delegate and oversee that process. If an architect cannot do this, he won’t be an architect for long.