Architectural leadership for the new millennium.
As architects, we are at a crossroads.
According to a recent study from Georgetown University, architecture is currently the career path with the highest overall incidence of unemployment in the United States. This study reveals that 17.5% of recent graduates from the nation’s architectural schools are unemployed and 42% of the architectural firms in the country have either gone bankrupt or have been forced to radically alter their business models in order to survive. Considering the significant sacrifice of both time and money required to obtain a professional degree, architecture stands out as one of the least lucrative careers within the professional service sector.
Are our egos standing in the way of our own professional progress?
Ironically, the rise of the starchitect, whose sole motive appeared to be celebrating his (or her) role as protagonist above and beyond that of the work itself, undoubtedly launched a handful of careers while contributing to the general deterioration of the profession. A widespread obsession with all things new and unusual, the tendency to shock merely for the sake of being shocking, has permeated both the mass media and halls of academia, downplaying the contribution of those less visible architects who are working, quietly and seriously, day after day, creating spaces and products that respond responsibly and creatively to the needs of their place and time.
The idealized image of the omnipotent architect: designer, planner, builder, social engineer – master of the universe à la Frank Lloyd Wright, so ubiquitous in mid-20th century fiction and film and epitomized in both media with The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, had lost steam by the arrival of the new millennium. Today, architects no longer enjoy the protagonist role that was routine only a few decades ago. Today, architects are diluted in a sea of specializations and secondary functions, lost in a Byzantine maze of intricate design-built relationships, whose collective effect has minimized a true architecture impact in the final product.
How can we, as architects, lead again?
Professionally, we must return to the center of our craft. We must recommit to our greatest skill and access our most important talent. Instead of merely designing buildings, we need to design solutions. We must address the real problems besieging the world we live in and focus on those areas of critical necessity such as sustainability, green design, and energy efficiency that will determine how the destiny of our planet enfolds. This is where the very pulse of our profession is beating and it is where our future lies.
Our survival as a species depends on how we, as human beings, choose to impact the planet. Addressing these issues is both our duty and our responsibility as architects.
Now is the time for us, as architects, to reassume a leadership position without egos or antagonism. As architects, we need to work harder than ever in order to become the center of knowledge—not the center of attention. If, with professional humility and dignity, we can commit ourselves as a group to this shared goal, we may indeed regain a leadership role that will pave the way for the positive changes that society is asking us to perform.