The architectural profession is looked at as a very daunting college course and a prestigious, difficult career path. Then again, isn’t architecture just a matter of taste in design? Doesn’t it easily fit one that excels in mathematics and art? What is the role of an architect and why is architecture so important?
Architecture is responsible for shaping our built environment from the fit of our kitchen to the layout of cities. The practice requires a deep understanding of various arts and sciences to create a crafted space, while being mindful of its effects beyond the project site. In each project, the site’s natural environment is analyzed, along with the client’s timeline, budget and requirements of other allied professionals (such as engineers) to make the building work. As it can affect the economic, social and environmental sectors of society, architecture is of great significance to society.
What “Architecture” encompasses
Contrary to what most perceive the practice to be, architecture is not simply designing building forms. It requires a close study of the relationships of rooms, how to support these functions, their orientation to the environment and the interaction between person and space. The “art” is in being sensitive to the culture the places are designed for and the user experience in going about the spaces created. (1)
Besides the aesthetic value they must bring to the table, architects are concerned with ensuring all engineering systems work in harmony within the structure.
Architect Plays Many Roles
The journey to becoming a legal, certified licensed and registered architect is long. In a nutshell it is five years of study at the university with two years apprenticeship under a licensed architect then taking a leave to review for an arduous board exam. Once you pass the exam and take oath, only then can one be called an official architect.
The learning never ends for architects. As we continually study new building materials, the latest technology and how our built environment can better combat global issues like climate change or the present COVID-19 pandemic.
Putting those big concepts aside, for each project the architect has to imagine her/himself into the shoes of the users of the space. Say you’re designing a restaurant. You have to play the role of a dining guest, the waiter, head chef, assistant chef, admin and accounting, busboy, and picture yourself navigating throughout the space in their daily routines.
Is it easy for the chef to monitor his kitchen? Is the flow of goods from delivery to the stockroom smooth, while not disrupting any ongoing activity? And is the dining experience captivating and unique?
This is often why we’ll hear the architect has to know or be almost everything under the sun: A sociologist, politician, economist, environmentalist, anthropologist, etc. in order to deduce something that will serve all users and sectors well. (2)
The circulation of people in a space are actually the first things architects study in great detail above anything else. We don’t notice it, but the adjacency of spaces are carefully studied. It may be simple for us to understand the juxtaposition of rooms in a house, but it becomes more difficult when studying the flow of a hospital, airport or prison.
A thoughtful layout can actually make office operations more efficient, increasing productivity and sales. Meanwhile a lousy layout can turn out to be a very inconsiderate day.
Architecture as a Giant Plan
To scale it up bigger, architects typically zoom out of the project site and look at the economics and effects of the natural environment.
The surrounding environment heavily influences the building form and spaces within. The first thing they’ll check is the orientation of the site.
- Where is the site oriented? East? North?
- Where does the sun pass and where does the wind come from?
- Does it get hot in a certain area or is it shaded by the shadow of adjacent buildings?
- Does it flood during typhoon season or is it located near a fault line?
Analyzing the vicinity further:
- Where is the nearest fire and police station in the event of an emergency?
- Are basic utilities easily accessible?
- What are the future development plans for the area?
- Will security be compromised? Is the area considered safe?
- Will traffic increase? Will this generate noise at the site?
These are all factors the architect must consider in order to make the best prediction in design, for a building that will stand for at least the next 50 years.
Besides taking into account the client’s ideal budget and preferred timeline, an architect considers the return of investment and feasibility of what will be built. As early as the conceptual stages, they are already considering other details that relate to the users when the structure is built:
- What is the vision for the company, how will the building represent its goals?
- How much will the building cost and how many years will it take for the client to make monetary returns on this building?
- What is the kind of traffic the area gets and how can this be maximized for profit opportunity?
- How will users arrive at the site? Via public transportation? Private car? Walk?
- In purchasing this finish material over the other, the initial cost may be expensive but will the low maintenance give it greater savings in the long run?
Architecture as Capturing an Era
Our travel goals always involve some architectural piece like the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu, Gothic Cathedrals, Palaces and Parks. What fascinates us about these places?
Without knowing, these places capture the essence of an era in time. They make us experience something of our past. Looking at the Notre Dame, we can figure out what materials and building techniques were available at the time, who were the financiers, what people valued most then and possibly even the issues humanity was facing at the time.
Architecture must reflect the psyche of humanity and echo an age in time.
“Beyond merely providing shelter, architecture becomes the stage set and context for our lives. It’s the reason we feel empowered on the roof deck of an 80-story building, connected and thriving in a busy public plaza, and humbled in a soaring cathedral.” (4)
Several art mediums of sketching, painting, model making, photography and mixed media art are utilized to convey the idea of what the space will express and how.
Architecture as a Catalyst for Change
The building and construction industry are a huge source of pollution, waste production and carbon emissions. Therefore the decisions in how to build and what to build with can greatly affect the environment toward climate change. (4)
More on this at a deeper level in “How Architecture Affects the Environment?”
When investing in constructing a building, be it our home or the city’s next museum, it plays a huge part in our lives. It becomes the setting for all the big family moments, it will be embedded within the city fabric. It has the capacity to grow our culture, our identity and how we view the future.
A decision in the building process can affect an user’s health, well-being and even productivity. As it’s proven that there are schools designed to be more conducive for learning while movements for workplace wellness show more efficiency and productivity therefore profit! People can be less sick and more stimulated in spaces that are not flat concrete surfaces for miles without a small glimpse of nature.
With all the growing technology on what we can predict in the weather or global makeup, can we use architecture as a tool to combat natural calamities, the growing population and housing crisis? (5)
Architecture should be able to lift people up and make their lives better. The image above was a design by Pritzker Prize winner, Ar. Alejandro Aravena, who proposed the “halfway house” for a social housing development. As often the problem in housing projects is either it is too expensive for the family to maintain financially, or is too small and unable to accommodate the family’s growth.
He geniusly designed the house in a way that it would be a fully functional and affordable half, yet has the capacity to expand should the family want to. If not, then they can continue to pay for half a house and perhaps another family with a similar situation can move beside them.
Taking into account the natural scenic beauty of a landscape, paired with the man-made creative vision, architecture has the power to revive a dilapidated building or sleepy town. It can boost community spirit and generate tourism for a country. It can convey political ideals or encourage global trade. (6)
Architecture can elevate the quality of life.
Don’t take my word for it, hear it from the professionals themselves who have long been in the field!
“It’s a physical manifestation of the society’s wishes to be civilised!”
– Richard Rogers, renowned global architect of the Pompidou Centre in Paris
“The most successful architecture goes beyond just being a shed or a box for living… Good architecture is intentioned. It somehow touches the people who use it and live in it… it somehow touches the human soul
– Martha Thorne (Executive Director for the Pritzker Prize Awards)
“Don’t you find that often, when you walk into the room, you may talk about how you find the qualities of the room to be somehow calming? A space may instill certain emotional conditions and I certainly believe in the emotive power of architecture.”
-Prof. Mohsen Mostafavi (Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design & the Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design)
Excerpts taken from The Role of Architecture in Humanity’s Story – Thought Economics (7)
A Creativity for Survival
For the record and to clarify, I believe all arts are essential to enrich people’s lives, inspire and grow humanity forward. However architecture seems to have this pressure being concretized and immortalized throughout the ages. The same pressure that can lead to a heavy burden being so intertwined in the corporate world.
With a single drawn line, money and lives can be made or lost.
Based on the architect’s decision, a building can support local business and job creation. It can clean the air or encourage those who take their bike over their car. It can even encourage people to take the stairs instead of the elevator!
I remember my first architecture teacher telling me, “an architect has the power to make life very horrible for people.” We don’t notice because we seamlessly go about our lives in these spaces. That or the opposite, where we just live our routines here and there, with that annoying step you keep tripping on upon entering a room, stubbing your toe along the kitchen countertops or the door swinging in a way wherein you have to squeeze yourself to fit. — So yes it pays to have an architect and their team analyze every inch of your newly built space!
Architecture is paying careful attention to all the details that make up our spaces, who uses them and how these spaces are experienced.
- Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2021, April 29). architecture summary. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/summary/architecture
- Odrobina, W. (2020, May 4). What does an architect contribute to today’s society? Archilovers. Retrieved March 2022, from https://www.archilovers.com/stories/28556/what-does-an-architect-contribute-to-today-s-society.html
- Designblendz Team. (2017, May 10). 4 reasons why good architecture is important. Designblendz. Retrieved March 2022, from https://www.designblendz.com/blog/4-reasons-why-good-architecture-is-important
- Gann, A., & Mortice, Z. (2019, January 14). Why architecture is important – study architecture: Architecture schools and student information. Study Architecture | Architecture Schools and Student Information. Retrieved March 2022, from https://studyarchitecture.com/blog/architecture-news/why-architecture-is-important/
- Vangelatos, G. (2019, October 18). How does architecture impact society? A high-level look: Thought leadership. HMC Architects. Retrieved March 2022, from https://hmcarchitects.com/news/how-does-architecture-impact-society-a-high-level-look-2019-10-18/
- Admin. (2021, June 19). Importance of architecture for society and in Modern World. IMPOFF. Retrieved March 2022, from https://impoff.com/importance-of-architecture/
- MBE, V. S. M. B. E. (2012, June 18). The role of architecture in humanity’s story. Thought Economics. Retrieved March 2022, from https://thoughteconomics.com/the-role-of-architecture-in-humanitys-story/