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“I think most buildings that are being built are very much focused on managing cost…So you tend to see less creativity in that environment, less exciting designs, less upscale materials being used in them.” Kermit Baker, the CFO of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), says in today’s CNN article, ‘Masterpieces’ on hold, waiting for better times.

Once again, the American Insititute of Architects has missed the mark.

Just because there isn’t room for fancy new skyscrapers in the American budget doesn’t mean that there is less creative, less exciting design on the horizon.  In fact, I contend that the most creative, most exciting design happens when the budget is low and the constraints are high.  As I’ve said before, anyone could design something beautiful with an unlimited budget.  But it takes a true creative spirit to design something beautiful – a masterpiece – on a low budget.

The AIA is sending the wrong message to architects in this article.  You don’t need huge Dubai-style glamorous sky scrapers to create masterpieces.  What you need is ingenuity and tenacity and you can create pretty amazing things, some that could qualify as masterpieces.

Baker mentions that the emphasis today is on value.  What was it on before?  Ostentation, spending too much money, showing off?  Shouldn’t the emphasis always be on value?  Maybe we were off-track and this economy has woken us up from the ‘big, new, fancy, expensive’ delusion we were living in before.

Robert Miller, president of the AIA, is worried that architects currently coming out of school will have no work to support them and “we’re going to lose a generation of architects”.  This is a valid concern if we insist on our old way of thinking – that the only viable work for architects is in large ground-up buildings.  The truth is that we may not need any major new buildings for a long time.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t need architects.

There is plenty of work to be done with adaptive reuse, historic preservation, urban rehabilitation, infill projects, and sustainable renovations.

Architects need to take these types of projects just as seriously as they might a more photogenic one like the Aqua Tower in Chicago.  Socially conscious, sustainable design is the order of the day, not materialistic, ostentatious skyscrapers.  And this is nothing to weep about.  It’s a course correction that we need to celebrate and embrace.  I call on the AIA to redefine what they deem to be a creative and exciting project.  And I call on architects to create masterpieces in a new realm that involves social and environmental excellence.

Photo Credit:  an urban ghetto in an unknown city in the US, photo from Bah weep graaagnah wheep ni ni bong

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One Response

  1. I definitely agree that the corporate architecture realm will probably see little growth and opportunity for many emerging architects.

    That doesn’t mean that there won’t be work for them if they think entrepreneurially. What it does mean is that they will need to think as an entrepreneur, first collaborating with developers, property owners, community partners, financiers, and end users to create the projects, before they start “designing” the project.

    I learned during my internship at an arch firm the importance of leading with marketing and following with great service, excellent businesses practices, and good design.

    We have plenty of work for designers; we have to let the public and stakeholders know that we are an important piece to their success, and we can make projects work before the market has “rebounded.”

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