Architecture is old fashioned

The 24th instalment in a series of lessons learned over the years. What do I know now that I didn’t then? What wisdom would I impart to my younger self, given the opportunity?

This lesson also formed part of a lecture given for the May Process forum, The Jump, exploring the challenges faced when setting up a practice. Process is a monthly information sharing series curated by the Victorian Young Architects and Graduates network.

23. Architecture is old fashioned

james bond

The 21st Century is a brave new time to be an architect. The digital revolution is having as profound an effect on us as it is everyone else. Parametric tools are rewriting the way buildings are designed; BIM is rewriting the way they are documented; social media is rewriting the way we connect; and the cloud is rewriting the way we communicate. But for all that, architecture is old fashioned.

We still need to be people people to thrive. Of the 53 project enquiries we have received since starting our architecture practice, word of mouth has generated 58% or 31 of them. Even more tellingly, word of mouth is responsible for 82% of the 22 projects we have undertaken. In other words, while our website, online portals like Houzz, television slots and the Australian Institute of Architect’s Find an Architect service provide us with a decent proportion of our project enquiries, they are not very successful in converting them into commissions. Trust remains an irreplaceable factor in helping clients choose us as their architect.

Our clients are in some sense much more than clients: they are partners. They feed us our inspiration, provide direction, support and feedback. They are as integral to the success of a project as we are, and they are not alone. We have to engage with surveyors, town planners and engineers too, each of whom can be a obstacle or a gateway. We must know how to help them buy into our direction for the project and become as invested in it as we are.

Then there is what we do: we draw and we make models. We use the computer a lot, but pens, tracing paper, card and PVA are still the tools we use to design. It’s as though we have been hardwired to gain satisfaction from the energetic loop that runs from mind to hand to paper to eye to mind. Digital technologies interrupt this flow, but a quick sketch is as natural as speaking.

Finally, there’s the pot of gold that waits for us downstream. All our research, design and documentation efforts are channelled into the production of a set of drawings that tell a bunch of blokes with drills, saws and sanders how to put things together. Blogging may only date back to the 1990s, but bricks and mortar go back millennia. Our involvement with materials and relationships with builders has an affect on us that other creative thinkers lack. They tie us to the history of a place and culture, anchor us in the ongoing legacy of the built environment.

Architecture is old fashioned.


Image source:

  1. James Bond. Passion Without Limits, author unknown.

Author: Warwick Mihaly

I am an architect, writer, teacher and father.

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