“Dear friend and colleague …”
This traditional opener for letters and memoranda among professional colleagues is viewed today by many with nostalgia and by others as empty convention.
Interestingly, that greeting was the basis of a special type of courtesy focused on conveying that some sort of endeavour was shared. This now forgotten greeting was an indirect means of group bonding, deeply rooted in motives that it has never been as compelling to consider as it is now.
Today, the profession looks very little like what was practiced by preceding generations. For many, it has literally ceased to be a profession, which literally speaking is “something that is professed”, or more accurately, something “said in public.” The age-old figure of the architect enjoying the prestige bestowed on him as he was able to shape the way society lives seems to be a phantom of the past, something hardly anyone is able to experience. Architects used to dress formally on a daily basis, just in case someone wanted to pay tribute to them, as they used to say jokingly and with a touch of envy, over fifty years ago. Now, half of those architects hardly have anything to wear and the joke is no longer funny.
Since not too long ago, the debate has been over whether belonging to an architects association is hardly more than a clear throwback to those good old days. Just belonging to an institution is a burden for some, and is even argued to be the main obstacle that keeps architects at an unhealthy distance away from society.
Nonetheless, the work of professional associations can be considered not as the root of the current communication problem vis-à-vis society, but more as perhaps the most solid, available solution.
Perhaps that is why the prime reason that architects’ associations are now searching for their raison d’etre is found in the pure defence of that same society where its members profess their profession: architecture. Most of the association’s by-laws state this and it is current today as ever.
The common denominator for the members of an “association of colleagues” has always been the shared responsibility of having the same focus of activity. And this activity that has become broader, more disperse and indefinite. But it is still an activity for which a special type of accountability has been demanded since antiquity. This accountability goes further than just civil liability.
Perhaps architects’ associations can and should be considered first and foremost as organizations able to protect the cities and the environment in which humankind lives, defending architecture as a social asset. No one can do that better than people who profess architecture.
Dear Friend and Colleague, It’s good to remember.