A new status for architects?
For years and years, architects’ activity was associated with a specific type of personal attitude, a social status and a professional stance. When we take a look at Schools of Architecture and hear the type of teaching discourse that endures, stressing the great importance of architects’ decisions, deemed the only variables to be taken into account, when we see the disdain for other disciplines, the enthroning of merely formal, out of date and defunct values, then we realise this stereotype is not far from the truth.
This conceited image, condescending and at times pedantic, is what foreshadows us in relationships with clients, teams at work, and the public opinion. This inheritance from years past when having a child who became a doctor, lawyer or architect earned great respect, as if a person’s degree were enough to determine their personal worth. This perverse idea that we have fed for centuries by considering that designing spaces or buildings is more valuable than educating the community, putting out fires or making food is what makes the cogs in this social wheel keep turning within the great piece of machinery where we all dwell.
When the crisis hit, these foundations began to crumble. If there is not work, there are no fees, no building underway, no urban intervention to experiment with and continue to grow, and no renewal within the profession. Young architects stand as shaming reminders of our humanity and vulnerability as a group. Tremendously able minds, even more able than those of their forerunners, fed with utopic ideas about the transcendence of their work and themselves as individuals that have come up against a reality that is all too hard.
This has generated a flagrant generation gap between the experienced, well-to-do with their leant mandate on the role of an architect and the new generation that must reinvent itself in order to get ahead, involving a scientific exercise calling all of the fundaments into question in order to carry out their own experiments.
Freed from the lofty status and haughtiness of times past, new architects find the boundaries of their work being blurred. They find it easier to collaborate with other groups, relate to users, access social problems and, in short, turn back more purely to the essence of architecture, at the service of the community, of human beings in all of their complex dimensions.
But a stumbling block remains, and that is how these two mindsets can coexist. There is still talk about the devaluation of a profession when the old firms remain in business off the skin of exploited interns, bogus self-employees, contracts whose conditions are those of a secretary, payments made under the table… It is ironic to observe the lack of respect for professionals when architects become businesses and, in order to conserve their status, the entire group has to relinquish its most basic rights. A relationship between the two poles is inevitable, and will no doubt occur when architects themselves show respect for the profession and stray from titles and medals conferring social status and once again attach value to their function in society.