Let’s Stop Romanticising Architecture Once and For All
They started putting the idea into our heads as soon as we set foot in architecture school and we ended up believing it: “Architecture is the most beautiful, the most noble, the most important of all professions. Ooh, aah. We’re going to change the world”.
And of course, it’s not like that. As soon as you leave university, you realise that all the big projects—the museums, auditoriums, theatres, and airports—are handled by four architecture studios and five giant companies. The rest of us, if we’re lucky, will get to build a house or two, or a block of flats. And as architects, in our minds we end up clearly discriminating between what we perceive as real architecture and what, deep down, we despise.
It’s simple: only a person who actually builds is a real architect, and being an architect means doing plan views and sections. Everything else means being something less than an architect, although you can always be a teacher, because that’s a way of transmitting our sublime discipline to others and is therefore OK.
But it’s high time we stopped being so starry-eyed and romantic about our work. Communicating architecture is just as much of an architect’s task as drawing a ground plan. And communicating architecture in the media or in a blog or on a social network is just as important, if not more, than doing it in a university classroom. The important thing is to do it well. And to get paid for it.
But perhaps we ourselves are partly responsible for not always getting paid what we should, precisely because we think that the only thing a real architect does is draw plans or build things. After all, that’s the idea we’ve conveyed to our customers. And that’s why, to them, our criteria and our advice are irrelevant. All the customer needs is a house that’s not going to collapse and to get all the paperwork done at the local council. It was at that precise moment that we turned our profession into something precarious.
If people don’t understand that our services are necessary, and not just officially prescribed legal obstacles to be overcome, it makes no difference what we say: our job is precarious. Our work isn’t valued. And people don’t pay for things without value.
This is where another key variable comes into play: we don’t know how to market ourselves. We don’t know how to explain that our work isn’t just drawing plans or giving classes. There are things that are common to all disciplines and are not rewarded in the short term, but which are decisive if we want to make our work less precarious. Perhaps the most important is advertising. Self-promotion.
We consider it quite normal for most services to advertise and beat their own drum, but we throw up our hands in horror when an architect self-promotes. Well no, dear colleagues! One way or another, advertising always incurs a cost (at least at first), sometimes in money, sometimes in working hours, and sometimes in the shape of a diagram for a potential customer. But if it’s done well, advertising also pays. And if it’s done really well, if it manages to transmit the idea that what we do is not only draw plans to comply with regulations but also help people live better lives, that a house designed by an architect is much more comfortable and attractive than a house that simply needs signing for, then advertising pays both for the architect in question and for all of us.
The architect’s profession is marvellous, but we have to stop romanticising it and learn to sell it. And we have to start acknowledging that all the jobs an architect does are real architecture.