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February 19, 2014

Architectural keynote looks at the future of the profession

Buildex Vancouver feature

Today's architects are being marginalized in terms of building design and construction and may eventually just die off in their current form, said Blair Satterfield, an assistant professor with the school of architecture and landscape architecture at the University of B.C.

“The architect may have to be reborn,” said Satterfield, a member of the Buildex Vancouver Architectural Keynote Panel, who will be probing the future of architects at the annual event.

Architects once took an expanded role in building design and construction, but their position has been eroded.

They need to rethink what they do and be willing to accept far more responsibility in all facets of construction from building materials through to the finished building.

“Look at the oil industry,” he said, contrasting architectural firms to oil producers, who take a broad role ranging from sourcing, refining, and transportation and distribution to customers.

Satterfield is also critical of the speculative building industry, where architects get pulled into providing designs that are geared towards market sales rather than people.

Such structures offer a fast flip, but with no concern for structure or residential inhabitants over the long term.

He said that architects are also too bound to traditional construction means in these fast turn around market projects and new methods of construction are not explored.

Rather than simply demolishing buildings, architects should consider innovative designs that can see buildings deconstructed and reassembled to accommodate changing needs and save material from landfill.

Architect and panelist Matthew Soules, with Matthew Soules Architecture Inc., agreed that architects need to become more prominent in the public debate on construction design.

“Decades ago, the architect was a stronger public intellectual,” he said.

Soules added that architects took on a vocal role in influencing building design, construction methods, city designers, building codes, and innovation and technology.

“The person took on a leadership role,” he said, adding that other professions have since eclipsed their domain.

Social media today can play a strong role in returning the architect to a higher public profile, he believes.

“As a rule, architects have not looked at the new media and methods of communications to broadcast their leadership abilities to the community,” he said.

Soules believes that architects also need to learn to work within a lean budget, which is the reality of markets.

Architects training in universities should temper their creative passion with marketplace realities, such as costs.

One reason, he said, that architects have lost their position as project managers is that they have not had a good grounding in managing the financial end of project development.

Balancing the financial aspect of building design remains a major challenge.

Future architects will have to determine how to provide affordable housing that at the same time is sustainable, said Scott Kemp, president of the Architectural Institute of B.C. and panelist.

And, they need to do this in an area where land prices are more expensive than most other North American cities.

“Affordability is really the biggest challenge in the Lower Mainland,” said Kemp.

Densification is seen as an alternative reducing urban sprawl, travel costs and the environmental impact.

It is especially successful in corridor areas that parallel rapid transit.

The future architectural challenge is how to gain the best from all sides, Kemp said, as developers want a product with a saleable market price.

There is a push by government towards sustainability and the buyer wants a liveable building.

“There are always constraints that an architect has to deal with,” he said.

“That is where the creativity comes in, when dealing with constraints.”

Creativity is not just in design, but looking at new technology and innovation, he said.

However, there needs to be support right across the board, he added

New technology or design involves risk.

“They (developers) are taking a huge risk and usually they are looking to minimize any risk,” he said.

Soules agreed.

“The greatest challenge is the inertia and relative conservatism of the development and construction industry and the bylaws and regulation. There is no shortage of great ideas,” he said.

He added that they need support from those participating in the whole process including developers, construction industry members through to regulation makers.

The new architect has the task of convincing developers or municipalities or governments to turn to this next page.

“We have to say we have done some serious research and we are willing to put our professionalism on the line because we believe this design will lead to a cost-saving and be ecologically better and more beneficial to the public,” he said. “We have to recapture our responsibility.”

The Architectural Keynote Panel: Where To From Here: The Future of the Profession takes place Feb. 20 starting at 10:30 a.m. at Buildex Vancouver 2014.

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