It isn’t difficult for most people to imagine a world without architects, because that is their world already; disconnected from the hand of the designer. The shape of their home or office is predetermined, to be adapted and enjoyed or accepted and tolerated. Design is a luxury for the elite and nothing more than an indulgence. Why would anybody need an architect?
To prosper in this profession in the 21st century is to understand the value of positive thinking; to see opportunities where others see problems, working systematically to steward lasting changes to our built environment. Where elegance and coherence are a low – perhaps the lowest – priority for others, it must be our mandate. We care because this is the path that we have chosen, because if we don’t, the consequences can be detrimental not only to our patrons but to society as a whole.
Our role is complex, appointed by one client but serving the city, street and community simultaneously. We must work strategically to meet the constraints of programme and budget but also with care and empathy so that our lasting contribution is a meaningful one. Buildings designed not to an abstract 30-year lifespan, but as a permanent and crucial part of our built environment.
We are the linchpin of the construction process and the only ones with a comprehensive overview of where the building has come, as well as how it goes together and how it must function, balancing the competing concerns of each discipline. This comes at a personal, human cost: a responsibility and emotional commitment to a project beyond that of even the client, often without the power to make the crucial decisions that might be necessary.
But we keep on caring, because when a project is delivered successfully it really can make a profound difference. To matter is to be of consequence, not self-importance, and we must believe that ourselves if we are to convince others.
Our role is essential but difficult to define. Positive thinking is in the job description. Optimism is essential.