September 24, 2014

Transforming the Profession

I always find a good reason or three to go to New York City...and obviously an architecture conference is a pretty good reason for me.

I just got back from my week vacation in New York City which included attending the 2014 Future Now Summit hosted by the Emerging New York Architects (ENYA) of AIANY. The Future Now Summit focus on challenges the Architecture profession faces today. By creating a platform for discussion, future architects can learn and discuss opportunities with emerging trends in society.
The event continues the discussion of finding ways to transform traditional practice into ones resilient and adaptable to deal with a world of rapid evolution. The future architect must be able to quickly respond to the social, environmental, technological, and economic changes that are in constant flux.

The day started with a panel discussion about the future of architectural practice with a focus of the Architect as an agent for social change. Trends like social media and crowd funding were seen as opportunities for designers to use as a tool to garner public support and input for better design. There was a focus on the need for designers to be more knowledgeable about business of construction and find better ways of streamlining processes to get good work built. 

Lunch time included a session with AIA Fellows who provided mentorship and advice to young aspiring designers like myself. I actually got a book from the mentor at my table! It was a great way to hear their stories and their tips to becoming licensed. 

The afternoon included a charette that worked on creating a social media crowdfunding campaign for an architectural project. ENYA has had success in creating social media campaigns to for their annual City of Dreams Pavilion on Governors Island and garnering online support to fund these projects. This was not your typical architecture design charette. It was a cheerful and fun charette that purposefully placed the designer in a different mode of designing, thinking and doing. It was a great way for designers to improvise and work with different people. It was not about creating architecture, but looking at a different aspect of pushing for a design by gaining public support, which meant looking at ways of how to communicate effectively like a marketer. Participants had to create a 60 second commercial to pitch to support the design interventions they chose.

Still fresh in my mind, here are a few themes from the Future Now Summit struck a chord for me:

Architect as agent for social change
There is a strong resounding call that the designer must not only seek formal and theoretical concerns of architecture. The Architects of the 21st century need to look at the issues that impact our cities and communities to garner support and influence. Some of the research work of Nick McClintock and his colleagues were presented as to how some public interest design firms created their structure. 
Architect as Collaborator
A strong emphasis is that the architect must be a collaborator in working with stakeholders and the public and garner support by getting input. The Architect has to step forward and find ways to make those voices matter by incorporating stakeholder input into their design. As exemplified by Kai-Uwe Bergman's (from BIG) lecture on getting public support in designing resilient infrastructure to prevent floods in Lower Manhattan, to fostering public inclusivity through architecture with projects like Superkilen. 
Architect as Curator
The architect should be proactive in getting stakeholders opinions and input in order to gain design. Groups like IOBY discussed their approach to "tactical urbanism" - doing small temporary interventions to grab local public support and sponsorship to improving their communities.  
Respecting the Profession
We want the public to have respect the Architect and the work we do, but we need to respect ourselves first. This was brought up at the onset by Illya Azaroff who provided a recap from the 2012 Future Now Summit. It means not hiring unpaid interns and it also means setting your service fees appropriately. It means valuing what we do as designers and Architects, and educating the public on why design matters.  
Process Oriented
Architects need to understand and become well-versed in the various parameters and processes that get architecture built. It means honing and improving the process. Designers need to be well-versed in the economic and social forces at play in the design and construction of buildings. It is not just about design process, but all the processes that influence and get architecture built. 
I always enjoy coming to New York for these Future Now summits. I get to meet up with some of my friends in the New York area. Most importantly, these events serve as a reminder of why I love Architecture, re-ignites my passion for the profession and to keep going in my career.


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