ARCHITECTURE OR REVOLUTION 4.0?

This article by architectural technologist Akheel Naicker, in his personal capacity, is from an online platform he launched called 'An Architect' which aims to bring insightful content to the South African architectural community.Fall of an Industry

The 2010 FIFA World Cup brought excitement, collaboration and the image of a progressive South Africa. The promise of a world-class experience presented the construction industry with great opportunity for architectural and engineering feats through infrastructure development and stadia. Unfortunately, through unsavory practices, the joy was short-lived.

Fast forward to the present, the depressed South African economy as a result of ‘State Capture’ allegations, construction mafia and sluggish economic growth has allowed the construction industry to implode. Summing up the devastation of such events is the quote found in an article by Industry Insight: ‘An absolute destruction of a sector never before seen on the JSE’. Lack of infrastructure development in an emerging economy is a harsh, albeit ironic truth and is a clear indication of bad management, lack of foresight and misalignment of values in government. To be fair, the construction industry around the world is not as rapid as it used to be – so it makes sense that emerging nations would be the most affected. But what has contributed to the collapse of an industry in South Africa and how is architecture involved in this?

Architects aren’t valued

As the starting point of all construction projects, architects who once held a revered spot within the community of professionals have now found themselves positioned as highly undervalued individuals, more so currently than at any point in history. The short explanation is as a result of the fast paced digital world; where informed individuals are capable of making rational decisions based on online content available. Much like the saying goes: ‘Everyone is an architect’. As architecture became a more diverse field, its split from the realms of engineering and technology in the 20th – 21st century rendered it more of an art form than a science. And as art is highly subjective, people have perceived it to be of lesser importance and of less significance. (We’ll get to this later…)

In a time where STEM is promoted, architecture is greatly disregarded in its current form since it acts as a separate component to science and technology instead of in unison with it. The basic requirements of architecture as a functional object to protect man from the elements have been well mastered over the centuries. Its ability to reach unprecented heights and lengths has long been accomplished and its aesthetics are now merely a commodity in commercial competition. Therefore it is not difficult to see why many individuals choose not to study Architecture.

Anyone is an Architect

We live in the era of the millennial: a ‘smart creative’ who is (for the most part) informed, confident and self-empowered through the new technologies of the age. Such is an age where anyone can gain knowledge on almost anything – incurring little to no monetary expense. And if everyone and anyone can be an architect, perhaps then…let it be. In an age where information is so easily accessible and so vast, why shouldn’t anyone be an architect?

Rise of a new profession

Adapt or die: A fitting statement for many industries in context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. When there are such industries such as artificial intelligence and software development which now possess enough momentum to sway economies, architecture can be rendered obsolete. Hence in times of desperation, one needs to adapt to the surroundings in order to ensure survival. In the case of architecture, the field we once knew needs to be rethought.

Art and Architecture

As previously mentioned, architecture is seen more as an art than science, and this is what people generally perceive it as being. As recently mentioned by Patrik Schumacher of Zaha Hadid Architects, this is the core issue at architecture schools.

Art is generally an expression of the intangible and (as expected) such qualities are difficult to measure, as it has no direct value with no direct consequence. It is highly subjective by nature, and deals more with the intensity of emotions than with calculated results of reality. This does not mean the intangible is insignificant, it is precisely because of our inability to measure its worth that makes it undervalued.

It can therefore be understood that the intangible feelings one experiences in conjunction with sights, sounds, smells and textures of a building are considered to be of less importance than the overarching structural integrity of it.

The visual value architects provide to a structure seems to be a luxury added onto the basic need for shelter, already provided by the engineer. So what can be done about this?

Reinvention

All change, reinvention or revolution occurs when there is a change in perspective. It has been a long time coming that the role of architecture and the architect should be reinvented. Architecture as a profession needs to become relevant once again, by empowering people to build structures as a symbol of progress in this current time. But how?

There is hardly any benefit in trying to inform people of the value an architect provides when they perceive no real substance in the profession. And At the same time, we cannot also completely terminate an entire profession as a result of harsh economic times. So what now?

From Hard Hats to Hardware

As mentioned in a previous article titled Towards a New Architectural Business Model, many other professions have borrowed the term of ‘architect’. Why?

The term represents one who is able to synthesize and organize complex visible and invisible information to produce a comprehensive solution to several problems. Therefore, it is no coincidence that professionals in the software and IT industries are commonly referred to as ‘architects’.

The term now refers to people who can create software which in turn creates the space which people of frequently inhabit – cyperspace. As a result of the efficiency, speed and accessibility of the digital world it is difficult to not see the importance of these new virtual spaces and even more difficult to not embrace it. Such advancements in technology is not to be competed with. Rather, it needs to be further developed.

Software will always have a component of the physical and tangible which they are dependent on. This is of course the hardware and infrastructure required to create and house such components. Integrated tech structures where physical forms are connected or embodied with intelligent sensors and responsive elements can be viewed as a reality of the present and no longer science fiction. Such hardware presents opportunities for the traditional architect to become the contemporary architect. This is where the introduction of smart spaces and buildings begins.

Architects learning to code

Coding is planned to be introduced to the South African curriculum as soon as 2020. Coding, or programming, occupies a comfortable spot in the economy and provides a stable career offering sustainable professional growth for the majority of its employees. According to mybroadband.co.za, it is a great time to be a software developer in South Africa as a result of skill scarcity. Moreover, it more easily lends itself toward entrepreneurial opportunities by its nature – create a software that can be used several times over with minimal maintenance and optimal royalty fees.

Perhaps then it is an option for one of the world’s oldest measures of progress – architecture – to marry one of the world’s newest – programming and software development. Such a partnership would beget stability and a possible sustainability until the next industrial revolution occurs – hopefully not too soon. A building which can possess the ability to ventilate its own spaces, regulate temperature, optimise water and electricity efficiency and adapt to the needs of its users sounds like a pretty interesting future for us all to be working on.

The ability to embed code into a physical object through the Internet of Things, sensors, holograms and projections opens up the possibility to explore the new realms of the spatio-temporal. Such an opportunity to then design structures whose forms are not only influenced by such elements but that are also able to respond to them seems like a future not too distant, and one which is extremely promising for the future of man.

Or perhaps the architectural world needs the assistance of the IT sector in setting up automated programmes to optimize client sourcing and plan delivery. Perhaps an app that can scan your plans and verify its compliance with building regulations? Seems like a great idea to reduce municipal approval delays.

Whatever the case may be, the responsibility is really on the architectural community at large – the experienced and the green professionals – to come together and find a way forward. Our profession needs to adapt to the times. As opposed to resistance and stagnation, it needs to progress with the rest of the world.

Let us stop asking whether it is architecture or revolution, but rather architecture or evolution?

SOURCES:

  1. Good time to be a software developer in SA: https://mybroadband.co.za/…/313519-its-a-great-time-to-be-a…
  2. Major construction firms in business rescue:https://www.moneyweb.co.za/…/construction-industry-in-surv…/
  3. Coding in schools: https://www.news24.com/…/grades-r-to-3-curriculum-for-codin…
  4. How Google Works (book) and the definition of a ‘smart creative’: https://blogs.dxc.technology/…/the-smart-creative-key-thou…/
  5. Schumacher on the crisis in architectural education:https://www.dezeen.com/…/patrik-schumacher-crisis-architec…/

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