Once upon a time in the not so distant past I received a call from a potential client. The conversation began with “How much will it cost to do signed and sealed drawings for a deck that was just built. The building department wants this or I have to remove it.” When I gave the person a price the response was “That much for lines on a paper!?” My response was “How much do you pay your mechanic to make sure your wheels don't fall off or other maintenance fees so your car will not break down just to keep you safe?” The silence on the other side of the phone was earth shattering. In a world of do-it-y
ourself and lighting speed TV design, it seems that the underlying consensus of the uninformed is that architects and interior designers are a commodity only needed when the building official demands their signature and seal. A point that most people do not know or care to until something goes tragically wrong is that architects have an oath to protect the health and welfare of the general public and are held to a higher standard than the weekend warrior do-it-yourselfer.
We live in unique time in the history of the world. The proliferation of available information and the speed by which its disseminated is staggering. I can still remember when a pager was not just a novelty but seemed like a badge of success reserved only for the professional. Just like the days of the 8-track tape or reel-to-reel, the pager has gone the way of the dinosaur.
Likewise, I recall when I first entered the architecture profession. Computers were bulky, pen plotters where just beginning to be used and we learned how to draw “Lines on Paper”. Those of us who were “artists” laughed and scoffed at first Windows release and in no way could fathom what a force that operating system would become and how it would affect our future livelihood.
The practice of architecture can trace its origins back to the first sheltered homes of prehistoric times. Prior to the use of computers “pen on paper”, “ Ink on parchment” and “lines in the sand” were the modus operandi of communication. Architect’s and interior designers have always used their ability to creatively illustrate complex ideas and processes and the byproduct of which are etched in the monuments we cherish throughout history. The art of architecture is just that, art. Like it or hate it, it evokes emotion, can affect your psyche and wellness and even elevate the human experience.
Fast forward a mere span of thirty years (a blink of an eye) where access is king (or queen depending on your world view); pop-culture, pop-design, disneyfication, fast-food and being fickle minded is praised and anyone with an opinion or a computer thinks themselves an expert in all things architecture. For better or for worse the devaluation of our profession has consistently been eroded by the race to the bottom. Like Sirens of Greek mythology beckoning sailors to their doom, the pressure to compete with technology, the promise by third party “value Engineering” and the morphology of the master architect into a commodity seen as no more than a necessary evil has caused the architect to become a an endangered species. Perishing like a deer caught in the headlights does not happen overnight. Most architects fresh out of design school are not warned that they have left the comfort of the pond to be thrown in the great ocean in the midst of predators of all shapes and sizes. How they fare takes determination and a tough skin while maintaining self-respect and dignity.
Architects are taught philosophy, psychology, color theory, sustainability, geology, structural design, history, site planning, accessibility, materials and methods, and even some basic contractual law. The list of what we are taught and must know is is both voluminous and rigorous where only a few will achieve the illustrious title of “Architect”. What is sorely missing from the purview of the architect’s skill set is how to establish and manage a profitable business. In this respect the architect is at a gross disadvantage. Where the architect is taught high design the developer or business owner has already learned the hard financial lessons of supply and demand as well as the bottom line. Even the average consumer who has to live by a budget will flow their preferences to the path of least resistance and cost No emotion or concern for process, just product on demand at its bare bottom value. It is said that if there are two people who meet, one with money and one with wisdom when they depart the one with wisdom will have both his wisdom and the money. Architect’s in their race to the bottom often allow themselves to be marginalized and bullied into giving away their services in hopes of wining the “big project”, the white elephant that never materializes.
Our modern landscape is filled with disheartened, disenfranchised professionals strewn about in despair and lamenting “the good ole’ days” when architecture was thought of as a divine profession now boiled down to a cheap $29.95 program with all the bells and whistles of 3D views, floor plans, materials lists, etc. etc as they point the finger of blame to everyone but themselves.
Enough of the bad news, the diagnosis may seem bleak but the cure and path to wholeness is really quite simple. Design yourself. Architect’s are taught to design by processing a litany of information. It is ingrained into the essence of who we are and frames our world view, impacts our cultural tastes and preferences. From the shoes we wear to the complimentary watch, to the even contrapposto stance we take are all emotive and indeed architectural. It is written that “as a man thinks so is he”. In order to change the mindset of the public we must first change our own. Although most of the profession has traded the lines on the paper and those who wield the stylus in favor of the the latest and greatest computer program we still mirror the divine. It is God who made us in His image. It is God who is the chief architect, He sets things into order separating the mundane from what is unique. Likewise it is our uniqueness that separates us from the tether of tools. Yes, a computer is only a tool. The real value of the architect is that we touch the divine like a composer who orchestrates multiple musicians in order to bring a symphony to life. It is our uniqueness that allows us to see the value and potential of a dilapidated structure to repurpose it into something altogether new. That is the process of restoration.
In my ebook The Seven Deadly Sins of Buildings Churches I expound on the notion that those who fail to plan, plan to fail. As a design professional or one who seeks to hire one, you are cheating yourself of the opportunity to elevate your human experience by racing to the bottom line. As architects we are a vault of resources waiting to be opened by someone who can appreciate value and in the process save hundreds and thousands of dollars. For not only do we see the potential of buildings that need restoration or a how to execute a master plan that serves the demands of today but prepares for the inevitable needs of tomorrow; we also see the pitfalls that are costly in time, energy and financial resources. In my book The Morphology of Worship I link the importance of liturgy to design as well as how the restoration of worship combined with the information revolution impacts how we see and experience God’s presence. When one seeks to have a building designed outside of its principal function one invites disaster. To the uniformed, “lines on a paper” are just that, insignificant and meaningless. But to those who have been touched creativity by our divine Creator, each line represents an idea that brings to life the soul of the structure. Like the great artists of the Enlightenment who saw the soul of the sculpture in a piece of marble to reveal its essence or who God Himself who formed man out of the clay and breathed life into him, so the modern architect breathes vision to what is not seen and life into what is thought dead.
“Now wait a minute” you may say, “How can you compare yourself to God?” In fact I don’t. I will never have His eternal attributes. However, my Bible teaches me that I am His child, His son and made in His likeness. The Holy Spirit has given us nine gifts. Three to think like God, three to speak Like God, and three to act Like God. If I only exhibit a few than I have not only touched the divine but have imparted a measure of Him in all that I put my creativity into and thus, elevating it from mere “lines on a paper”. Those line fall in pleasant place creating the necessary boundaries translated into where and how we live, whether the sanctum of our home, the place where we religiously work or the altar where we find eternal liberty.
Join me in my next blog, as I will take you through a journey of pitfall and discovery in analyzing a broken structure to be repurposed. If you you like information on the services that I provide and how they can benefit you. You reach me via my phone 561.200.8394 or messenger on Facebook or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.