I often ponder the broad responsibility of the architectural profession. If an architect asks that question, I wonder what the non-architect thinks and today I would like to explore that topic. As dull as the subject may seem, perhaps the following statistics will help us to understand how important it really is.
The information that follows is primarily taken from the Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice."The architect works within the larger building enterprise that commissions, designs, constructs, finances, operates, and regulates our built environment. A rudimentary understanding of this larger framework is essential to understanding the architect, the firm, the project, and the contractual documents used to design and build."
The major constituent parts of the building enterprise are the owner (one who commissions construction), the design professionals (one who provides the design and technical expertise to translate the owners needs into the built form), the constructors (one who builds the facilities), the supporting industries (one who provides land, products, financing, insurance etc. ), the regulators (the public agencies that regulate buildings, land use and professional practice), and the user (those who inhabit our buildings and the spaces around them).
U.S. construction projects total approximately $400,000,000,00.00 per year, a number which does not include maintenance and repair of the nation's estimated $4,800,000,000,000.00 in total real estate. This represents one of the largest sectors of the American economy.
In the United States there are approximately 70,000 architects. Along with their related professions (the building enterprise), they create "one of our most important products - shelter and places for the full abundance of human activity. Architecture is pervasive in our lives. We are immersed in it everywhere. At its best, architecture mirrors our aspirations and dignifies our existence."
The characteristics of a building are complexity, mass, cost, and uniqueness. And when you consider the process of building, you begin to understand the enormity of the task.
Buildings are constructed at their sites.
Building sites have specific physical characteristics, climate conditions, and political jurisdictions.
Buildings can be commissioned by anyone.
Building-project teams are always unique.
Building processes are intrinsically adversarial. (Each of the participants brings a specialized set of goals, values, motivations, and aspirations.)
Building expense and complexity leave much at risk.
Buildings are used by everyone.
Winston Churchill said that we shape our buildings, and they shape us. Though we debate the extent of the role of architecture in shaping life, there is little doubt that we are affected by our built environment, particularly when this environment is exciting and inspiring and meets all of our goals. Also, in the negative, when it does not provide the sought-for comfort, accommodation, or economy.
I believe that all of this "reminds us that building employs a complex and often difficult process in order to produce a product. It reminds us, too, that design and building involve a large number of diverse people and organizations who form temporary alliances to carry out individual projects. Many of the particular and peculiar characteristics of architectural practice are derived from these few self-evident truths.
Therein is the challenge we face in the building industry. Our buildings and their related environments are the embodiment of much of the creative energy of man.