Novelties benefit from being different and therefore interesting, but they also give good cause for scepticism. They are not per se significant, unless elaborated in a careful and responsible way in order to provide a basis for further progress.
New technologies are a major catalyst and an important means for setting inventions in motion. They generate new needs and expectations, and allow for new architectonic expressions. For example, blob-like forms or interactive buildings can be designed and constructed thanks to technological inventions. The introduction of the computer as a draughting tool began in the 1960s. Apart from being an aid for producing plans, it became a medium that supported the architect in exploratory design processes and the management of complex construction processes. The Internet, as a global communication network, makes it possible to construct virtual spaces for collaboration and collective reflection among professionals and students alike.
There are new fields opening up in the architectural discipline. The design of virtual information and communication spaces is known as ‘information architecture’. Architecture is the correct term for this respect, even though there are some disputes on this issue. Information architecture, as a very young field, makes it possible to appreciate and demonstrate the qualities of architecture in a new context. It allows for the re-discovery of underlying principles, of crucial aspects of the intellectual discourse, and of important thought processes to handle the constant challenge posed by an ever-changing world.
Architecture is not only developing in its own realm, it is constantly assimilating achievements from other fields. Currently we are confronted with the need for a convergence of architecture with the many technologies we rely upon. ‘Smart buildings’ or the ‘combination of the digital and the physical space’ combining information architecture with physical structure and spaces, are upcoming issues in this regard. They raise questions about the conceptual design as well as social, cultural, economic, and health-related implications.
State-of-the art architecture is the collective result of the efforts of architects from the past and the present. The insights and experiences of many centuries provide us with an undeniable wealth of qualities, principles, and strategies. Some of them are valid fundamentals, while there are others that we have yet to transcend. The acceptance or rejection of achievements of the past is as important for ongoing architectural evolution as coming up with new inventions.
Designing and realizing great buildings is the traditional occupation of an architect. But most graduates opt for other kinds of careers. Some positions allow for a bigger impact on architecture than others. Theorists, journalists, construction firm managers and politicians all play a vital role in the advancement of the field.
I often get e-mails from former students telling me they have decided to abandon architecture because they are ‘much more interested in programming/writing/interface design/…’. I suspect that they will become architects and programmers/writers/interface designers. The acquired architectonic expertise can drive any creative process, even more so if structure, usability, reliability and aesthetics are important qualities of the result.
There is no other academic field that is as interdisciplinary and as visible as architecture. Everybody is confronted with architecture and everybody is a user of architecture. The architectural discourse is not confined to an academic and intellectual level. There is a large audience for architecture and giving it a voice is beneficial to the development of the field; on the one hand because of the insights this can throw up and on the other hand because it accelerates acceptance of the changing architectural culture.
Regarding architecture as a field and not only as a profession is a precondition for an intellectual discourse that respects different perspectives. The education of designers does not have to be central to the curriculum; the aim should be to educate professionals who can contribute significantly to the field of architecture. It is an education towards understanding the importance of architecture, towards taking responsibility in whatever position one later finds oneself, and towards collaborating creatively in a field that is in a constant state of development, stimulated by the changes in the manifold aspects of its global context. Some of this can be learned in design tasks, but there are other equally important learning processes. Occasions must be provided for sound theoretical work, for research, for explorations of new technologies, for the integration of social themes, and for inquiries regarding the validation of innovations so that architecture graduates will be equipped to take on the numerous important roles in the field of architecture.
Maia Engeli is Assistant Professor for Architecture and CAAD at the ETH Zurich and Head of the ETH World Center. Her field of specialization is Information Architecture.
‘Eventspaces – a multi-author game and design environment by Fabio Gramazio, Urs Hirschberg, Kerstin Höger, Michele Milano, Benjamin Stäger and the students of the 99/00 course.’