What lies ahead for architects in 2022 in our constantly changing and transitioning world? Architecture has shaped history and defined societies since the dawn of humanity. Architects were and still are, looked upon as those who design and plan the world where we live, work and play. Civilizations have risen and fallen but they do not entirely fade or disappear from existence because their architecture lives to tell their story.
Architecture serves as the expression, the visual proof, of mankind’s progress and the advancement of technology through centuries. It represents the thoughts, emotions and values defined throughout history.
Architecture bridges the line between science and art, and between the practical and the unconventional. There are always challenges that architects have to deal with in a complex and ever-changing world.
Some of the major challenges that architects will face in 2022 and beyond include:
Digital age transistion
Increasing numbers of people in the Z- Generation and the Millennial Generation are entering the world of architecture and there sometimes appears to be a growing rift between them and the previous Baby Boomer and the X-Generation of architects. This difference of opinion appears to be a result of the seeming unwillingness and resentment on either side to acknowledge, communicate and work with the other. On one hand, it’s the reluctance of the older generation to readily part with or share their years of experience with the younger generations. On the other, the digital generation is unaware of the value that they can gain from the experience and relationships fostered by those who were here before them.
Architects of all ages need to find common ground: the Baby Boomers and Gen-X’ers carry a wealth of knowledge and experience that can only be augmented and supplemented by skills that Millennials and Gen-Z contribute.
Hardware & software evolution
Technology has advanced at an exponential pace, accelerated by the pandemic. Architectural firms have to do their best to stay on top of everything or risk losing market share. And new hardware and design tools require extensive training and periods of transitions and adjustment before they can be used effectively both in the office and at the construction sites.
The advent of the mobile age has brought an influx of architecture apps for drawing, project management and design. Firms, particularly older ones, will have to come to grips with these to be able to withstand competition.
Procurement processes for professional services
Major changes such as land shortage, regulatory restrictions and increased competition can limit an architect’s influence. And at times local architects may find themselves losing their clients to other third-party firms. The limits placed by time and budgetary concerns lead to procurement processes that can be risky since no time or not enough time is spent on carefully researching and evaluating options before arriving at a final solution.
Steps need to be taken to ensure that local architectural firms understand the changing needs of clients, and are able to convey their value to their clients effectively and strive to gain an advantage over other procured firms.
Consolidation of architectural firms
Most major design firms have been formed as a result of a consolidation of multiple services and markets. This has enabled those firms to capture and control new markets and domains because the acquisition has met their need for diverse skillsets and expertise. This in turn has led to the formation of in-house teams for those skillsets. Development firms may also develop their own in-house architectural design teams.
Therefore, standalone architectural companies in these markets run the risk of losing out to these larger firms. Local architectural firms need to be more agile and strategic by honing and increasing the quality and effectiveness of their own services and expertise. This also could lead to acquisitions by bigger firms in the future.
Contractors as teammates early in process
Architects assume the lead design role in any project with the responsibility of ensuring that their client’s program of work is fulfilled and that the quality of the design is maintained throughout the project. Architects generate the initial design of the building with virtual building modeling and then progressively integrate sub-contractor designs and ideas.
Today it is becoming more common to have contractors and subcontractors involved in the process far earlier than in the past, especially with procurement package methods that include Integrated Project Delivery and Design/Build models. Therefore, there is a growing need for architects to strongly and effectively establish their role and influence in the project from the outset.
Additionally, the earlier involvement of contractors in a design project through procurement processes requires that the client’s program of work is articulate and that the client is actively involved throughout the building process. Therefore, architects need to work diligently with their clients to produce a program of work that is flexible and robust, before beginning any work.
Challenges turned into opportunities
The challenges present in today’s world of architecture are not insurmountable. Solutions and policies need to be put in place to ensure the smooth transition from the old to the new without alienating any parties, and to ensure that architects have a well thought out and developed strategy and plan to promote and expand their own services. Changes that will benefit the architects, clients and contractors need to be developed and implemented to respond to existing risky procurement processes.
Architects will deal with these challenges as well as others that will arise. The one constant challenge for architects throughout the ages is to keep up with trends in such a way that they can offer something new before it has passed them by.
I leave you with this thought:
“The present is the ever-moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow. In that lies hope.” Frank Lloyd Wright.
Glenn Ebersole is a registered professional engineer and the Director of Business Development at JL Architects, a nationally licensed commercial architecture firm based in West Chester, PA. He can be contacted at [email protected] or 717-575-8572.