Post by Silvia Soonets [Proyectos Arqui 5] on Caracas
It makes me unhappy, but we have to admit that we architects have a very limited impact in the built environment. It is known how little of the buildings had an architect involved in its construction or design process: not more than 3%.
For more than a while, I have been wondering if there is something that can be done to reverse those numbers. Yes, even recognizing that people knows a lot about how to build, and appreciating the value of vernacular construction, I firmly believe we professionals are needed. It is clear, however, that we need to change, both the kind of projects we do and the ways we work.
It seems that I am not alone. While writing this post, I received the last two, published by our newest collaborators, both pondering about the role of architects. “This has led me to question my role as an architect in a rapidly urbanizing society” said Tal Sustiel. And Anna Wachtmeister finished hers: “Urban informality provides ingenuous solutions and yet there exists a great divide between the formal and the informal, between the formal architect and the inhabitant of a slum. We need to break down that divide, get to know each other and make progress together.”
“How to break the divide?
Some of the initiatives that aim to bring architects near the people are based on pro bono services and voluntary work. The most famous is probably Architecture for Humanity, and I like very much the work of The One percent. Techo, as Tal explained, also depends on unpaid work, although its goals have more to do with alleviate poverty than with provide design services. These organizations have an important role, bringing awareness about pressing problems, providing opportunities for young professionals, and helping communities in need. Is in this last respect where I think they fall short, as many times the necessity for good design do not comes from communities but individuals, who’s needs are not interesting as design opportunities but just hard plain work. Sometimes it seems voluntaries got more than the receivers in terms of stimulating work and gratification.
A different approach is represented by Arcbazar. Here the objective is to connect designers with people who need their services but do not know how to contact adequate professionals. I share their goal, and I like the idea of helping clients to articulate their needs. There is an educational side of this proposal that I believe is very useful and essential. But to have designers working for fees decided by clients, and in most cases giving away ideas for nothing, is detrimental for architecture professionals, even offensive. They claims some resemblance with architecture competitions, but unlike them, this system offer neither interesting problems to solve nor honor for the winners.
We have also collaborated in programs where the agency leading the project hires professionals as advisors for individuals. One example is in an old post Architecture vs. Politics: Is it possible for them to agree?. There we worked with the end users, but as we were giving advice nobody asked for, it was not surprising it was not appreciated.
After have studied all these proposals, we decide to launch our own,Architecture for the 99%.
Inspired on the ideas of the Argentinean architect Rodolfo Livingston and his method “Arquitectos de Familia”(Family Architects), we trust that a well-structured process would allow us to solve many spatial problems in short time, making architectural services affordable. Different to his system, we hope technology would make us very efficient. Unlike the pro bono initiatives, we charge for our services, and we target individual clients. Our fees are lower than the ones generally offered in Arcbazar, but we always got paid.
Recognizing the need of information about what the architects do, our site is organized as a blog with examples of how can we be valuable. It does not matter how well-off the client is, or how interesting the design challenge could be, we hope to reach almost anyone, to the 99%.
I have no idea if this is going to work, if this is or not a step to fulfil my dream of architects as useful beings dedicated to serve every one.
Because of that we need feedback. What do you think?