Practice 2.0: Dear Architecture school, please tell us it is ok to do this

Image source: Treehugger

by Federico Negro

It seems as though a week doesn’t go by these days without someone asking me if I miss design…

Two and a half years ago I made the decision to leave the traditional path, and cross over to the dark side. I became a consultant (cut to dark stormy clouds and lightning). A technology consultant nonetheless… As such, my contributions to Practice 2.0 will focus on the impact of technology on issues of management during the latter stages of building design and construction.

Since then I’ve had the privilege, the luck even, to sit across the table from designers working for some of the biggest names in building design, engineering and construction both in New York and beyond. I’ve reviewed innumerable sets of diligently constructed documents and building models. I’ve crossed paths with many fascinating designers creating real impact through their work. And most importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside many brilliant young professionals, a few of which will no doubt lead the New York design scene in the coming years…

More after the break.

If there is one thing that I can tell you about me is that I love buildings (noun) and I love building (verb) and I’m entrenched in the process making buildings every day. How will this be built and how can technology help? …are the central questions concerning my daily work.

So why am I still being asked if I miss design? Why did I have a sense of guilt when leaving the architecture office to focus on what I thought would be a challenging and rewarding path? Was I not being true to the ideals that attracted me to the profession to begin with?

In her upcoming article for Harvard Design Magazine, GSD Prof. Danielle Etzler stipulates that “If our best and our brightest recent graduates applied themselves to the project of building not only through the offices of architects but also through employment with our government, clients, construction managers, and consultants, in a single generation we would increase the quality of our built environment and instill values that establish architecture as an irreplaceable cultural currency. [...] If we can imagine that we wouldn’t stop being architects by taking jobs wherever we can influence decisions related to buildings, our influence would grow exponentially.” (Danielle Etzler, Harvard Design Magazine #34, Spring 2011)

Considering the challenges facing the built environment in the coming years and decades then, it seems logical that good, high-level spatial thinkers and managers be in demand to fill positions of influence alongside building scientists, urban planners, etc… But the range of specialized knowledge needed to tackle problems like building performance and process inefficiency is vast and often misunderstood.

We must then, be excited about the possibilities of such pursuits and encourage young architects to pursue them without remorse if we are to impact the built environment at a large scale (as it is needed). What’s more, the construction industry has failed to keep up with increased productivity of other industrial sectors over the past five decades (Link, link, and link). Though there are many reasons for this, our industry’s relationship with technology is singled out as one of the main causes. Why have we been so quick to dismiss it?

This should scream out to us as professionals and to the academy as an immense opportunity, considering the technological advances of other industries over the same period (PCs, the internet, and Quadrocopters). So, while some focus on ‘regaining’ some romantic notion of control, we should instead realize that architects already have incredible power. The power to determine a vision, to set a path, to influence, to build teams, to specify, to solve problems, to lead.. We just need to be shown that not only is it ok to pursue these opportunities, it is also our responsibility.

In addition, those who focus on building information, energy, systems integration, constructability, simulation and other model-based fields should continue to see high demand (even in the midst of continued bad billings news). Architects with these skills are uniquely positioned to lead teams of experts that will not only work alongside those in traditional roles, but will also no doubt create a new class of building industry entrepreneurs unbound by traditional rules of practice.

So no, I don’t miss design. I don’t miss it because I don’t believe I ever left it. Segregating the processes that go into getting something built from what seems to be the commonplace definition of design will only continue to produce un-integrated buildings. These will do little to give architects their much deserved voice amongst those who will define the future of our built environment.

If you have examples of schools, people, companies, or communities that are creating new opportunities and expanding our business reach while providing a much needed service / product and are using technology to do so, please let us know – we’d love to hear it…

Cite: CASE, CASE. "Practice 2.0: Dear Architecture school, please tell us it is ok to do this" 31 May 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 17 Sep 2014. <>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Bravo. The route to a more valuable concept of architecture from the consumer populace is dependent on diversification of talent across the delivery of the architectural object. Its a renaissance approach, one that should be encouraged at every level…

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    I think the whole direction of architecture in terms of design is going into abyss. Society has no principles that could prop up a good arch. theory. Architecture is now an industry, so whenever you find your niche, try to enjoy your life and also as soon as you dump the archi-ego that you’re some sort of god, your life and design will become better. We’re brainwashed at schools big time. Architecture is not an illusion.

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    Brilliant. MORE of this PLEASE – and directed at the education system in particular. We must attempt to infiltrate traditional architectural training with this common sense and practical way of thinking, opening students eyes to the full spectrum of professional possibilities/career opportunities, and showing that the potential for glory lies in so many more disciplines and areas of the profession than most schools would have you think.

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    Ultimately we will see a fusion between technology, process and design as I believe as resources decrease, capital and operational costs increase. Therefore it will simply become unprofitable not to promote total integration to achieve efficiency at every level, and sadly that is when things will start to change. It’s wonderful to believe through education young graduates will leave university full of ideals. But these are quickly snuffed out by the bottom line. Pessimistic maybe, but sadly true.

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    Ultimately there will be a fusion between technology, process and design. As resources decline, capital and operational costs will increase. Therefore it will be simply unprofitable to not promote total integration to achieve efficiency on every level. And sadly these days that bottom line is all that counts.

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    Without people solving key challenges such as process and implementation, the industry would have never made it to what it is today. Nice Article, and hell yes it is OK to do this and we hope you keep doing it!

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    Great post – it seems all too rare that this perspective comes from outside the field of building science, which is the field I work in. We are constantly frustrated by traditional building design education. There seems to be disproportionate focus on the appearance of the exterior of the building, which is one of the least important things wrt a building being comfortable, efficient, and easy to use. Efficient and smart facade design is necessary for the comfort of occupants and often determines if the HVAC works properly as well. Unfortunately a high glazing ratio almost guarantees poor performance in both of these areas, yet it is favored by architects. That’s just one example where traditional design education misses the mark.

    As far as the inquiry at the end, I’d like to mention my group – Center For the Built Environment at UC Berkeley. Our areas of interest are advanced HVAC systems, occupant comfort and personal area controls, post occupancy survey, and wireless sensing, among others. We have a large list of industry partners, establishing a much needed line of communication between industry and academia. They fund and often influence the path of our research. Many of the students that participate in our research come from design backgrounds, and many come from engineering backgrounds. Whats so great about this structure is that our ideas have so much industry reach, and students have ample opportunity to get involved. One of our missions is to positively influence the a&e industry, and your post hit it right on the mark.

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    Agreed that architects need to position themselves in roles of influence. I find it odd though that you did not say anything about architects going into development. Imagine if a large percentage of developers were from a previously architectural background. this would have a much larger impact than merely becoming one of the consultants that will be hired by who else but the developer. Somewhere in history the disconnect from master builder to developer and architect occured. To me this makes no sense, the only way to have real influence over the built environment is to be in control of projects, which currently architects do not have in any kind of real way.

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    Thanks all for the great comments.

    @Tyler would love to learn more about the Center at Berkeley. We’re actually in SF often and would love to stop by. You can write me at f.negro at . Look forward to it.

    @Smirza, you’re totally right. Development is a big field in all of this with a bit potential for impact. I’m currently doing some research on that side of things and am planning on writing an upcoming article on it. Any further input would be great, thanks!

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    I couldn’t agree more! It is imperative that we as young professionals push the traditional envelope and embrace technology and other “non-traditional” aspects that many may not consider architecture or design. It is only through this that we can expand and truly push forward and engage society. Many young firms have diverse personnel ranging from computer engineers, artists, film makers, contractors, etc. It is these firms that are often at the forefront of our profession.

    We need more people to embrace this way of thinking.

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    Interesting article. What you describe sounds like what a lot of principles of design firms do, though they definitely don’t think of themselves as “leaving design” either.

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