Although architecture itself is universal, the day-to-day practice still varies across the world, influenced by a wide range of factors, from the professional requirements and responsibilities of an architect, the local environment, history and building customs, to local priorities and challenges. In a hyper-connected world, where architecture seems to become more uniform, how do local contexts and characteristics shape the built environment? This article taps into the commonalities and the variations within the architecture profession.
Sharing a similar educational background and the tools to understand the cultural, historical and geographical context they operate in, architects work in all parts of the world, producing exemplary architecture in highly diverse contexts. Globalization and the fast dissemination of information have made architecture increasingly international. However, the diversity of contexts and built environments make for a heterogeneous architecture practice, where global challenges are addressed in particular manners at the local level, and architects face different sets of priorities. Here at ArchDaily, our editors and contributors are located worldwide, and the following answers to a series of questions represent their insight into the architectural profession in the countries they reside in.
The Educational Background and the Profession
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Architects worldwide share a similar education, marked by the same references and values, with a degree of variation between a theoretical or a technical focus. While professional requirements differ from country to country, a commonality across architecture education is the discrepancy between academia and the actual practice, lamented by Archdaily's readership, editorial team and renowned architects. In Europe, similar to the art world, architecture teaching focuses on its Western history and development, underplaying the significant figures outside of this range. An integrated construction market and increased workforce and student mobility between countries, as well as steps taken by the EU towards standardisation, are shaping a shared experience within architecture education and the practice, with The Architects' Council of Europe periodically delivering a comprehensive analysis of the profession across Europe.
What is the primary focus of architecture education in your country, and what are architects' responsibilities?
Antonia (Chile): Architecture in Chile used to be a very elitist profession, and in some institutions, the focus of education is still designing extraordinary architecture disregarding the resources.
Fernanda (Chile): I think we are facing a moment in which more people are aware that architecture goes beyond just building and construction and that there are many ways of producing and delivering architecture. Fifteen years ago, the architect was taught mainly as a conceptual thinker. Still, today's education in architecture is also focused on how an architect can contribute to society in politics, communication media, education, and entrepreneurship.
Christele (Lebanon): Architecture Education in Lebanon is quite diverse, in my opinion, even though it doesn't cover all contemporary and present-day aspects of the field. Inspired at first by the teachings of the French Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the profession faced many hurdles throughout the years, especially with the rise of Engineers that "architect".
Hana (Lebanon): [on the architect as draftperson] Unfortunately, in many cases, not enough site visits and inspections are accomplished, leaving it to the Project Manager or Contractor to proceed with material specifications.
Kaley (United States): [choosing a specific career path] creates a huge gap between academia and the practice of architecture. Upon graduation, students are often surprised by what the day-to-day job entails.
Eduardo (Brazil): The architect is restricted to a tiny audience, working mainly on residential or corporate projects. And as the fees are low, the architect usually develops the project into an executive project (very little detailed). Builders or engineers usually run the construction site.
Fabian (Argentina): In general, there is a tendency to focus more on the design of the form, with a critical look and not so restrictive with the technical resolutions. There is usually a huge gap between academia and the professional world.
The local challenges
Architects are faced with global challenges such as rapid urbanization, climate change and inequality. However, each region addresses these issues and other local ones in a specific way that stems from a particular history or economic development. Across Europe, the different cultural backgrounds and levels of economic development have created a huge gap in how countries address and prioritise climate change; therefore, The New European Bauhaus initiative aims to create a unified approach and provide all EU countries with the means to implement carbon neutrality. In Eastern Europe, the Socialist era's large-scale architecture and urban spaces still constitute a challenging legacy, at odds with contemporary urban environments and the values shaping cities today.
What pressing issue related to the built environment is often discussed in your country? How are architects addressing it?
Antonia (Chile): In Chile, it’s related to urban planning and market regulations, involving different challenges such as limiting urban sprawl. Today, architects are getting more involved in public discussion motivated by the current political climate.
Fernanda (Chile): We discuss the quality (and dignity) of social housing, the density of the city centre buildings, and the lack of public space and parks. In 2019, a group of young architects made the social housing issue visible with an interesting intervention in the center of the social manifestations, drawing in 1:1 scale the floor plans of different “nano apartments” that have been very polemic due to their high prices and lack of dignity.
Christele (Lebanon): The idea of context is very important, especially in the case of Lebanon. Construction laws have generated typical and identical structures that don’t consider integration, site or fabric. Not flexible and standard for the country's entirety, they don’t differentiate between the rural and the urban, or the historical and the contemporary etc. Coupled with a complete absence of master plans and visions and with sacred development rights, they are primarily responsible for destroying architectural gems and eradicating traditional urban and social fabrics.
Kaley (United States): There are two big pressures that we face currently. One has to do with how we can design more equitable cities, and create designs that provide opportunities for lesser served communities, and the other is how we can design in a way that reduces our carbon footprint and mitigate our impact on climate change.
Dima (Switzerland): Definitely renewable energy. It is a nationwide subject that is being tackled in all sorts of projects. Most companies have a plan of becoming 100% green by 2050.
Eduardo (Brazil): Much has been said about technical assistance for low-income families. That is, the government can pay the architect to design a renovation or new building for a family in need. In other words, the main thing is to increase the field of action.
Fabian (Argentina): Access to housing and the urbanization of informal settlements are always in the focus of the discussion, being approached mainly from the academy and often used as a promise in political campaigns. In any case, the debate lately is turning towards other aspects of the global challenges of the economic and environmental crisis.
How Local Context Shapes Architecture
However universal is the contemporary architecture language, local environment, culture and history still play a crucial role in shaping the built environment. The Socialist past of Eastern European countries has left behind a lack of investment in public buildings and urban spaces, which restricted the work of architects to housing projects and commercial developments. However, a series of competitions and internationally acclaimed projects are opening up a new series of possibilities for local architects.
What is a local characteristic that plays an important role in shaping the architecture in your country?
Antonia (Chile): Probably the diversity of landscapes in Chile is the most important factor in its world-famous architecture.
Christele (Lebanon): Cultural heritage, history, local know-how and societal ways of living play an essential role in shaping the Lebanese built environment. These characteristics (with many others) should be incorporated in every conceptual architectural process to generate an integrated architecture that looks like its people, tells their stories, reacts to the surroundings and is part of the narrative.
Hana (Lebanon): There are many spatial and regulatory constraints that tend to shape architecture in Lebanon. Unfortunately, the need to utilize as much of the space as you can afford is becoming a recurrent trend in the city. Still, some very interesting endeavors focus on the rehabilitation and restoration of heritage buildings and stone houses.
Kaley (United States): It’s interesting because there is no “American” style; we are historically a country that borrowed from others and reused that exactly as it is or invented it in a new way. Right now, we are interested in building better, taller, and faster, and it’s created a proliferation of supertall skyscrapers (at least in NYC) because many projects are funded privately through developers.
Dima (Switzerland): clean lines are the go-to style. Each canton sets its own architecture rules and requirements, so architects can’t create over-the-top projects or experiment with geometry. If I were to describe Swiss architecture briefly, I would say functionality and human needs come first.
Eduardo (Brazil): Brazil is so big that it is challenging to generalize anything. We have a prevalence of the so-called Escola Paulista when we see a few public design competitions or larger constructions.
Fabian (Argentina): The regulation historically had a fundamental role in shaping the architecture of Argentina, which gave rise to orderly cities such as La Plata, or the case of the current city of Buenos Aires, which is among the 20 most populated cities in the world.