On 1 December 2012 Alston Murphy was officially twenty years old and I’ve been having a few of those, ‘where did all the years go?’ moments recently, as I look back to when I started up on my own. It was during a recession, as I recall, the second one I’d experienced in my working life.
Of course, there have been a lot of changes in all those years, not least the emergence of more rules and regulations in the industry, many of which have raised standards and expectations, as a whole, and many which seem to have no intrinsic value, whatsoever! (In my opinion!) Certainly, the Architect’s role is changing and evolving and Architects, themselves, need to take more control of where their responsibilities are heading. It’s probably the same with every profession, but the paperwork seems to be never ending: forms, copies of forms, applications, copies of applications, warranties, copies of… (Where’s the ‘paperless society’?)
With so much correspondence now sent by email, technology has certainly impacted on formal, posted letter writing, with the result that Architects have more basic admin to do every day, rather than being able to get on with their actual job. And, of course, the convenience and immediacy of the email creates the problem of ‘immediacy’ and ‘convenience’! A Client or a Contractor might ask us to forward existing information to a third party, the implication being that because this will be by email it will simply require a quick click of ‘send’ and it’s done. A mere minute of time. No consideration is given to the fact that information might have to be gathered from different sources, extracted from other filed emails, edited for relevance and then compiled into the ‘quick email’ requested. Needless to say, you’ll probably have had a couple of emails chasing your response in the time it’s taking you to compose your reply! Everything is urgent; everything needs an answer – now. I could spend my day just replying to emails and forwarding information without once having time to look at a drawing or discuss it with a colleague or come up with a solution or an idea. Crazy.
Computers have clearly made their impact in our industry and, frankly, allowed – maybe even forced – the profession to survive in a low fee arena. I don’t think Clients fully appreciate the quality of an Architect’s input and, as a profession, we have failed to ensure our status is respected as much as it should be. Twenty years ago so much more emphasis was on a relationship of trust between everyone involved in a job; fee agreements were simple documents – if they were there at all! Alterations to plans were sketched out roughly – with a pencil and paper – and the Contractor got on with the construction. No monitoring, no Bank officials, just a lot of common sense and cooperation. Sometimes it feels that all the methods we’re developing to provide the holy grail of ‘accountability’ are counter-productive and simply undermining something that should be a lot more straightforward. And, more damagingly, often doing a lot to erode trust and confidence both in and between all the professionals who know what they’re doing – because that’s their job. It’s frustrating, to say the least, but I suspect the next ten years will produce as much change as my last twenty years have and will be quite a challenge for the new and younger protagonists.
Yet, despite my nostalgia for a simpler time, I still love going to work every day: I love the challenges, I love meeting people, I love solving a problem, I love creating. Frank Lloyd Wright and Norman Foster were producing some of their best work in their seventies, so I’m pretty excited about what could be in store for me in the next decade (or so!). I’ve got my trusty pencil and paper ready…. (Which, incidentally, never crash!)