February 15, 2013

Advocating for Change

Design Quarterly

Written by: Peter Streith, Principal, Kasian Edmonton

An architect as an advocate is a combination that is not commonly discussed in today’s service-orientated society. The lacking in the Canadian contexts, and our role as leaders in our communities, advocating for the way we should live, work and develop the built environment is falling behind that of other countries around the world.

In the current procurement methodology where the emphasis is placed on a team’s experience on similar type projects and with a significant percentage of the evaluation criterion on fees, the focus of the selection is not on the designer ability to innovatively create solutions that go beyond the strictly functional requirements of the project. Various institutions are now looking at Value Based procurement models in an attempt to focus more of the evaluation on the consultant team’s ability to identify the risks associated with a proposed project, which will hopefully translate into a more effective design solution. Some jurisdictions have utilized design competitions for culturally significant projects, a method which has the potential to heighten the awareness of de-sign related issues in the general population. However, additional discussion and debate needs to ensue to further advance awareness of the potential impact that design has on the local community.

Architects and designers will continue to marginalize our profession by not focusing on the critical issues that face our communities, both on a local and global perspective. Sus-in today’s discussions regarding the design and construction of buildings, and in addition the general public’s understanding of the impact that buildings have on the environment, both from an energy and material consumption perspective, has greatly increased. Our roles as architects and builders need to also focus on educating our communities on the value of great design and how buildings have the ability to foster connections within the local community and re-engage with the surrounding environment.

As with other jurisdictions around the world, architects are privileged to have a protected scope of practice, with the duty to first and foremost protect the public good. It is therefore our responsibility to further develop the culture of design in our respective communities through education and the development of great architecture. For example we need to reverse the environmental disengagement that current designs have created by fully eliminating the thought process in adapting our spatial conditions. Designers have utilized technology in an attempt to reduce energy use, but have eliminated the user’s thought process in when and where they use energy.

Designers are inadvertently conditioning the occupants of their buildings not to think about their surrounding environments, allowing the building systems to automatically adapt the lighting levels as the natural environment changes. This and other such design choices, such as fixed vs. operable windows, and the ubiquitous use of motion sensors needs to be carefully considered to ensure the intended value is achieved and not a further desensitization of the building inhabitants.

Despite an increase in the use of the integrated design process, each of the building systems must be challenged to optimize its effectiveness on a holistic perspective, and not just accepting the status quo. For the sake of expediency standard design options are typically suggested to meet project schedule and budgets, instead of fully integrating each of the building systems in a fine balance. Our role as architects must be strengthened in the facilitation and coordination of the design process, thereby effectively engaging all of the required stakeholders on a focused vision and never losing sight of the opportunity that our designs have to enhance not only the occupants of our design but also the communities in which they are located.

Our true value as architects lies in our ability to be thought leaders, advocating for the way in which we should live and work. By using designs to enhance the way we live and work through creative environments and places that inspire people, we can foster connections to the local community, while reducing our impact on the global environment and enhancing our appreciation for the world in which we live. We as designers and architects must remain passionate about our profession and should not be afraid of advocating for change.

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Peter Streith is a principal at the Edmonton office of Kasian Architecture Interior De-sign and Planning. He is the current president of the Alberta Association of Architects (2072-2013) and chair of the International Relation Committee fir CA LA (Canadian Architectural Licensing Association).