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Thinking Better of “Bad Architecture”

“To work in architecture you are so much involved with society, with politics, with bureaucrats. It’s a very complicated process to do large projects. You start to see the society, how it functions, how it works. Then you have a lot of criticism about how it works.” — Ai Weiwei

No one sets out to make bad architecture.

Yet it is indisputable that bad architecture is built every day.

The architects responsible for this sub-par work, would not consider themselves “bad architects”, instead it’s more likely they’re doing their best.

It’s easy to criticise, but not overly instructive. Instead of descent into call out culture, how might we constructively consider how “bad architecture” happens?

Some things to consider:
. First, get curious. Why is it bad? Why might the building be the way it is?
. When it comes to our work, we don’t all have the same priorities. Others may measure the quality of their work in profit, time/speed, ease of construction, durability, materiality, etc. It’s not necessarily wrong, just a different perspective of the world. If you’d had the same experience they’d had, if you believed the same things they believed, you’d likely have the same priorities.
. We can’t always produce our best work all the time. It may be that for no one particular reason this project got away and became something less than capable. It happens, for myriad reasons.
. They had insurmountable hurdles. These may include budget, client instructions, Council controls, Council direction, time limitations, etc.
. Variation in professional skills. Some designers/architects are simply not as skilled or knowledgable in design as others. It doesn’t mean they’re not doing their best work.
. Different world view. Those that delivered the building may consider it a fine work. Everyone discerns architecture slightly differently, there is very little that has universal appeal and recognition.
. The project was “inherited” and those that took it over didn’t have the knowledge or skill to realise as originally conceived.
. Could you be wrong?
. What else?

We can never see the full picture. So in consideration of all this what might we now see? That there is variation in architecture for all sorts of reasons. It’s a lumpy, misshapen pursuit. Many professionals working hard. Doing their best work and trying to maintain liquidity if not make a profit in a challenging industry.

Making things better by making better things is worthwhile. Call out culture does not make things better.

How then do we help make better architecture from all this? Legislation? Few architects appreciate the limitations legislation places on the creative side of the profession, although it may bring the bottom up. What if we took to time to find out why exactly bad architecture gets built?

So time to once again get curious. How might you help or more significantly how might this present an opportunity?

It’s likely that not all below is applicable but here’s some thoughts on making things better:
. Is there a business opportunity in this for your practice?
. Is there an opportunity to reach out to an architect, a developer, a Local Council responsible? How might you support them?
. Is it an opportunity to do some marketing by writing constructively about a particular project and illustrate your professional skills. It doesn’t need to be beautifully written, it could be dot points of where perhaps the project went awry and how it might be improved. Was there a better strategy for the site? Why? What value does it bring?
. Does the architect responsible do a lot of work? Maybe there’s the opportunity to collaborate and you can bring your design skills and insights to assist on their future projects.
. If it was Council’s controls that are at fault, it would be worthwhile reaching out to Council, the Councillors, the Planners, the GM and illustrate the consequences of their controls and how they may be amended to make them better. Offer your services or at least offer insights.
. Take the time to simply hone your own skills by reviewing the project, understanding what might have been possible on the site, how it might have been done instead, what might be a better way. In order to more fully ensure that you really understand it, explain it to someone else. It could be an opportunity to help teach others, to build client relationships, or simply to ensure you are building your own skills to do better work in the future.
. How might you be more generous?

To make better architecture, the profession needs to work together. No level of unconstructive criticism will assist in this pursuit.

Bringing empathetic insight, curiosity and a generous mindset is a good start in making architecture better.

Michael is the founder of unmeasured, supporting architects in their practice through coaching, workshops and community.

Helping architects find their desire lines in practice.

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels

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Michael Lewarne

Michael Lewarne

| Not inclined to stay inside the | lines.

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