One of the greatest fathers of modern architecture, Alvar Aalto, gained work experience under the architect Salervo who advised young Alvar that he would never make a good architect, but said ‘Go ahead and try becoming a newspaper editor’. As a young practicing architect my day is filled with some very exciting moments on the drawing table (frankly, …… on my computer), on site supervising construction, at clients and consultants meetings. 8 years since graduating from architecture school I have come to respect the importance of work experience. I am also left with absolutely no doubt that the whole idea of ‘experience’ is overrated.
I joined the construction industry with high expectations of the people who had gone before me and even though I have met some very brilliant minds, our industry has largely been nothing but disappointing. Some ‘senior’ members of the profession turned out to be mere cons, with absolutely no drive at all or even the ability to carry out good design. The problem is: these are the people building everything in town!. Just look at the newest not so inspiring buildings in town: their recognized ‘architects’ seem to have one common qualification: 20, 30, 40 years of experience.
We all know of the great American architect Louis Khan who only made his mark at 50 leading many to believe that architecture begins at that age but the idea of me waiting to age 50 years in order to design the best building in town seems absurd. Sadly the fact is: my colleagues, very brilliant minds by the way, venturing on their own in their 30s seem to be building only for the ‘Mpesa clients’.
In the so called developed word things have not been any different:In the 1980s, 7 percent of France’s 13,000 architects were in charge of 90 percent of the nation’s building design — a statistic which may help to explain why young firms are building very little.
A recent UK’s RIBA survey (see http://www.bdonline.co.uk/) show that 53% of the surveyed practices are “micro”, employing 10% of the total staff. 23% are “small”. A further 20% are in the mid-range of between 10 and 50 staff, with only 3% being “large”, but employing 40% of all the staff. This is the first conundrum: most practices are tiny, but most of the profession is employed by a few very large practices.The surveyed practices have a combined income of £1.58bn. Almost 50% of this is earned by the 3% of large firms. Micro and small practices, which make up more than three quarters of the total, account for only 17% of this income.
One of the reasons for this exclusivity in our profession is the ‘approval’ procedure developers, both private and government, use to select their architects. An architect is retained only if they are recognized from their previous work, enjoying an almost exclusive position even though his work may be only signing work done by employees.
Competitions among architects must be made obligatory whenever possible to allow for fairness in our industry. This will, without any doubt, lead to fresh ideas. In addition, all architectural work documentation (drawings etc) should recognize the efforts of all those involved in the work, the young included. This way, young architects who are serious about their intentions in the profession will always have something to build on.
Whichever part of the profession’s ‘age pyramid’ you lie, we all must be client focused and run efficient businesses, maintaining professional integrity and standards. All architects must not only strive for good design but should also promote the value of architecture in the region, and this I strongly believe must always include encouraging young professionals to take the lead.
The author, Eric Loki is a practicing architect in Kenya.