What is a Designer's Job // Devin Brown
The Architecture industry is growing as a result of a growth in construction coinciding with advances in technology. There is a predicted 17.3 percent employment growth within the architecture profession in the next seven years according to US News. There also seems to be a general increase in public interest regarding design and architectural services, with books, magazines, and websites on design becoming more numerous and viewed in greater numbers. Archdaily.com for example receives 1.7 million views per day. With this increased interest comes increased expectations from the public. In consideration of this increased attention and growth, the impression of the current profession is seemingly healthy and strong, but there are clear growing pains. Certain questions have arisen: we know that design is growing quantitatively, but is it growing qualitatively as well? Can designers really do what the public and the administrators expect them to be capable of?
For a long time design was rooted in engineering, printing, typography, and material skills like metal fabrication, woodworking, and ceramics. Designers had a good handle on material properties and industrial processes. Today, with the digitization of our workflow and increasing dependence on computers most designers have little grasp on true craftsmanship. Can designers truly create quality products and spaces if they don’t have knowledge of specific materials, crafts or methods needed to create them?
It is difficult to say with definitive proof which skills are needed to develop quality designs. Without craftsmanship skills emphasis is moved away from the physical tectonics of a design and placed on to the conceptual ideas and images propelling the design. A resulting issue of conceptual design that has become apparent is that projects are often being distributed, and critiqued on their screen appearance alone. People buy products or designs based on their two dimensional qualities. As a result screen and photographic representation is what ultimately counts. Sections, plans, sketches and literature are becoming rare as communication tools. Models and 3D prototypes are playing a smaller role because you can’t send them instantaneously. Design as a holistic profession that touches on all skills and senses it is being reduced to a shallow demand for sexy imagery.
However, because of the design-build shift in the architecture profession there is a slight rise and return to hands-on craftsmanship. Architect-led design-build firms place importance on material handling and fabrication methods. The information gained during the design build processes helps designers by educating them, which in turn helps them make more informed decisions about a design and its assembly. Mockups and models become more important to a project in order to fully understand the construction and influence of a project. Detailing the project is now just as important as sexy imagery. The designer now has to answer the questions that come outside of a digital setting: can I fabricate this, will the structure last, and what material can be used in the situation. These types of designers truly understand their profession and what it means to design something that has meaning and tactility.
The design professions may or may not find a good medium between digital and physical designing. With 3D printing on the rise and other digital means of fabrication, designers can make virtually anything they can think of or sometimes things they haven’t thought of. Perhaps the definition of architect may change in the future, only calling upon them for the concept and aesthetics of a structure and letting other professions handle the tectonics of the project.
Written by Devin Brown