Architect? A candid guide to the profession

Lewis, R.L. Architect? A candid guide to the profession. London: The MIT Press, 1985

After almost twenty years practicing architecture and teaching, Lewis pragmatically describes the process of thinking about, becoming and practicing as an architect. An easy to read descriptor of the pros and cons of all aspects of the profession of architecture.

This book is an introduction to those contemplating the study of architecture; a guide for those already on the path, foreseeing the challenges of practice; and a chronicle to those already qualified that they are not alone in their experience of the process.

Lewis documents the realities of becoming an architect.  The negativities and potentials such that you enter the profession with your eyes open.  From the likelihood of being successful; to direction on choosing a college; understanding the different characters and roles of those involved in the construction process; and finally the personality types and stereotypes that an aspiring architect may evolve into.  Lewis presents an in-depth, extensive yet accessible read.



Ballard_High Rise

Ballard, J.G. High-Rise London: Fourth Estate, 1975

Ballard describes the dystopian descend of life in a ‘High-Rise’ apartment block.  A thousand apartments over forty levels comprise the luxury apartment block which stands two miles from the city centre of London.  The tenth floor is taken over completely by a supermarket, bank, hair salon, junior school, swimming pool and gymnasium.  There is a further restaurant, sauna and smaller swimming pool on the thirty-fifth floor.  We begin with one of the three main male heroes, Dr. Laing.  He has recently moved in to a studio apartment on the 25th floor of a forty-storey apartment block recently completed.  Life in the apartment block chosen for its progressive nature and the anonymity.  The glut of conveniences created a contained world with no need to leave its environs.  A microcosm onto itself.  The block quickly asserts its stratification of social classes according to the levels.  The lower storeys occupied by families, the middle to the professional classes, and the upper levels to the privileged upper classes with their pet dogs rather than children.  Another of the heroes Royal, the architect of the building lives on the top floor with his wife.  The third hero, Wilder, represents the lower levels and the attempt at social progression as signified by progression to the upper echelons of the block.

Petty grievances among inhabitants and the definite stratification of the block leads to divisions which quickly degenerate into anarchy.  Life is corrupted as the inhabitants of the High-Rise stray away from civilised society towards the satiation of base desires.  Ballard highlights the fragility of civilisation and how quickly it can be torn asunder from a network of innocuous sources.  The quick spiral and broad nature of the descent appears to illustrate have these thoughts and feelings are common to all of us.  At any time they may be brought to the fore if the conditions are ripe and the veneer of civilisation falls away.

Ballard was born in Shanghai in 1930.  Following the attack on Pearl Harbour, Ballard and his family were placed in a civilian concentration camp.  The descent of humanity to levels of depravity described in High-Rise is be drawn from his personal experience.  He describes his experience,

“Anyone who has experienced a war first hand knows that it completely overturns every conventional idea that makes up day-to-day reality.  It’s like walking away from a plane crash.”

Ballard describes how this incident during his formative years has given him a unique insight into human behaviour.  Seeing his parents stripped of all authority and people experiencing humiliation and fear with no end in sight.

The book presents a difficult image of apartment living and the devolution of civilised society.  The 1970’s was coloured by social unrest and disillusionment, coupled with a populist individualism and capitalist consumerism.  The oil embargo and fuel shortages of 1973, followed by blackouts and looting in New York in the summer of 1977 echo the happenings in High-Rise.  Bloody Sunday in 1972 saw the start of the Troubles in Northern of Ireland.  Meanwhile the Vietnam War was continuing with increased public opposition to United States involvement.  The social and political turmoil of the period marks Ballard’s novel not as science fiction but as a latent future for society.  Began as an optimistic new world the cosmos of the High-Rise descends quickly to a primordial brutalism.  A potential prognosis for the future.

Forty years after its publication, the book has been adapted for film under the direction of Ben Wheatley and was released in Ireland on 18th March 2016.

The Architect + Society

The role of the architect is to apply oneself to the needs and opportunities of the built environment.  Our education teaches us critical thinking.  This skill may be utilised to analyse the existing built environment or context, to determine the users’ needs and how best those needs may be met spatially.

Humans carry out their day-to-day activities in the built environment.  The physical environment bears witness to our life and physical experiences.  In this way, architecture has a significant influence on our lives, how we feel and how we interact with others.  Careful, thoughtful design is necessary to ensure that the architecture does not detrimental to our way of life.  As architects, this is our social responsibility.  Architecture has the potential to create better places.  Architects can have a positive impact on society.  Places may be made more civilised by making communities more liveable.

Our responsibility lies also to the environment.  Architects can raise awareness among the general public of critical social and environmental issues.  Our analytical skills, ability to see the larger picture and communicate succinctly can be utilised to the benefit of the greater community.  The built environment places high demands on resources, making up over 50% of European Union energy demands.  The consumption of resources needs to be carefully managed by the architect to ensure conscious, sustainable design.  A long-term view is required.  The architect has a responsibility not only to the client but for the greater good.  Taking into account the life-cycle of the building and adaptability of the design could ensure longevity and efficient resource use.  A building may survive many generations.  This may validate the high resource consumption of building but can only take place if adaptability is designed in.  Adaption and upgrading is more cost effective than demolition and re-construction.

The consequence of material choices in a build could be recognised by the architect.  Energy consumption is presently open to many pressures and will continue to be so based on population increase projections.  Security of energy supply could be designed into the building.  In addition, the conscious choice of local materials, and indigenous techniques and production can minimise the footprint of the build.  In its operation the building will require energy.  These levels may be moderated and minimised at design stage.  Also demonstrated clear links between resource source and consumption may explicitly reveal to users the impact of their patterns of behaviour and the consequent ecological footprint.  The architect could understand the impact of design decisions and choose sustainably whilst informing the general public to do so also.

Modern life is spend primarily indoors.  With humanity’s migration to cities we could become increasingly detached from the natural environment.  Close contact to nature has a considerable, positive effect on people.  We are a physical, tactile being.  The architect could mitigate against our withdrawal from nature by connecting people to nature.  Daily exposure to nature, even in small amounts, could improve our well-being.  The building moderates the environment for the dweller so that the space is protected from climate.  The building controls daylight, air, temperature and wetness.  The choice of material for the build will inform the internal environment and may produce emissions.

Designing buildings that enable and benefit the individual is crucial rather than creating spaces that inhibit or have a detrimental effective on people’s health or well-being.  According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, shelter, warmth, and security are imperative.  Only when these core needs are meet may be achieve our emotional and self-actualisation needs.  Architecture may act as an enabler.  It may meet both our core physical requirements, enable effective relations to others and provide the security to achieve self-fulfilment.  Consequently one may understand why there is a recent move to add the right to a home to our constitution.  The provision of housing and humanistic design has proved a key driver in my work for the Master of Architecture.

Group Work

There has been a strong emphasis on group work in the course, with it taking up 50% of the work.  This focus is pertinent considering the collaborative nature of the profession of architect.  The undertaking of a building project involves a number of strands of expertise.  Working within this structure it is imperative that the architect is receptive to this modus operandi.  Often the architect will work as project manager of the building process and this further emphasises the importance of the architect understanding the function of team-working and its effective management.

Teamwork may begin with a clear understanding of your role.  Group work is about each member carrying out their work to the best of their ability and working towards a common goal.  In the case if architecture, the project outcome and satisfaction of the client.  An effective team possesses trust and goal consensus.  A well-organised unit ensures coordination, clear communication and definitive decision making.

Coherent operation synthesises the skills of all the members and lead to a result greater than the individual parts.  Looking at the production outcomes of group work highlights this.  Individual work seems laborious and protracted in contrast.  Group working may also have an impetuousness that drives the work.  Brainstorming and collaboration in the creative process has an energy that may motivate the team members.  Individual established assumptions are challenged through the input of others.  This openness to ideas may result in unforeseen ideas and solutions.  New skills may also be learned by observing how your peers work.  In addition, strong relationships and respect can be forged through the drive towards a common goal.

There are many challenges to group work.  Traditionally the profession of architect is seen as a solitary one.  Yet the truth of the matter is that building projects require a synergy of skills working in concert.  The ‘star-chitect’ phenomenon and Ayn Rand highlight this.  Contrary to this is the Bauhaus school of thought that encourages collaboration.  Team mates may not be open to group working.  Perhaps it follows the old adage that “too many cooks spoil the broth”, in that too many designers may dilute the design coherence.  My experience has seen that it is difficult for people to take responsibility for their work and collaborate effectively.  Efforts may be made to ensure that all team members are involved and contribute.  It is difficult to perform your role in the team effectively whilst also carrying the weaker members.

An effective team needs to cultivate trust that all members will perform their responsibilities to their utmost.   Assigning accountability is necessary.  In this way each member may understand their role and responsibilities.  A leader may be necessary to drive on the work.  The potential for endless debate and discussion could be moderated to ensure work is carried out and the team does not underperform.  The potential for cross fertilisation of ideas and the rich base of expertise and skills may bring a great energy to team working.

Annual Thesis Symposium 2016



01 February, Aula Maxima, UCC, Cork

An insightful day into what is happening in the architecture schools of Ireland and the current processes and thinking behind recent theses.  The day saw twelve architecture masters graduants from the classes of 2014 describe their thesis projects.  There were representatives from University College Dublin (UCD), Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), Cork Centre of Architectural Education (CCAE), the School of Architecture University Limerick (SAUL) and Queens University Belfast (QUB).  I was most impressed by Alice Nickell’s presentation from Queens though all students gave enlightenments into how they were affected by the process of the thesis and valuable advice to those of us undertaking the work this year.

Some key lessons were to use the thesis as a means to identify how you work and your processes, with the objective being to document these processes so that others may understand them.  Alice describes how she created a book of architecture mentors and personal photographs that should could refer back to through the course of the work.  Having dimensioned drawings of precedents allowed her to understand the spatial moves of the architects work (Carlo Scarpa in this case) and this she found grounded her work.  Others described having what might be described as a ‘touchstone’ image that they could refer back to as a focus for the work.

Three stages were highlighted – place, process and building.  A number of students described how they would write and design simultaneously, with investigations being made through both means.  Ashling Byrne describes how she researched memory making and how to create a memory.  She wrote diary entries of her impressions of Prague, her chosen location.  Alice and Aisling both described how situating themselves in a city they were unfamiliar with helped because they had to dig to find the information.  Perhaps choosing a site that one is familiar with you fail to research deep enough or take the obvious for granted.  There was a thread through a couple of the works of the city, with references made to Kevin Lynch’s book The Image of the City (MIT Press, 1960).  Reference was made to bearing the final presentation in mind and have plans and ideas for its arrangement.

The day demonstrated different approaches and techniques to the development of the thesis – all valid.  There was model making, coding of information and its representation architecturally and graphically, and photographic collage visuals to name a few.  Overall the message was to use any or all techniques required to continually test your hypothesis.   The presentations also taught one how best to convey your strategy clearly to an audience who are unfamiliar with your work.  Many of the graduants were very articulate.  Overall I came away thinking that I could be more ambitious and experimental in my approach.  Also that I could dig deeper.  As Aisling Byrne said “I knew what my original idea was but I had to keep digging to find the thesis”.  The key note speaker, Marcos Cruz from the Barlett University College London, imparted that rather than being a process of recycling the thesis could be an opportunity to start something new – a new language or to learn new tools.  Ultimately Cruz state that your intuition is fundamental.  So trust that inner voice and prove to any dissenters that your approach is valid.  In this way a thorough demonstration of one’s process, illustrating comprehensive research and detailed work, may be key.

Thesis Symposium 2016