If architecture is the answer what was the question?

Curious about the title?

I’m curious about the questions being posed by the architecture profession.

I‘m uneasy about the profession’s inclination to answer questions that they alone are asking (or assume). Seduced by opportunity, they find answers in a new unsolicited building or idea. An emergency shelter, a better tiny home, a design for some or other public building or space, and so on. It’s not irrelevant, the thing is that people from the broader community have different questions, needs or values. In not asking or identifying the same questions, needs or values, architects fail to bring along the public by providing answers or starting conversations that resonate. It speaks to something Rahul Mehrotra noted at the National Architecture Conference a couple of years ago: “As architects we face a complete misalignment [between] our sphere of concern [and] our sphere of influence.”

Let’s consider McMansions as an example. If they’re the answer then what was the question? The sheer number of McMansions suggests that they’re the answer for a lot of people. It might then be worthwhile considering what the the question was that McMansions answer before proposing answers to a different question — it’s likely to be the wrong answer to the original question. While it’s fair to say there are issues with McMansions, this does not necessarily invalidate a (re)consideration of the original questions (or needs). It’s worthwhile understanding the questions being posed, prior to proposing answers to questions no-one is asking.

I’m curious if the architecture profession was to spend some time listening to what is being asked and discussed how they might be better place to contribute. What are the questions behind the questions? What are people asking for? What do they value? We’re often able to begin to shift the conversation by drilling down and interrogating the original questions and desires in a way we’re unable when simply proposing our own answers and values.

Change doesn’t start with answers it starts by asking the right questions.

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” — Naguib Mahfouz

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