Upsetting the Axioms of Architecture

It's easier to maintain assumptions than challenge them. What might architects miss in doing so?

The practice of architecture is predicated on a level of critical thinking in order to advance the quality of the work. Questioning if a building achieves the standards we hold to be of importance, such as environmental standards, aesthetic, commodity firmness delight, standards of economy, and so on? There is no correct standard and they’re ever changing. All are fair game in critical consideration. Yet the profession is less often concerned with appraising itself more critically.

Critical thinking requires either move from assumptions known to be indisputably true (that’s deductive reasoning), or alternately starting at truth and moving towards identifying assumptions (inductive reasoning). Assumptions are central in both approaches to critical thinking. They regularly escape our attention, however, because it’s easier and often less scary to maintain an assumption than to challenge it.

When a client approaches an architect, for example, it is assumed by both parties, that the clients want either a new building or alterations and/or additions to an existing building. If we were to step back for a moment and let go of that assumption, things might be a little different. The client has a need to be satisfied, this might be about more space, more rooms, better utility and so on. Their first assumption is that this can only be achieved through building. When the architects are approached, their immediate assumption, is that the clients needs a built design solution. Neither are necessarily wrong in their assumptions, it’s the model upon which the profession is based. They both might also be wrong in their assumption. What if first they were both to instead challenge their assumption? What might the outcome be? It’s a challenging question and one without an easy or obvious answer, yet if we were to think critically about the profession it’s a necessary step.

We might start instead by questioning what is being ignored in order to make the assumptions the profession is currently making? At one extreme, there’s a danger that the profession might end up like Kodak or Fairfax who ignored the looming changes in their industry (I wrote about that here). They both had assumed that their business offering was acceptable and sustainable in the face of change, to their demise. It’s fair to ask will or should architectural practice remain the same? Most practices would acknowledge that the practice of architecture will change, yet in the face of it many maintain a resistance to that change.

We know change happens whether we like it or not. Change can be small and incremental or massive and sudden (like a pandemic), and it’s a given. If architects maintain their assumptions around their work, what they do and how they do it, what opportunities are they ignoring? What possibility are they missing? What change may come and take away their work altogether, or at least diminish it?

The practice of architecture is not immutable. What assumptions need to released in order to embrace positive change in the practice of architecture?

or the more interesting question…

How might architects let go of their assumptions and create opportunities to make practice better?

Picture by Pixabay on Pexels

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach. I help architects rethink their practice and support them as they uncover better ways to work. I’ve worked in architecture for over 25 years, and I ran my own practice for 14 years. I understand architectural practice from the inside out. Fun Fact: my NSW architect’s registration is #10 007 and I have a license to skill.

I believe improving practice takes asking hard questions and deep listening.

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