The problem of architects speaking out

It’s a conundrum, architects want the profession to be heard, yet most remain silent. It’s easier to be quiet and hope for someone to speak on their behalf.

It’s not unique to the architecture profession. It’s easy to whinge in back channels or on social media. But are these the important channels to be heard?

The important bit is to speak up when and where it matters. It might make you uncomfortable, but don’t rely on someone else to say it.

What’s the problem for architects?

Taking a step back to consider what architects mean when they’re asking for a louder voice.

What’s the problem they’re trying to solve?

There are many problems they might be trying to address:

  • Is it that the profession has a quiet voice in the media? Is this more centred perhaps on ego?
  • Is it the lack of influence? A voice that’s not only heard in the news cycle but one that’s listened to, heard, respected and acted upon.
  • Is it a lack of power? This goes beyond influence and involves calling the shots, not just influencing them. (I don’t see this so much.)
  • OR is the problem an issue around the role, identity and values of the profession and their recognition thereof? A branding, PR and marketing issue – for the entire profession as a whole.

None of these are especially easy problems to solve. Whilst I don’t have fully formed solutions, I’ll posit some ideas and observations.

More voices

One of the ways to begin is simply ask for more architects to speak up, in a unified effort from the profession. More voices . More architects speaking up or speaking out and they don’t have to say the same thing. It’s hard, makes people uncomfortable. There’s weight in numbers and the more there are the less uncomfortable it becomes.

What is said out loud matters.

Where it is said matters.

Who hears it matters more.

How it’s said also matters. It’s not possible to get right every time. It’s no reason not to speak up. The aim is to learn from when you get it wrong so you might speak better next time. Knowing what you might need to change or rethink.

Listening is important

It’s more important to be open to learning than it is to be right. The fear of being wrong motivates people to either remain silent or to continue arguing instead of listening. It’s very hard to listen and truly hear when arguing. Even when silent we can be guilty formulating what we’re going to say next to counter those we’re arguing against. Whether we’re right or not, we can always do better, which takes listening and asking questions in response to what we hear.

Influencers

Influencers in both the contemporary and perhaps more traditional sense of media commentator and journalist. In this day and age it probably takes all avenues. How this is achieved is a little more confounding. The things the majority will engage with are not the things that architects will. It might be best left to others, to experts.

The media produced will need to be engaging, insightful and illuminating – speaking amn inclusive language. Comedy and satire for example. Television shows like Utopia are great for showing what is wrong in the world of infrastructure but not what is good. What might be something like that that leaves a lasting and positive influence? Something that can be chopped into pieces and utilised on all media platforms.

On the other hand, it’s preferable to not require channels to get your message out and instead place yourself such that people seek you out, not the other way around.

Architectural communicators

Architects are not always the best people to speak about architecture. Scientists and their community utilise science communicators – many aren’t scientists. Why can’t architecture do the same?

Who are the non-practicing architecturally educated with a voice?

Use them. Engage with them. Employ them.

The voice for change

When I think about the problem, I start questioning what the voice is for. Is it to be heard? To be more powerful? To be right and make someone else wrong? To start change? Personally that’s the thing I’m most interested in, the change part. Making change happen is far more important than being heard. It might be that there needs to be a shift towards being heard in a way that builds change. But that focus is misplaced.

If the change is the important thing. The thing that is really desired. Being heard is not relevant. It might be part of the solution, but it’s not the part to obsess over. Concentrate on the change you want to make in the world? How might you focus on delivering that? What do you need to do and how do you start?

The lobbyist

If the problem is sway and influence. Create an organisation to lobby for the profession. They’d be a full-time lobbyist whose job it is to speak to politicians, the media as well as put out papers on relevant architectural issues. They wouldn’t operate in a vacuum but instead consult with the profession and seek out their expertise when required. Each member of the profession, or individual offices, could contribute pro-rata – let’s make it a tax on practice. It would be an expensive exercise to employ someone with that expertise full time (with support staff) but I suspect substantially more effective than what happens now. I know there are architectural representative bodies taking on this role, but they are far too stretched and under-resourced. A dedicated and collaborative body would be more effective.

Coaching the community

I find the idea of educating the public offensive. It’s condescending. Coaching on the other hand is an interesting prospect (I know of course I would say that as a coach). The idea of coaching is meeting people where they’re at, turning on lights and opening doors. It’s specific to the individual and is based upon what they need. It takes asking questions, listening and candour. Of course they also need the desire and be open to coaching. I’m not quite sure what it looks like, I’m noodling on the idea for now!

A festival about architecture, curated by non-architects for non-architects

Theatre, performance and spectacle are powerful ways to educate, influence and be heard. Yet most architectural events are created by architects and for architects, even the ones that aren’t. Architects are not experts in doing this. It’s confounding why architects might persist with putting on their own events for non-architects. The profession will use consultants for their architectural work and should do so for their events and festivals.

The intention is not to exclude architects, just to utilise them for what they do best, architecture.

Branding, PR and marketing the profession

I don’t even know where to start here. The heading says it all. That would be a big project. It would be interesting to hear the perspective of experts in these fields as to what they think might be done for the profession. It might be up to the profession to take it on themselves, but what if they were to ask the question of the experts to begin with?

Your voice

Use it now. Start. Use the platforms you have, then try new ones. Start small or in whatever way you can. The point is to start.

No answer

I don’t have answers, mostly questions and these little sketches of ideas. I’d love for you to contact me with your thoughts. To keep this conversation going. One thing is for sure, if we don’t keep working on this, nothing will change.

Love to hear your thoughts.

we.are@unmeasu.red


Image by Jens Mahnke [edited]

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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