Architecture after Architects?

Most of us who were students of Vernon Shogren at the NCSU College of Design in the 1970s remember his irreverence for the Profession of architecture. He was passionate about the value and role of architectural thinking and doing, just not terribly impressed with the trappings of architectural practice. One afternoon during a studio discussion he disappeared briefly into his office and returned with a copy of Architecture Without Architects published in 1964 by Bernard Rudofsky.  Rudofsky, an Austrian Architecture Ph.D., compiled a stunning collection of examples of complex, durable and important structures, like the cliff dwellings pictured above that had been constructed well before the industrial revolution and before the Profession of Architecture existed. It was Vernon’s way of saying to all of us, “Don’t take yourselves too seriously. They were doing fine before you came along and will be doing the same after you are gone.”

Humankind began storing food and building structures to contain it about 10,000 years ago. Burial structures probably predate even those. Depending on the date we assign to the beginning of the formal profession of architecture, we have been at it “professionally” for about 100 years, or 1% of that time. Architectural thinking and doing has been around from the beginning, as Rudofsky points out; the architectural profession, not so much.

The photograph above was downloaded this morning from iStockphoto. It took 20 seconds to find it and copy it to my computer. My cost: about $3.00 for a royalty free license to use it. Five years ago an entire industry of stock photographers and distributors made a decent living capturing and distributing images “for stock”, and the process of finding and acquiring the rights to this image could have taken days and hundreds of dollars. That industry has essentially disappeared.  I know because I have a couple of friends who have experienced this first hand.

I have no idea what the long term implications of digital technology and the internet are for the architectural profession. I do know that the essential value of architects (as opposed to Architectects) will remain. Will we have the awareness to see the changes and adapt? Will we care enough to change our own behavior? The world desperately needs architects; artists who see what is possible and make it happen. The world may not need as many people just to design safe buildings, however, when other means and methods are developed to execute that series of tasks.

Vernon was a prophet at a time when few of us were listening. If we learn something from the recording industry and the newspaper industry and adapt, we may still be in demand 10,000 years from now. If not….