//THE ARCHITECT// The role of the architect


The role of the architect has changed significantly from antiquity to
the present. Back in ancient Rome the architect was a generalist. He had a
well-rounded professional knowledge including graphic and mathematical skills
rendering him able to prepare the cost overview and construction specifications
of projects. (Chapman Taylor, 2018) In ancient Greece the architect was
similarly responsible for the design and construction of a building. The Greek
word architektonas was derived from the word Archi which means ‘head or chief’
and ‘tekton’ which means builder therefore combined the two words describe the
architect as the ‘master builder’. (Berman, 2003).

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The industrialisation of the 19th century, brought material and
technology evolution, extending the scope of design tasks as new building
typologies like apartment blocks, schools and fire stations appeared. (Chapman
Taylor, 2018) Innovative technologies and techniques led to specialisation.
‘Steel beams for multi-storey buildings, elevators, plumbing, ventilation
systems, central heating, and electric lighting all began to be incorporated
into the construction projects of the time’. (Jones, 2006) The master builder
failed to sustain his expertise in the various aspects of the building process.
‘Sub-contracts began to be written between the builder, or general contract
holder, and the individual trade experts.’ (Jones, 2006) As a consequence the
master builder failed to integrate the trades towards a constructible and
efficient design solution. As a result two sub-roles were born ‘the designer’
and ‘the builder’. This separation was the first step in the fragmentation of
the industry we experience today. (Jones, 2006)


During the 20th century the legal requirements of construction projects
and technical complexity have escalated to such a degree that new specialist
fields of engineering and design became necessary. (Chapman Taylor, 2018) The
builder role was fragmented into contractors and sub-contractors including
manufacturers and suppliers. The architect began to assume the responsibility
of various areas of specialisation, such as structural design, mechanical and
electrical design. Nowadays, the architect will incorporate in the team even
more specialised consultants, such as landscape, interior, acoustic and fire
safety consultant (Woods, 1999).



Progressing towards the 21st century the role of the architect continues
to change even more. Venice Biennale 2014 told the story of an architecture
which is evidently impoverished of architects, foreseeing a future where
buildings begin to speak for themselves. (Davis, 2014) The main exhibition
titled ‘Elements of Architecture’ was curated by Rem Koolhaas who designed the
space as if visitors were entering a museum showcasing various taxonomies of
real size architectural elements. (Davis, 2014) Each section/element like
walls, doors or windows were organised in such a way as to show how their form
and structure evolved and adapted throughout architectural history in the context
of the technology evolution. (Davis, 2014)


The exhibition clearly conveys the message that the architect’s
influential power is diminishing as building elements become productised.
(Davis, 2014) Originally a window was a physical element carved out of the
building by the architect. Nowadays the engineers design it, the corporations
market it and then a façade consultant selects it on behalf of the architect.
(Davis, 2014) It seems like the architects are becoming supporting actors on a
stage where the technology is the protagonist.



According to Rem Koolhaas for the past 5000 years architectural elements
were deaf and mute, this means our fireplaces, doors and windows have been
‘speechless’ fixtures inside the house. We could open and close them, but they
could never reply on whether too much wind was coming through or too much UV
light. Koolhaas through the Biennale expresses the belief that our buildings
are in the process of learning now. The exhibition incorporated future trends
like autonomous vacuum cleaners that clean the floor, computers tracking people
flow through the installations and via thermostats adjusting the temperature of
space. The common characteristic of all these future elements is the ability to
collect data from the built environment. (Davis, 2014)


Data have changed dramatically the way we interact with the world being
the strongest by-products of the 21st century. Almost all our activities today
incorporate the production, storage and exchange of data, when we request
directions in google maps, when we swipe our card to buy things or posting on
social media and sending an email. This is Big data. Several innovative gadgets
in our built environment known as Internet of things devices like thermostats
collect data and provide feedback ensuring the occupant comfort while saving
energy. (Davis, 2014) Koolhaas predicted that every element that makes up a
building will start to collect, analyse and react to data in the future.
(Davis, 2014) These data becoming available have lead city governments to begin
to use them to plan and manage their cities more efficiently turning them into
‘smart cities’ (TMD STUDIO, 2017)






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