Last month, Aaron Davis and I were honored to give the evening keynote at AIA Georgia's annual design conference. As people were settling into their seats, before our introduction, Aaron and I had a chance to chat with Steve the representative from Georgia Power and AIA GA president Ed Bernard. The look of abject horror on Steve's face seems an unfortunate side effect of listening to me talk about baseball. (In my -- or his -- defense I believe I made that same face while he described the typical Atlanta Braves fan.) What made the evening thoroughly enjoyable was the ease with which this group could casually discuss those things that really aren't casual at all. Devoid of a certain level of stuffiness I've grown used to, the night was fun -- from economic and professional crises to social responsibility in architecture to what really loving baseball will do to and for your life.
I'd like to quickly thank the leadership of AIA Georgia for the invitation to speak, specifically Mark Levine and Ed, as well as Marci Reed for making everything (including the two-hour ride from ATL to Athens) happen more smoothly than imaginable.
Our talk "Grow[ing] Up: Slow[ing] Down" focused on models of architectural practice persisting through an economy counterproductive to the development of buildings and those models emerging as a result of a dearth of building opportunities. We discussed our strange experience as young designers matriculating into a profession in crisis, some of the conclusions drawn from PRE-Office's ever-ongoing Conversations with Architects (CWA) research, and some of the professional and very personal decisions we've been forced to make early on in our careers.
Several times that evening -- in conversations over drinks before the talk and over many more drinks after the talk -- I found myself engaged in discussion over these personal decisions. Since that evening, I've come to two preliminary conclusions. The first is that, if Aaron and I are any indication of an architectural generation, the economy has created specialists of designers by forcing us to dig deep and articulate that one thing in architecture that we just must do. The lack of job opportunities for archi-generalists looking to fulfill their IDP requirements meant that not only did we have to get creative to pay our bills, but we had to do so while creating new career paths. If those paths were going to be personally rewarding, we'd have to identify why it is that we got into this crazy profession in the first place. In an incredibly wide field, we'd have to find the niche in which we'll be happy. Both Aaron and I have very narrowly specialized as a result, and while our scales are different, our approaches are comparable: Aaron designs systems as parts of buildings, and I understand buildings as parts of systems.
The second is one I briefly touched on in the talk and one that's been on my mind since. Several times in our CWA discussions, architects have told us that the recession provides a necessary moment of recalibration for the profession and offers the opportunity for architectural theory to regain the momentum it lost during the building boom. In short, they said that the recession was A Time to Think. I maintain that the broken economy did much more than just provide the luxury of time for reflection. It did architects the favor of explicating our present mandate. It clearly spelled out the issues upon which we should be reflecting. It definitively told us which problems need our attention and threatened us with a future of complete irrelevance if we failed to heed. Development halted while, globally and locally, the spatial description of how people live was changing before our eyes. And while many of the problems were primarily caused by policy (or lack thereof), financialization, and economics, we cannot deny that those issues are also spatial and, thus, architectural. They are of and from and affecting architecture, urbanism, and how we live together.