The future for architects is not the future of architecture. At Design Observer, Tim Love examines the impact of the economic downturn on the architecture profession. A dearth of investment and lack of new projects is pushing architecture firms to engage in speculative and experimental design, investing in self-motivated projects that remain unbuilt. In this context, it is interesting to draw a parallel between today and the recession of the 1970s, a period famous for its "paper architecture", where the creative invention of groups like Archigram and Superstudio made a lasting impact on design culture. Today, concerns focus on re-inventing the city as a sustainable human ecosystem:
The paper architecture that seems to be gaining traction during this downturn is focused less on architecture as a self-referential discipline and more on the imperatives of the deepening environmental crisis. Like the paper architecture of the 1970s that focused on alternative futures rather than disciplinary mechanics, recent proposals range from realistic to utopian — and yet so far they remain largely within the realm of provocation rather than practice.
The recent MOMA supported Rising Currents exhibition and workshop is a good example of this trend. Projects like On the Water address the impact of rising sea levels, which may very well be the largest unavoidable constraint for future urban development.
Yet this interrogation of the environmental influences shaping urban form is still taking place within a narrow disciplinary frame. What's more prescient is to step back from the entire field and question the foundation of the profession itself, as Marcus Trimble, founder of Super Colossal hints at in this interview with Archi-Ninja:
Architects and architecture offices are more likely to undergo radical change in the next 50 years than buildings are. Architects will likely become further removed from the decision making procees and will see their responsibilities diminished as more and more branching specialist consultancies stake their territory. On the other hand, architects will find opportunities to engage in the environment in increasingly diverse ways.
Architects now, having recognized the overall contribution of their profession to accelerating climate change (Traditional building use consumes 40% of the total fossil energy in the US and European Union) are under increasing pressure to prove their relevance to society. I certainly believe that there are a lot of architects who have a huge amount to contribute - the challenge will be to engage at all levels of society and to gain the support of politicians (or overthrow the agenda of politicians altogether).