This is 46th year of practice. I have completed 202 projects. I have witnessed dramatic transitions both within and surrounding my profession, and I’m sad to share that what used to be known as “architecture” is coming to an end in our culture.
I have a residential remodel project under construction in a local community and the contractor requested from the engineer, documentation for a minor technical change in the layout of a small section of the foundation (concrete and steel) in the crawl space under the home. In my past experience, this would have been handled as an “over the counter” building-only procedure. My submittal was instead routed to a remote plan checking service (at least one week delay) and I received a request from the city planning department to submit a planning review form and pay a fee for a planner to make sure this tiny piece of concrete did not violate any planning laws. This is a clear transgression of my understanding of the separation between building (technical) code jurisdiction and the planning (aesthetic and political) jurisdiction.
Planners have been slowly expanding their jurisdiction over the building process for years, and this event marked a milestone. When a technical element that is invisible to the public is called into question, it marks the end of all logical justification for excluding the political from any part of the building experience, and opens the gates to political influence on the selection of such mundane elements as the placement of reinforcing steel, the use of specific wiring connectors or the qualities of sheetrock mud.
My profession has been constantly attacked by the encroaching bureaucracy for the entire time I have been practicing, and I have no professional organization willing to take a stand against the invasion. The AIA (American Institute of Architects) is a lap dog for the bureaucracy because the major public projects require architects to be in bed with the politicians, financiers and developers who are responsible for the creeping code violation of our creativity.
The underlying cause of this trend is cronyism and fear. It’s the power of the status quo exerted on the expression of the creative thinker and environmental artist. That’s right, the architect used to be an artist, a creative force who contributed to making the environment better, more beautiful and functional. This is no longer the case. The architect has been relegated to the role of co-bureaucrat and must tow the line with his creative expression and conform to an ever-increasing level of mediocrity in order to secure “permission” to creat his art.
BOTTOM LINE? A world filled with mediocre design, and a marketplace filled with “after the final inspection” revisions where owners have their contractors return after the project is supposedly complete to modify and add to the project to replace all of the elements that were “not permitted” by building and planning laws. Wake up folks, this is already happening!