opinion: SOCIAL FUNCTION

The role of the architect in modern culture is murky, at best.  The profession is often misunderstood, undervalued, or deemed a luxury for the wealthy.  Why is this?  Where did the profession go wrong?  Can it be redeemed?

I used to give a lecture to high school students who were considering an education and career in architecture.  Often times, those students had just come from an engineer giving a speech on their respective profession.  A common remark I would get went something like this, "The engineer said you just make buildings pretty, and that the engineer makes it functional."  It's true, part of the architect's job is visual interest.  I stop short of saying any word that connotes 'beauty.'  A particular structure may look to invoke varying emotions; from strength to elegance to security...which may or may not be considered 'beautiful.'

However, the critique still remains...do architects make a building functional?  Does the role of the architect extend beyond aesthetics?  This was the aim of my lecture; to show the students that the most important role of an architect is orchestrating the social function of a building, street, town, region, etc.

Winston Churchill famously said, "We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us."  The quote speaks to architecture's ability to affect our emotions, our thoughts, and our sense of who we are.  Good architecture can make a building's purpose easily understood, its rooms easily navigated, or help you discover something new.  Good architecture can activate formerly unused parts of a building or street.  Good architecture is part psychology, understanding the way people interact with a building.

Socially functioning architecture is a building that works, not necessarily from just a structural or mechanical point-of-view; but from the point-of-view of the person experiencing that building, both inside and out.  Good architecture is functional, on so many levels.