What then is architectural work? How can we begin to analyze it? And what do we gain by analyzing it? To start with the last question: analysis admits that we, in fact, do work, not just make art and/or donate our aesthetic gifts to the world. It leads to a realization that we might want to make our work-life balance better. It has us consider how we, as workers, relate to other workers, not from above or below but alongside them. It indicates that the difference between blue- and white-collar work is less important than the difference between those who organize and/or overlook labor and those who don’t and can’t. What we gain might be where we can and should assert our values.
To analyze architectural work, we can examine various outcomes: Where was money lost or gained? Did the building live up to its promise in terms of an architectural intention transparent in its outcome? And who benefited from the work? Alternately, we can analyze its diverse inputs: Did the team perform well? Were all voices heard? Was my voice heard? What did I learn? What did I contribute? What did others contribute and under what leadership? What, for me personally, was sacrificed for what was gained?
So what exactly is architectural work? Staring at a computer. Learning the ins and outs of BIM. Phoning consultants. Negotiating with owners. Dealing with environmental inputs and constraints. Researching products. Moving from one software to another and digesting the interface. Scripting in every sense of the word, from planning spatial divisions to optimizing building performance. Aestheticizing elevations. Dreaming. Collaborating. Managing teams, finances, and brands.
It used to be the case that architectural education was the “ideal” to the profession’s “real,” that architectural work in the academy, while grueling, was enlightening, if not fun. Where the profession dealt with the constraints on imagination and aesthetic exploration—zoning, budgets, client demands, construction problems—the academy nurtured what was possible socially, formally, and materially. The profession looked to the academy to ensure that those in practice were not limiting their range of possibilities and/or merely reproducing the status quo. Now, it is not so clear that this is the case. The profession, whether we like it or not, has had to respond to neoliberal demands for more efficient modes of production and better performance—hence the need for BIM, AI, AV, robots, 3D printing, offsite production, and ecological apps and hence, apps that have dealt with a new reality. Yes, some academies have helped develop these tools, but only to serve the business needs of the profession. In other words, even if we are frustrated by a profession that is increasingly ineffectual, it is pushing innovation more than the academy is.