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Society Must Be Aware Of What Motivates The Architectural Profession

3 May 2013

The architecture of our cities can only be appreciated when people understand what motivates the architectural profession, according to a leading University of Ulster academic.

Delivering his inaugural professorial lecture last night, Professor Peter Walker said society needs to be more aware of what drives architects, what beliefs they hold and the constraints they work within during these difficult economic times.

“The study of professions is a well established area of interest for social scientists, but there has been little sustained academic examination of architecture as a professional occupation,” he said.

“Sociologists, philosophers and economists, interested in the study of professions, have preferred to give their attention to occupations such as medicine and law and little attention has been given to architects.”

Professor Walker, Head of the School of Architecture, told an audience at the University’s Belfast campus that the relationship society has with all professions has changed enormously in recent years.

He explained: “No longer do people simply accept the paternalistic ‘doctor knows best’ advice – in medicine this has led to a rise in the power of patient groups, but in architecture it has resulted in much more community consultation and engagement.

“This is happening not just at the level of a major masterplan but also in a much closer involvement of people in the development of the design for their own homes and work places.

“However, all professions also have an obligation to society at large that goes beyond the duty they owe to the individual client or community group.

“The built environment accounts for 40-50 per cent of natural resource use, 20 per cent of water use, 30-40 per cent of energy use and around a third of CO2 emissions.

“This means architects have a unique responsibility to society – not just to ensure the creation of more sustainable buildings, but also to find imaginative ways to improve the energy efficiency of our existing building stock.”

Professor Walker said architecture should never be only about coming up with technical solutions – it is as much a creative art as it is a professional occupation.

“From my work, both in practice and academia, it has become apparent that there are unique challenges the architectural profession faces that arise from being a profession concerned both with creativity and the use of physical resources,” he continued.

“The need to create exciting buildings and attractive cities never disappears but becomes more challenging in difficult economic times.

“Since emerging from the building industry in the 16th century as a distinct professional group, architects have faced a constant need to evolve and adapt to meet the changing needs of their clients and society.

“I believe that the particularly difficult economic and environmental challenges the world faces at the start of the 21st century will require architects, yet again, to radically rethink what it means to be an architect and to develop new ways in which architecture might be practiced.

“However my experience of architects – both practitioners and students – is that they are endlessly enthusiastic, remarkably imaginative, highly adaptable and passionate about what they do.

“And so I have no doubt that architects will rise to these challenges as they always have in the past.”