Professional Practice
Designing buildings: Is it the only scope of architecture?
Why architects only design buildings, is it the only scope for him or is there other means where he expreses his talent. if you think there are other scopes rather then designing buildings please refer them to me.
Ahmed Ali
Designing buildings: Is it the only scope of architecture?
Excellent question Ahmed;

It would be great if you have a chance to look at the latest postings (especially over the last two days) of Prof. Akhtar Chauhan and myself under the topic "Why are famous architects famous........?" You might be interested to go through all of the 120 postings.
Ashraf Salama
Designing buildings: Is it the only scope of architecture?
Dear Ahmed Ali,

No, designing building is not the only scope for an architect. I would like to provide the following reference to a paper that I presented at a seminar in Graz, Austria in 1994:

Appropriate scope of architecture

Architecture as a profession was from its primordial beginning concerned with the entire field of built environment rather than the question of mere shelter. Take for example, the early cave dwellings or the lake front dwellings or the first primitive huts,the choice of the site, the climate, the resouces for survival, the territory for security and sustenance were the crucial issues resolved by early human communities. Rather than the stereotyped interpretation of early art historians, we need to critically re-examine the development of the profession ( of architeture) to identify its mission in contemporary times and its future course.

Architecture was seen as a practical science of building or construction and its decorative expression was interpreted for its stylistic consistency to catergorise and classify the same. The more fundamental cultural and spiritual dimensions were mystified and reduced to mere study of symbols and rituals. As a result of history of architecture was seen as a record of successive periods of various civilizations and styles. The industrial revolution brought about a new situation leading to reinterpretation of architecture, resulting in development of modernistic architecture. However, the mechanistic thinking restricted its scope to particular ways or means of shaping buildings. It is only recently that a deeper insight has been obtained through the pioneering research by Amos Rappaport and Swiss architectural anthropologist Nold Egenter, that calls for reinterpreting the art and architectural history as an evolutionary development in shaping of human activities, culture, shelter, community and settlement.

As opposed to the Cartesian thinking, in India we have an uninterrupted wholistic tradition of "Vastu Shashtra"which incorporated selection of site for habitation and agriculture, planning of villages and towns, designing of sacred rituals and a primer of dos and don'ts for various related activities. In a similar way, in China, Japan and Korea there were similar systems of "architecture" which did not restrict the scope of architecture to mere buildings. This was distorted during the colonial period, where the field of building, engineering and planning were separated from that of architecture. During long years of colonialism, this was accepted as a more modern way of looking at the problem of shaping of built-environment. However, the tradition has to be evolved and practiced into its contemporary state rather than be used as a mere mythical symbol.

Therefore,it was felt by us at the Indian Institute of Architects that we need to take a fresh look at the scope of architecture. At Ahmedabad convention (1987) , I put forth a document which was unanimously approved as the Ahmedabad Declaration which incorporated studying, surveying, planning, designing, building / constructing, developing, managing of built environment within the scope of architecture. These activities could be structured as architecture of building, interiors, landscape, housing, institutions, facilities, networks, villages, cities, regions and environment. Tafuri had critically pointed out that architects drop their scope in favour of new trades and professions like interior design or environmental design etc. The reduction of the usage of the term architecture in popular language was seen as yet another indicator of the loss of relevance of architecture. Therefore, it was decided that rather than using the term "design", it would be more appropriate to use the term "architecture".e.g. interior architecture rather than interior design. One can learn from the field of engineering which came into institutional structure only in 1750 A.D. and yet during 295 years of its existence, it has developed its branches in almost all fields of built-environment from civil engineering, meachanical, electrical, electronics, to planning, social engineering and now to value engineering. Whereas we architects tend to get bogged down with our narrow interpretation of the scope of architecture as mere "art and science of buildings". It was, therefore, a revolutionary step for Indian architects to redefine the scope of architecture incorporating comprehensive activities and services at various scale of built-environment.This enables architects to reorient their creativity as specialists and or as generalists in the various human, social and environmental fields, which in turn leads to a more appropriate architecture.

- extract from the paper "Quest for A Humane Architecture in a Sustainable Environment" presented at Seminar on Appropriateness of Means, hosted by Haus der Architektur, Graz, Austria, 1994.

I do hope that this would stimulate further discussion on the subject.

with best wishes,
Akhtar Chauhan
Designing buildings: Is it the only scope of architecture?
Nice Posting Akhtar outlining the development of the tasks of the architect and the evolutionary nature of the profession. I would add; throughout the history there has been a continuous transformation of the "Building Industry" from tecdhnical crafts to liberal arts, from bricklaying to mathematics, from architecture as practical profession to architecture as learned field of study. As the profession relied more on forms and theories rather than on practical experience, there has been a continuous disassociation between architects and societal needs. Architects realized that in the sixties and seventies and started to get involved in many other activities that are not limited to designing buildiings.

The profession has changed dramatically and designing buildings became one of a considerable number of activities that architects do and perform. The scope has been expanded due to several reasons that can be portrayed by:

-Emerging Complex Types of Buildings and Activities
There have been continuous shifts in building types from small houses and palaces, government buildings, courthouses to a diverse types of buildings that also include mutli-functions types. This means a borader responsibility of architects that go beyond designing buildings. This responsibility challenged the skills of the traditional architect which was "designing buildings"

- Emerging New Architectural Services and New Types of Clients/Users
Now, there are architects who have specialties in cost analysis and feasibility studies, space planning and programming, client realtions, computer applications, project delivery, office management, construction management, facility performance evaluation. These activites involve design, management, research, economics, ...etc.

Writings of theorists and historians suggest that architects, especially after WWII, had to seek opportunities to transcend the design of a signle building, to participate more fully in the design and development of larger environments. In the past, the architect had to work for kings, nobles, and rich affluent clients. Now, the attention of architects has shifted to serve other segments of society. Therefore, the scope again has expanded to include for example housing research and development, urban conservation, historic revitalization...etc. These activities again mandated that architects need to be involved in many activities, where design and physical planning is one single activity, yet important component of their services.
Ashraf Salama


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