Architecture: noun, verb, technical person or profession?

le corb 1Are you an architect? Or, should I say did you study architecture? The two are not mutually inclusive it seems. When I was 16 or 17 and thinking of a future career I don’t think there was quite the level of navel gazing or working out where my future might lie as there is now. No visits to colleges, no talks from industry, no transition year. I just decided in a particularly uninformed and unscientific way that I wanted to study architecture. I had never been in an architects office. I liked art at school. I am a creative person and realised that, as we all spend much of our lives in buildings, that through architecture I could perhaps improve how people live and enjoy their lives. Anyway for better or worse I ended up in University College Dublin (UCD), spent 5 years studying there and qualified with a degree. But it didn’t stop there. Following several years working in an office, I was then eligible to study for my Professional Practice exams after which I was able to actually call myself an “architect” and become a member of the RIAI. You see in most jurisdictions, the professional and commercial use of the word architect is legally protected, although in Ireland it is a relatively new distinction. So eventually, after all that blood sweat and tears I was, officially, able to call myself an architect.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a techie (in fact writing this blog is probably the most techie type thing I have ever done). As part of my new found techiness I recently joined Linkedin (the only person there with ridiculously few connections!). As a result of this I now find myself looking at messages in the “inbox” of my email, informing me of jobs that might suit me.

I am not currently looking for a job, but if I were I would quickly realise that I am not qualified to do ANY of the jobs that keep appearing on my screen. You see, sometime in the intervening years, since I first put “Architecture” on my college application form (CAO) the world has changed, and so has the word “architect”.

Now, there are jobs for all sorts of architects, none of which it would appear have anything to do with buildings. Take these adverts sent to me from Linkedin.


There are “technical software architects” and “solutions architects”, “integration architects”, “chief research solutions architects”…the lists goes on…

linkedin 2

So despite the original dictionary definition of what architecture is:“the art or practice of designing and constructing buildings” or “the complex or carefully designed structure of something”, it seems that the world has other ideas.

Even the Oxford English dictionary includes the following:

 “the conceptual structure and logical organization of a computer or computer-based system.”

Jargon is commonplace in business with new words being introduced all the time. Much of jargon is meaningful only to people “in the know” in specific industries. The advert below for a Technical Architect is a typical example of this:

link 4 1 link 4 2

Seriously, what is a “Lead Technical Architect /Evangelist”? Actually, strike that question, I’m not sure I even want to know!

I take some comfort in the fact that this use of the term is a noun. Another perhaps more worrying use of the word as a verb. An item on the radio that I heard a few months ago used the phrase “we need to architect a better solution to the problem”. So, not only is it now being used to describe some very technical jobs that architects trained in the profession of architecture are not qualified to do, it has also crept into everyday language typically with very negative connotations to do with the economy. For example, another phrase I heard was a description of a particular person as “the architect of the downfall in the economy”.

A brief search of the Financial Times shows some examples of this type of use of the word architect.

Financial Times January 20 2014

Miliband’s mysterious aversion to public sector reform.…policy oscillates from the hostile to the unintelligible. It is easy to assume George Osborne, the icy-faced chancellor and architect of austerity, is the most reviled cabinet member in Labour circles. But it is actually Michael Gove, the education secretary…By Janan Ganesh

Financial Times September 23, 2013

Tea Party Bolsheviks revolutionise Republicans…global financial markets could be turned upside down by Congress refusing to approve new government borrowing. The architect of this crash through or crash strategy is Ted Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas who has labelled anyone opposing the…By Richard McGregor in Washington

Financial Times September 20, 2013

Recycling old names keeps out fresh corporate voices…London-listed miner Vedanta Resources named Tom Albanese, former head of Rio Tinto and architect of its disastrous purchases of Alcan and Mozambique coal, to an advisory position. At the same time, Banco Santander appointed…By Brooke Masters

Financial Times September 15, 2013

Lawrence Summers withdraws from Federal Reserve race…Summers was associated on the left with financial deregulation, which gained pace under Bill Clinton as president. On the right, he has been attacked as the architect of Mr Obama’s stimulus. By Richard McGregor and Robin Harding in Washington

So we have had:

“architect of this crash”

”architect of its disastrous purchases”

“attacked as the architect”

“architect of austerity”

Where will it end?

When John Ruskin described architecture as “an art for all to learn because all are concerned with it” he most definitely was not talking about computers or the worldwide recession.

I think that Le Corbusier, an architect, designer, painter, urban planner, writer, and one of the pioneers of what we building architects call Modern Architecture, who described architecture as “the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light” must be doing somersaults in his grave at some of the current uses of the word!

So where does all this leave those of us who think of architecture in terms of form, space and order. Should we retrain? Should we just get over it? Personally I think I can get over the use of the word with regard to computer based systems. (I just wish I could stop getting information about jobs that I am in no way qualified to do.) However, what I cannot and will not get over is the negative use of the word with regard to the economy. Architecture is and always will be for me a positive, enriching and wonderful thing that contributes to the world by offering a better environment for all human beings to live in.

I like to think of myself as a (somewhat) positive person and I have become increasingly aware of this phenomenon in recent years. Frankly, it is depressing. However as we have had some indications that the economy might, just might be showing some signs of recovery, I have also noticed some positive use of the word creeping in. Yes, I know you might say I am just hearing what I want to hear and you would be correct, but you heard it here first. Things things are looking up for architects and for architecture! Proof? Just look at the recent quotes from the FT:

Financial Times January 10, 2014

Asset manager Takumi Shibata promoted to head Nikko …equity deals managed by the group. Mr Shibata, who spent 36 years at Japan’s largest brokerage, was seen as a chief architect of the ambitious global growth strategy following its 2008 acquisition of the European and Asian arms of Lehman Brothers…By Ben McLannahan in Tokyo

Financial Times December 29, 2013

A double-take on Japan’s stagnation. Sir, As a prime architect of the 2009 economic recovery policy, former Treasury secretary Larry Summers (“Why stagnation might prove to be the new normal…From Mr Tom McGrath.

So, this is my plea to the world. Please please acknowledge architecture and architects as something positive. If you think of using the words in a context other than as relating to buildings and in a negative sense, then stop and use an alternative word that conveys the required meaning. If you think of using the words in a context other than as relating to buildings but in a positive way, then do so with style!

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