Architecture without style?

One of the most surprising discoveries early on in running an architectural practice is how little experience potential clients have of what an architect does. There are various permutations such as 'just the outside', 'just the structure', 'just the concept sketches' and even 'just the boring bits'! This mystery surrounds the profession and, while potentially giving it a mystique that makes for an interesting but short conversation at a drinks party, drives separation between us and our clients and often necessitates a continual 'reconditioning' of the client's position as the project progresses.

One of the most common questions at the drinks party is 'What type of architect are you?' This person is almost always referring to the concept of 'style': A means of classifying and categorising designers by their output. Indeed, there are entire professions dedicated to the observation, categorisation and comparison of third parties and their output so it should not be surprising that this is seen as a perfectly normal question to ask. Here's the problem: We don't know the answer. Perhaps worse than this, we can't engage with the question. One wonders if there were once conversations where the architect answered 'Modernist' or 'Neo-Classicist'. There aren't any now.

In requiring 'tags' or 'keywords' for every piece of information, the internet has taken up the batten. Where Post-Modernism, (a 'tag' of its own) claimed to obliterate pure styles, the need to classify information has become central to not only movements in music, fine art and architecture but to the aesthetics of everyday life.

Architects as professionals are particularly badly placed to answer the question. On a simple level we design buildings. But so do engineers. And surveyors. And planners. The conversation very rarely gets as far as what ELSE do we do and this is where the hidden value, seemingly dull and uninteresting to the inquisitor at the party, lies: Architects not only design buildings but the good ones design the PROCESS by which buildings are designed and delivered as well.

At APA we strive to develop an environment that brings about good projects, making decisions and advising on cost, scale, materials, the consultant team, the procurement route and the administration of the construction contract as designers. It is the ability of the architect to frame the problem and help design the vehicle the addresses it that takes what we do beyond the substance of the just the building and into the invisible world of designing the project itself. Perhaps disappointingly for some, the 'project', an invisible but present phenomenon, is devoid of 'style'.

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