By Alice Liao, Independent Writer and Editor
The architecture profession is not known for being quick to change, but as the design process goes digital and clients demand more value from their projects, a budding or seasoned architect must evolve to stay relevant. While the core competencies—design, planning, drafting, rendering, and BIM—remain invaluable, the following skills can give designers an edge.
When project schedules are tight, knowing what tasks can and should be automated boosts productivity. Architects who know basic programming concepts and understand algorithmic thinking can communicate more effectively with programmers, says David Fano, principal of Case, Inc., in New York. Introductory courses can be taken at universities or online through sites such as EdX and Udemy.
Although visual programming languages can work without text commands, a designer who can code can extend the functionality of any software and catch on to new programs easier, says Michael Kilkelly, AIA, principal of Space Command, an architecture firm in Middletown, Conn., and author of the blog ArchSmarter. For instance, a designer fluent in Grasshopper and Dynamo can extend the capabilities of Rhino and Autodesk Revit, respectively. Coding trains one to think in a structured way, which also helps in problem solving, Kilkelly says. Greg Papay, FAIA, managing partner at Lake|Flato, in San Antonio, Texas, says that the demand for architects who code may grow as more of a building’s value resides in areas ”tunable by software.“ Some programming languages to try: Python, VB.net, C#, and Ruby.
Buildings and businesses both generate vast amounts of data. Translating this data into spaces that not only perform better, but also support the success of occupants is critical. It’s ”incredibly valuable now to understand [the architectural] program in a quantified way,“ Fano says. ”Ask a client for their profit-and-loss sheet to see how the building is going to help run their business better.“ And master Microsoft Excel, which can become incredibly powerful with a little coding, Kilkelly adds.
Although the architecture curriculum includes building science, more rigorous coverage of the fundamentals is needed, says Daniel Lemieux, AIA, principal and unit manager at Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, in Fairfax, Va. Because buildings are intensive in their energy and material consumption, architects with a grasp on ”climate-specific building design and whole-building performance“ will be sought by owners and developers, he says. Topics to study: heat transfer, moisture storage and transport, and building-enclosure behavior and material selection.
Empathy for a client’s business forms the foundation for a good working relationship. Steve McConnell, FAIA, managing partner at NBBJ, in Seattle, says that architects should consider themselves as ”partners in [a client’s] business strategy“ who can enable change, shape culture, and grow an enterprise through architectural programming and design. Engaging a client requires an architect with solid communication skills, which can be honed through a public speaking course or by practicing how to present and listen, Papay says. Exposure to entrepreneurship and real estate development helps too, Fano says.
In school, the architectural program is often prescribed, but real-world commissions come with uncertainty. Fano sees value in replicating the unknown in the classroom to prepare students for the workplace. Helping find funding for projects challenges the conventional notion of architecture as a passive profession, Kilkelly says. McConnell recommends learning about fee structures, which will serve as a basis from which to rethink compensation as the role of architects and their value evolve.
This multidisciplinary skill set may seem idealistic or improbable, but many architects already assume their job description includes lifelong learning. So the better you’re at diversifying yourself, Kilkelly says, ”the more interesting your career will be.“
This article was originally published in ARCHITECT June 2015.
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