During a recent trip to Southern California (and when I say “recent” I mean that I’m sitting at the terminal in LAX waiting for my flight back to Denver) and I couldn’t help but be in awe of the sprawling “out of box” architecture that was around me. Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve been to Southern California, nor is it the first time I’ve noticed sprawling housing, it is however, the first time that I have compared it to the type of architecture I find myself doing on a daily basis while working at an architectural firm in downtown Denver.
Since the beginning of my architectural career I was taught that subdivision development was not architecture, it was copy & paste design. Most developments, seen around the country, include three or four different floor plans that are “customized” by mirroring a floor plan, adding a fifth bedroom and sixth bathroom, finishing the basement or moving the garage to the left side rather than the right. There is no real “architecture” involved, just a bunch of pre-designed, out of the box, pieces put together to make a house.
The question that came to me this past weekend was: how is this type of design any different then what I do at work? What I mean is this, I spend 8+ hours a day working in Revit pulling pre-designed, out of the box components (or families if you want to use the technical term) from our standards library and put them together to create a space. I do this room by room, hour after hour. By the end of the day I have “designed” several different rooms, “customizing” each one the same way a developer does with their houses.
Is this architecture? Or is this another case of “out of the box” design?
I’m not blaming the projects I work on, the firm I work for or even our profession for the lack of true architecture I do daily. I am however questioning what exactly has lead us down this “out of the box” road. Perhaps it’s the technology we have available to us, I can’t help but notice how easy Revit has made it to design a building using preloaded families or how convenient Sketch Up has made designing anything by producing plug & play Sketch Up components (have you seen their on-line library recently?). Maybe it’s that nearly every client has their own set of building standards that limit the architect’s design abilities and imaginations. Maybe it’s a combination of both or something I haven’t thought of yet…
Whatever the reason is, I see the definition of architecture changing quickly. What we once criticized is now becoming our standard way of doing things. What we once said we would never do as young students, we now find ourselves doing on a daily basis. I would hate to see our profession; a profession known for its high level of creativity and thinking get replaced by a bunch of out of the box, predesigned, standard components. Wouldn’t you?