Fleetwood House

Beyond the Foreground


When it comes to building, only a small portion of homeowners are turning to a design professional to realize their dreams. Architect Cymon Allfrey questions why the value an architect can bring to a project is so easily dismissed. 

February saw internationally renowned Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye come to our shores. Knighted for being one of the leading architects of his generation and a global cultural ambassador for the UK, he is recognised as a ‘world of influence in architecture’. Yet in a radio interview with one of our more well-known presenters he was asked whether his involvement in a recent project was awarded to him due to the colour of his skin. Undermining one of the worlds most prolific and highly skilled architects in a few short words.

Listening to the interview, got me thinking, why do architects not have the same level of respect and value placed on them as other highly trained professions? If you are sick the natural inclination is to turn to a doctor, so why when you are building is the same inclination not applied to using an architect or design professional? Why are the skills and value they can add to a project so easily ignored, or dismissed.

As a profession, architects themselves are not necessarily seen to be doing a lot to showcase the value we can add. Consider the way architecture is marketed: it is all about shiny, glossy images, promoting a sense of betterment rather than relatability. Stuck in a cycle of self-promotion, this marketing is at the core of what we do. If the project isn’t deemed worthy of an online blog or high-end magazine, the story and design remains untold.

As architects we desire these projects. We are often fueled by the ‘hero’ image of a building: a two-dimensional picture that is celebrated through publicity in the media and used as an integral part of judging in industry awards. A picture that subsequently results in the engagement of new projects of the same ilk.

What isn’t marketed, or told, is the value that we, as design professionals add to the fabric of our architectural landscape. We don’t talk about the buildings in the background, the buildings’ that are the grain, or the core, of our city. We simply celebrate the foreground.

What the high-end glossy pictures don’t share are how the years of training and unique skills, possessed by the architect, are working harmoniously together to achieve an efficient, functional and cost effective result; that also ticks all the boxes for appearance. The fact that a building looks good, that it pushes the boundaries of design, or that it is polarizing in it’s aesthetics, is over shadowing the value it is adding to the end user and the environment in which it is found.

If we continue to undermine the impact an architect can have on our built environment the grain of our city has the potential to lose out. As the buildings in the foreground shine, the essence of the city will fade, leaving in its place structures that fail to add value to how we live, interact and experience the landscape of our city.

It is reported that architects are involved in less than 5% of the housing market. A shocking figure that needs to change at both a public and professional level. Don’t assume that an architect won’t be interested in your project. The reality is, that no matter what the parameters, a good designer will be able to apply betterment and improve the value of your project – in every sense of the word, everytime.

As architects we need to ask ourselves how we can be more relevant, and as consumers we need to be asking whether not having that value added is good enough. The answer is simple, it’s not.

Published in Metropol Magazine

Published on Thursday, March 16th, 2017