Architects as Experts?

In the Young Architects Forum this past December Mike Mense, FAIA posted a piece on experts + implored architectural colleagues to defend the title of expert when it came to their services. Mentioned in the brief write-up was the apparent lack of opposition voiced by the public when seeking advice + service from experts like doctors, lawyers, engineers, + accountants. If the general public holds these positions + their opinions in high regard, why can an architect not also claim expertise?

Architects are experts of building science, but should architects additionally define themselves as experts on the relationship between humans + the built environment? What are the implications of applying this term to one’s ability to design space?

A large force at play prompting the need for this argument is that anyone can turn on the television + find a number of shows on home improvement, decorating, remodeling, etc.; so when it comes to someone seeking an ‘expert’ in all things spatially related, one is more apt to feel like they are the experts of what they want, regardless of any formal school training or any acronyms behind their name. How many television shows, pinterest boards, + blogs are devoted to performing your own surgeries, or defending yourself in front of a jury? The DIY project is ubiquitous at this point +, arguably, only necessitates further that architects lay claim to some title defining their mastery or proficiency at the very thing they make their living at.

On the other hand, though, isn't it brazen to put such a title on a designer? I think one can be an expert on building assemblies, connections, construction methods, + certainly an architect should strive to be so… but how can one be an expert designer? One architect may solve a spatial problem completely different than another, but maybe I love the one + you love the other? + who is to say one is better? Each design is different, but no less valid. Tadao Ando solves problems differently than Richard Meier, differently than Zaha Hadid -- but, with Pritzker Prizes + countless other accolades, they’re all revered as expert designers with intelligent solutions to their respective spatial problems. What if I abhor Zaha’s designs but I’m told she is an expert -- where does that leave me?

In school I learned how to think about space in different ways; even with the same studio professor, though, my style of thinking was not the same as the student at the desk next to me. Anyone sitting in on a final presentation will tell you, in a class of twelve students, there are usually twelve completely different approaches to the same site + program. If half of the esteemed jury likes her design, + the other half prefers mine, can either of us call ourselves experts?

As with most professions, practice makes perfect. It takes years to become a great architect, with many mistakes + lessons learned the hard way. Additionally, we’ve devoted our lives to careers that require us to perpetually adapt + even predict the future, as trends, materials, + technologies constantly change. Perhaps to be an expert in architecture is more about the ability to produce unique solutions for a design problem, than to have the right answer for the space every time, regardless of client, location, or budget. Architecture is a balance of art + science. One can be an expert in building science, but there is also an ethereal, artistic element that makes a building architecture; to say one is an expert in architecture, then, negates the emotional expression that makes something art.

I’m torn on where this leaves us… as aspiring architects, as a firm, as a collective body of people with some pretty phenomenal ideas. I think having that ‘expert’ label, or reputation perhaps, would have certainly helped in a few architect-client relationships in my experience over the last few years, but who am I [or anyone, for that matter] to say a space couldn’t have been designed another way, by someone with arguably less or no formal training. If, as an architect, I claim to be an expert, but my client has solved his problem beautifully with a doodle he made on the morning commute, doesn't that make him the expert?