The alchemy of architecture & daily life
To be an Architect
It's interesting when you reveal to people that you are a Registered Architect, the first thing someone says is 'Oh that would be amazing, I wanted to be one of those' or alternatively, 'Oh my cousin is one too' (turns out he/she actually is a draftsperson or a student ... but anyway ... ) This week I was asked the question - 'if you had your time over would you choose that path again...?'
Over my 20 years of working in the building industry there have been quite a few changes. The number of pages of drawings that I used to print for a bespoke house to get consent has more than doubled, and there has been a substantial increase in paperwork and liability! Within the building industry as a whole, I have also watched as the cost of building meant creating a beautiful, warm, quality home (without bells and whistles) increased so that the cost went beyond most people's reach, meaning they resorted to poor quality design/build homes to maximise the area they felt they had to build. The building industry itself has also had its 'ups' and of course its 'downs', and it took sheer bloody minded determination to stay working in an Architecture career after having kids, as well as starting my own practice in the middle of a recession.
The things that haven't changed over that time is my desire to see people live in quality sustainable homes. The 'affordable' issue has become a lot more difficult to manage with the increase in labour and material and land costs over the years, but it still can be achieved with good design and a sensitive approach to area. As the practice has grown over the years, we have had more opportunities to design larger luxury properties - but the principle of quality materials, carefully considered details and site specific design is relevant at all building budgets .... our early days of being able to craft something tactile and beautiful with a very small budget was a skill that was honed indeed, and has enabled us to think outside the square (without breaking the bank) when creating beautiful architecture at higher budgets.
I have seen over the years how the collaboration on site with experienced builders and craftsmen (or craftswomen) makes such a difference to the end result. From both the clients satisfaction and the development of the drawings into the built form - it's now a stage that we insist is part of our engagement to ensure the quality is there and the clients have an enjoyable building experience - and the builders too! While the DIY culture is alive and well in New Zealand, the skills are not the same as they once were and the understanding of how the legal contracts, building code and council systems work now is simply not there. Too many clients would get themselves into hot water either through poor choice of builder, or simply not recognising the amount of work that is required during this time (placing them under a great deal of stress). We know that our skills and experience mean that we have can avoid these situations for them, and we can be there to answer builder's queries and collaborate on the building site with them. Architecture is an art that involves many hands.
One of the most satisfying moments in my job is to hear about how an intuitively designed home works for people's lives, how it enables them to achieve their goals and how it encourages the family to gather together, and how it fits within the landscape or neighbourhood as a whole. If there is one aim that has run through my career, it is that the quality of a home should not just last one generation, but be there to shelter future generations in a healthy and sustainable manner. We build not only for today, but for our kids as well, knowing that we can make a difference to future generations is a huge driver for why we do what we do.
It has been a huge privilege to be a part of my client's lives - in some cases over many years - and be involved in listening, collaborating and understanding what type of home they need to fit how they live, and what will meet their dreams and aspirations, what will meet their changing needs in the future. I can't tell you what a joy it is to see these families grow over the years and see how many of them have stayed in those homes over that time. It is a testimony that goes unspoken long after the house has been built, photographed, and lived in for years, but one that I consider a true test of how well our design has met their brief.
So, would I do it all over again?