As the old adage goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Looking back over the last 200 years of architectural practice, I believe all design work performed by design professionals falls into one of three categories. These categories have stood the test of time. They were true then, are true today, and will be true 200 years from now. They are:
What has changed and continues to change is how we perform the tasks that fall into these categories. There are many catalysts to change, but technology is without doubt the major driving force and will continue to be so. It affects design tools and processes, construction materials and products, building science, and client and architect expectations. With higher expectations of building performance come higher expectations of personal and professional performance.
While architects have always exhibited social conscience, better design technology has given us the ability to design and verify building performance more accurately. As this technology continues to develop, we can expect the sustainable design movement to evolve into a standard practice. Other social issues such as accessible design, affordable housing, and historic preservation will also benefit from enhanced technology.
With greater knowledge and more sophisticated design tools, architects will follow the medical and legal professions in forming specializations. These specialized practices will be centered on both building types, such as churches, schools, and office buildings, as well as practice areas such as building envelopes, specifications, and interiors. New specializations will also be created and as management of facility information expands, the role of project information architect will be established.
The desire to live near amenities will continue to bring people to urban areas, and cities will continue to increase in density as land values rise. Transportation, urbanization, and an aging population will also affect architecture and the design of the built environment. We will demand more mixed-use communities where living, working, playing, and shopping are all combined into super-blocks. And while electronic shopping and telecommuting will work for many, personal human interaction is a necessary for many others. Expect versions of the old “company town” to be centered on major industries, educational institutions, and service providers as communities of living.
With more complex and technology integrated into buildings, construction will continue to move away from its typical construction techniques of site-built facilities to shop-fabricated, field-erected construction. These construction techniques will also constitute a response to the demand for decreased construction time and cost while providing greater quality assurance. The concept of “plug and play” buildings for which owners can select standard design configurations and work with their architect to customize them to suit their personal tastes, needs, and budgets is probable for some building types.
Yes, the practice of architecture will be different in the year 2207, but it will also be the same. Architects will continue to be shapers of the built environment, meeting the human, technical, and process needs of clients and their projects. We respond to the physical, social, cultural, economic, and technological constraints of the time in which we practice, aspiring to provide leadership and vision. In the end, our role will be the same, to make the community and world a better, more beautiful, and more enjoyable place to live.