I recently had the opportunity to speak with Reed Kroloff, director of Cranbrook Academy of Art, and pick his brain about the field of architecture today and on shaping the next generation of architects and designers.
Kroloff is an influential thinker who has been a TED presenter, editor-in-chief of Architecture magazine, and while dean of the Tulane School of Architecture, he oversaw the planning for rebuilding New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.
In your role as educator, editor, and consultant, you have a unique perspective on how the field has changed over the years. What have you observed?
First and most fundamental has been the digitization of the field. It has utterly revolutionized every aspect of architectural practice from our earliest thoughts of the creation of a building, to the documents, to the execution and construction of the building. Digitization gives architects and designers greater control over their projects than they’ve had perhaps since the middle of the Twentieth Century. Twenty-five years ago, architects didn’t see themselves as part of the building process. They saw themselves as supervisory and peripheral. Now they see themselves as central to it, as they always should have.
The second change is the arrival of women and minorities to the field. Architecture was a tenaciously late player to the game, but it has now come around and is actively embracing this, recognizing that there are tremendous benefits to inclusivity. While ownership and management of firms is still an area where women and minorities are dramatically underrepresented, still their presence in the profession overall is enormously large.
This is a good thing for all the right social equity and justice reasons, but also because it allows the architectural profession to come into line with where other industries have gone before. It begins to align the profession with other professions where women and minorities have already become a presence.
The third major change has been the splintering of the field into subspecialties. Some firms, for example, just design the curtain walls of buildings. Some firms just analyze rental real estate rates and how that affects floor plans.
This creates opportunities for real expertise, but it also splinters the field into such small shards that generalist practices become threatened. The client becomes more confused, and an army of consultants is created, such as owner’s representatives, that are odious in their effect on the practice because they get between the architect and his or her client.
Read part two of our interview with Reed Kroloff.