Michael Donaldson

An Emergent Practice Integrity

In Progress

Practice-based research

Barry Wylant

An Emergent Practice Integrity.

The profession of architecture has always been about balancing complexity, and the physical, intangible, political and cultural drivers of human needs and desires. Our work incorporates art, science, business and responsibility, in varying proportions and with an uneven distribution, as interpreted by each practitioner and as influenced by their context. These influences affect all of human enterprise, and naturally they change over time, often slowly, sometimes quickly. We are in a time of acceleration, and of changes that are happening faster than we can comprehend in the infrequent lucid and reflective moments of our day-to-day lives.

Taking stock of how practical methods relate to the real world we interact with is a necessary part of maintaining any intellectual practice. In life, we must all compare our goals and ambitions with opportunity potential, resources, limitations and demands, and ask ourselves if there is a fit, and where there is discomfort. In architectural conversations, there are plenty of signs of discomfort, in the gaps between approaches to practice, the variable role of the architect, risk allocation, financial reward, and perceived agency. We are increasingly asked to confront complexity, the unknown, and an evolving context as we try to balance between our pillars in order to create a vibrant and relevant practice. The proliferation of boundaries between disciplines (creative and professional) has made it difficult to bring diverse approaches and a broad spectrum of stakeholder concerns into day-to-day design processes, especially for uninitiated parties. Professionalism can be weaponized, exclusive, and opaque, when it has the potential to be a balancing force.

If the goals of architectural practice (at its best) are to promote a positive and equitable society, improve living standards, promote wellbeing, natural harmony, and a sustainable economy, we must recalibrate to ensure that these goals are aligned with our methods and mandate. As with any design project, as practitioners, we must ensure that we are engaged in research and synthesis that is clearly and critically directed, rather than assuming the veracity of conventional knowledge. We are facing evolutionary pressures, an imperative to adapt proactively to ensure that we will thrive, so that the transformative functions that this type of broad-ranging practice has the potential to develop can flourish.

This experimentation is directed towards the creation of a richer form of practice, one that can reach into a diverse and unconventional toolkit, in search of an integrity and ethical footing that will address the types of systemic issues and contextual problems we are likely to increasingly face at all scales. We cannot ignore our context and antagonists, including our own nature - to be able to apply strategic pressure, we must understand them and engage. To be clear, architecture is not the savior of society, nor should it be. It should, however, be self-aware, targeted, rigorous, impactful and positive, and it should not perpetuate negative effects in our world – others are succeeding, we know better, and we can do better.

What will it take to create a practice that can achieve this? Who does it need, how will it communicate, fund itself and direct its efforts towards the goals that have been established? This is the essence of a future basis for “Practice Integrity.” It may or may not be architecture, but surely, the transformative energy and gravitas of our rigour should exert some small force against the inertia of deep-rooted problems.