Conversations in Design is a new series from CRTKL in which design thinkers from around the firm come together to discuss critical topics facing the AEC industry. World Architecture Day, celebrated on the first Monday of every October, was established by the Union International des Architects (UIA) in 2005 to “remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat” — coinciding with UN-Habitat’s World Habitat Day. Today, we’re sitting down with CRTKL’s Michael Friebele from Dallas and Jorge Beroiz from London to discuss the role and responsibility of architecture and the profession in today’s society.
What is the role of the architect today? How has that role evolved from the past?
Jorge Beroiz: The architect’s role in the past tells us where we are now and where we’re going. Everything in life is an evolution. In the past, an architect was a master builder – someone understanding of design and the constructability of a building, having the trust of clients and investors to see that process all the way through. That role has shifted through the years to the building designer, where we focus on the design above all, but architects are only a small part of the process once the complete execution begins in construction.
Our profession is almost always in a transition of some sort. The tools we use to produce our work are outstanding, accurate and we’re able to deliver pretty much and measure anything we want. The question we need to ask ourselves is, what do we want? When it comes to execution, we’re mostly still building with sticks – the construction industry is not tapping into this massive wealth of technology; we have to apply it in new ways.
The industry would benefit from a more substantial role of the architect throughout the whole process—including construction. I think that it’s essential that the essence of what we’re creating does not get lost and that the message stays clear throughout the process.
Michael Friebele: How we fit into the bigger whole has been a transition for some time. When I was in school, for example, a lot of the focus was on tools and methods, emphasizing which program would get what done or how we might represent a concept of form. That overall outlook within the profession shows that we lost touch with the architect’s initial concept as the master builder. In hindsight, that was a period of transition in the profession, too. Today, there is a particular drive focused on construction typologies and how they fit into a greater social, political, and economic context. In that sense, we’ve started realizing how to utilize the tools to coalesce in a meaningful way.
What is our responsibility to society in the AEC industry? How will the role of the architect change in the future?
JB: When a designer comes to me with an idea, I always ask a question: what is the purpose? Why did you do what you did in the way that you did? That’s how we value design – what’s appropriate and what is purely aesthetic. I think we’re moving much more towards purpose-performance-led design, in which there are two significant dimensions to social and environmental responsibility. When I was in architecture school in the 1980s in Buenos Aires, we were taught about climate design – a concept we’re applying today. The industry toyed with the notion but didn’t take it seriously until much more recently. It’s not about just form and function anymore — it’s form, function, performance and purpose.
MF: The moment you recognize you need a purpose is when new opportunities arise. We open to community groups and organizations for help in what the people who live there really want and need. That collaboration infuses another layer into our work. It allows us to learn more about what purpose means. At Thanks-giving Square in Dallas, for example, we’re working with the Thanks-Giving Foundation to imbue the space with properties of meditation and rest to ensure that when the user enters the space, the wave of calm washes over.
JB: We’re putting together the bustle of community collaboration and research and aesthetics to form a multi-dimensional design solution. We’re connecting numbers, statistics, environmental issues, you name it – our profession then turns that into a physical environment. Solving problems, gathering data for solutions, and bringing aesthetics into the equation are all equally important components for success in our position.
MF: When architecture is at its greatest, it resonates well beyond the extent of the original idea. We also view architecture as something that does not always manifest in a built form. One such example is in Tulsa, where we are currently working on a cultural and residential hybrid for a client seeking to make a stronger connection between resident and community. Half of the traditional amenities are digital and promote community interaction outside the project’s walls. The human-centered design aspect is highly interdisciplinary, and we’re continuing to learn what it means to infuse all those elements.
JB: We can apply design thinking outside of buildings – the world doesn’t always need a building as its solution, but it absolutely needs design thinking – that is your creativity, not a commodity.
What advice would you give young people who are hopeful to break into the industry?
JB: When I first started studying architecture, one of my lecturers told me, “you will be the architects of the next century.” I don’t know what the world will be like in the next century, but we need to keep an open mind.
I would also tell young architects that your relationship with your profession will be much like your relationships in other aspects of your life. There will be three stages: you’ll fall head-over-heels in love with it, you’ll see what the reality is and likely be disappointed, then you’ll take that disappointment, and it will drive you to overcome the shortfalls, work with them, and transform them into something completely different. At that point, it’s not just blind puppy love anymore – it’s the kind of love where you respect the flaws, and you’ll work to make it better no matter what. But you must be mindful of that second stage – you can be beaten up by that disappointment, just like you can in a relationship, and you get a divorce. Moving up to the next phase is what makes it a very strong-rooted love.
Also, keep an open mind when applying research to your work. You’re never looking to justify what you already believe; you’re going in to be curious and see what the best solution could be. When you apply research to your work, go with an open mind. We need to be constantly on the go and thinking about how it could be better. If you’re not moving, you’re dead.
MF: I think the central piece of advice I would give to aspiring architects is to recognize both your context and your impact. For me, getting into the profession was taking my Dad’s car one day and following Page through St. Louis. It is the only street that connects suburban areas through the Arch and shows a true cross-section through the city. That tapestry of seeing everything was so new to me, then pairing that with my father’s influence of being a tool designer for 45 years at McDonnell Douglas/ Boeing. He was always highly technical but had to transition often. That kind of experiential and skill side coalesced into an interest to find out how we can take the skills we have to offer or embody and bring them to light in a spatial and community and social sense.
For everyone joining the profession, it’s important to honor your context. It’s a field that will celebrate what you bring to the table. That idea of impact is equally important – explore it, question it, embrace, be angry or excited. This profession has presented me with many different avenues that I didn’t expect – journalism, teaching, everything from historic preservation to brand new development. By understanding your impact, you find those unexpected collaborations that come as a result—getting involved with community groups and the academic realm. If you let go of the structure of the field, it rewards you with the possibility that it’s ever-changing and exciting – it allows you to grow as a person.
It is also vital that your impact should shape the profession for those who see it as unattainable. Explore and honor and embrace the effect you can create and pay it forward. Ensure you’re a steward to the profession.
JB: Every time I work on a project, the moment the building is populated, it’s like bringing blood to the veins. On our Torre Europa project in Madrid, we added a community plaza open to everyone—not just the office tenants. Some people weren’t happy about that at the outset, but you can’t control the community. The community decides what its spaces are. It’s the people that enhance the experience and enhance their lives with community space. Architecture has never been about concrete or timber – it’s about people.
Jorge Beroiz is a Principal with CRTKL. He brings a diverse portfolio of mixed-use, retail and transit-oriented design to his projects across the UK, Europe and the Middle East. His work is recognized within the industry for design innovation and unique project solutions, and he is on the Wandsworth Design Review Panel and participates in external tutorials in various Universities in London Jorge is an award-winning architect dedicated to sustainability and social principles and works with clients and project teams to incorporate these concepts whenever possible. His clients prize his willingness to try new ideas while keeping projects within scope.
Michael Friebele is a Senior Associate with CRTKL. A native of Saint Louis, Missouri, Michael has channeled his professional and personal experiences as a critical medium throughout his work in architectural design, community involvement, and journalism experience. After receiving his master’s degree in Architecture from Kansas State University, Michael located to Dallas, where he has spent seven years working in markets across the globe. Michael’s work focuses on connections, from physical to historical, as a means of informing performance-driven and client-centered design. In addition to his work in architecture, Michael is a self-taught writer, having contributed to such publications as Texas Architect, The Architects Newspaper, and D Magazine. Within the community, Michael served on the Board of Directors for AIA Dallas in 2017, is a member of the Texas Architect Publications Committee, and has volunteered with the Dallas Festival of Ideas, Design Future Dallas, and Life in Deep Ellum. Michael was recognized with the 2017 Associate Award from the American Institute of Architects and the 2016 Associate of the Year from AIA Dallas.