Conference Agenda

Overview and details of the sessions of this conference. Please select a date or location to show only sessions at that day or location. Please select a single session for detailed view (with abstracts and downloads if available).

Session Overview
RN19_07: Architecture as/of a Profession
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Mirko Noordegraaf, Utrecht University
Location: BS.3.28
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Business School, Third Floor, North Atrium Oxford Road

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Working As An Architect, Surviving Architecture: The Grand And The Mundane

Melahat Sahin-Dikmen

University of Westminster, United Kingdom

Working as an architect, surviving architecture: the grand and the mundane

The sociological literature on architectural practice is predominantly concerned with its external boundaries as a profession, presumed challenges to architects’ authority from other occupations and the ‘external’ constraints on the pursuit of design ambitions. Two dominant themes can be discerned: architecture has failed to establish monopoly over a clearly defined area of expertise (Kaye, 1960; Larson, 1977; Abbott, 1988; Gutman, 1992) and there is a strong dissonance between the image of independent artist and the reality of practice (Cuff, 1991; Caven and Diop, 2012). The focus is very much on strategies of occupational closure and architectural firms (Blau, 1984; Symes et at al, 1985) whilst the divisions and relations that structure architectural practice are little examined.

Holding a Bourdieusian field lens (Bourdieu, 1993; Stevens, 1998) onto experiences of working as an architect, this paper shows that architects operate in a field divided by conflicts between competing interests, capitals and narratives. The dominant representation of architecture as an independent, client focused and creative endeavour is contested with reference to technical and managerial expertise, inter-dependence between construction occupations and architects’ social responsibilities. At the same time, architects are united by shared beliefs and ideals and in meeting the rules and requirements of the field, they contribute to the reproduction of its divisions and illusions. Above all, individual accounts are indicative of the social, economic and political relations that structure the field of production (of the built environment), within which architects are positioned, with implications for the classical theories of the architectural profession.

New Risks, New Distinctions. Architecture in the Age of Digitalization

Thomas Schmidt-Lux, Alina Wandelt

University of Leipzig, Germany

As one of the oldest professions, architecture is largely concerned with the general func-tions of social economy. Architects do not only provide shelter for people but bear a central responsibility for the set-up and workings of society. Digitalization seems to pose a threat to this: Tasks that used to be performed by architects, are becoming increasingly automated. Technologies like BIM (building infor-mation modelling) are changing the process of designing, constructing and operating build-ings. And while ‘architecture without the architect’ may seem improbable today, software makes it conceivable to think of automatically generated or partly transferred designs that ultimately render architects obsolete. Against this backdrop important questions arise: In what ways do architects use, acquire and assimilate digital technologies at their disposal? How do architects perceive processes of digitalization? And how does all of this possibly alter results and working conditions of the domain?

On the basis of in-depth interviews with architectural offices in Germany, the paper addresses how digital technologies set new conditions for architects. As our research shows, digitalization is no news for architects, but enforces collaborative arrangements, which potentially blur the lines between human and non-human actors. Simultaneously, digitalization functions as a means of differentiation among the highly competitive field of architectural firms that strive to distinguish themselves from their competitors on the basis of their use and framing of analogue techniques. Methodologically, our research challenges the aptitude of existing the-ories of the sociology of professions: Defining the impossibility to standardize actions as one of the characteristic features of professional practice, theories may have to be revised to account for digital technologies that heavily rely upon standardization.

The Knowledge Practices Of Mid-Career Architects: Building A Career And Responding To The Internationalisation Of Professional Activities

Venetsiya Dimitrova

HafenCity University Hamburg, Germany

In the context of growing globalisation, architecture has come up with new forms of professional practice that have been manifested in the emergence and increasing dominance of global architectural firms. These international offices have become an attractive employer for mid-career architects, as they hold the promise of prestige and invaluable experience, by enabling professionals to work on transnational large-scale and design-ambitious projects. Yet, although these professionals are crucial for the generation and implementation of designs, and thus for the functioning of global architectural offices, they have remained invisible in the public and academic discourses that have been dominated by the figure of the “starchitect”.

This paper addresses the outlined gap by focusing on the knowledge practices of mid-career professionals, namely on the skills, codified strategies and implicit know-hows these actors develop, in order to respond to the ongoing internationalisation of professional activities. This complex set of practices is strongly interwoven with architects’ professional development, which is often shaped by labour-intensive, underpaid and intermittent employment, and uncertain contractual conditions. Hereby, architects inevitably need to negotiate between the desire to build a career, and the precarious and volatile working conditions that impact their personal path. Moving beyond the common perception of professional roles as prestigious and privileged, the paper explores empirically the knowledge practices of these less visible actors, and contributes to the conceptualisation of how these practices impact professionals’ identities and career development, and of the role they play for the generation and reinforcement of barriers and inequalities within the profession itself.

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