Architectural practice: the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA) point of view as a topic, could mean what NIA considers as an ideal practice in Architecture. It could also mean the type of architectural practices NIA recognizes in its statutes. This paper will attempt to understand it from the two perspectives.
The type of architectural practices NIA categorically recognizes, will include practice as consultants in private firms; as a public servant; as design –and –build and also as an academician. Each of these are made reference of in either the NIA Code of Conduct, or Bye-Laws. There are however other forms of architectural practices that though not categorically mentioned in NIA statutes, but are going on without attracting any suction. These include sales and manufacture of building materials; project management; value engineering; facilities management; technical staff of works department in private companies; journalism; politics and free-lancing. This paper will however concentrate on consultancy, public service and academics.
This paper also simplistically understands the word “practice” to mean “to work in a profession” ¹ like architecture, law or medicine. In which case practice in the context of architecture, means to work in the field of that profession. The practice of architecture therefore covers any sector that is involved in the shaping or re-shaping of the built environment. Perhaps this explains our unity here today where private practitioners, public servants and academics come together in a unity of purpose, because we are all practicing architecture. The practice of architecture therefore is not restricted to the private consulting firms. Whatever sector an architect finds him/herself, so long as his schedule entails architectural judgment in content and /or context, such an architect for the purpose of this paper, is in the practice of architecture.
This paper is deliberately aligned with the NIA mission statement “to mobilize informed membership for quality services”² , by focusing on the modest experience of the author in the Public service, Consultancy and a little incursion in academia, as the pedestal for such mobilization. It is hoped that views expressed will provoke the wide range of experiences of this gathering in making the session most rewarding.
The paper will limit itself to the roles and challenges in the practice of architecture; abnormalities of the practice; and some suggestions towards a better practice.
PRACTICE DEVELOPMENT IN ARCHITECTURE
While the older ones amongst us are busy thinking of how to improve their practices, the younger members are more interested in knowing how to find themselves on the practice terrain; how easy or difficult is it to form and run a firm; how can a practice achieve sustainability; what are the constraints to envisage; how prepared are we to lead a firm to success; what challenges the architect faces as a practice leader. It is therefore appropriate to browse through the development process in the life of a practicing architect.
Somehow, the life pattern of most professionals in the service industry is structured in the same way, be it a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant or the architect. From the age of six to around twenty four, is spent learning mostly in school. From then up to around the age thirty five is spent developing experience and confidence. Thereafter up to retirement as a specialist, struggles to maintain relevance through coping with new developments.
The practice of architecture, like in other professions commences with tutelage. At this level, the professional is subjected to rigor, to the extent that one feels really exploited. It is the era of uncertainties and anxiety for the young practitioner. One recalls in those days whenever a meeting is scheduled, anxiety sets in, wondering what kind of issues, questions and challenges will be raised at the meeting, and whether one will measure up to expectation or not; what should one say and what should one not say? Thanks to an advice from a psychologist who once said in psychology, “little anxiety is crucial to success, can spark you to perform your best..” ³ This level takes a minimum of three years if one finds himself properly engaged and exposed. It is usually the best period within which one should prepare for and pass his professional practice examination. The first two or three years after graduation are the most critical years for any professional, being the transition period that bridges the academic theory with reality of practice.
Those who persevere, rise to the peak where executive policies are formulated. Like the silhouettes of the pyramid, the beginning is usually wide and tapers gradually to the narrower peak. The few that climb to the top are those who prove themselves indispensable. Though sub-consciously, many organizations, private or public, practice what in the “Harvard” language is referred to as “up or out.” You either measure up and make yourself indispensable and rise to the level of a partner, or you voluntarily opt out or pushed out.
At this Executive level, whether private practice or public sector, one has reached the level of comments, criticism and/or approval. One does not need to strictly be in the office eight to five every day, or five working days a week. One can play more golf, market the firm and spend more time paying back the society he reaped from. Kenzo Tange of blessed memory was known for visiting the Design Studio at very odd hours of the night when all workers are off. He scribbles his comments on every architect’s drawing board. After all, Pollard ⁴ asserts that ” Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work.” The picture given above is not only relevant to practice in the private firm. It also applies to public sectors with result orientation. Where ever one finds himself, the pattern of growth is the same. There is hardly any short cut to rising to the pinnacle of architectural practice. The bane of most young architects is the search for short cut. Someone once over-heard one young colleague complaining that older firms like ARCHCON and HABITAT should give way for the younger ones coming up now to take over. Lest we forget the foreign firms that dominated the market in the good old days did not just surrender the practice terrain to these older firms in the fashion of an athletics rally. The Nigerian firms fought their way through competence, consistency and subsistence, as opined by psychologist Pollard⁵ that ” Consultancy is consistency and subsistence of the consultant.”
IDEALS OF ARCHITECTURAL PRACTICE
NIA code of conduct and the bye-laws regulate the practice of architecture from the point of view of client-architect; architect-architect; architect-employee and architect-public relationships. An attempt is hereby made to discuss in brief NIA’s expectation of the architect in private practice, in the public service, in the academics and even in politics. This may provide a platform for self assessment for us all, and probable adjustment in the areas that may require improvement in our common goal of providing a most conducive environment for human use.
Architects in private practice should aim to be competent in design or be able to develop competence as quickly as necessary over a wide range of building type. He should also be able to follow the building design and documentations, through all stages of its development and implementation. The architect should also be able to know how to achieve equitable balance at various stages between building quality and functional performance against the pressure of cost and time control
In the architect in public sector, where the ministry permits by way of making projects available, is expected to be everything the architect in private practice is. Public sector practitioners should in addition be able to regulate public interest in the assessment of services provided by private firms especially in the areas of aesthetics, functionality, value engineering, cost and time advantages.
Further, the architect in public service should be able to, respect and protect the Code of Conduct, ethics and Bye-laws of the profession as provided by the Nigerian Institute of Architects, and interpret its provisions to his employer.
In view of the fact that academia encourages specialization, the architect in academics should be vast in one or more of all the areas listed for architect in private practice, so as to be able to communicate such knowledge to students in the areas he so specializes. He should induce the dignity of the profession in particular and professionalism in general to the students through mannerism and teachings of the ideals of the Code of Conduct and ethics as provided by the NIA. He should research into the impact of his teaching on the graduate in the practice as a feed back for improvement.
Emanating from a professional background the architect in politics should engage his professional dexterity in shaping politics towards a better physical and enabling environment.