Rethinking Architectural Values- Beyond Design to Assurance Image 01

Rethinking Architectural Values: Beyond Design to Assurance

Share with

After sharing a version of this discussion on LinkedIn, I’m posting it here to give you insight into the architectural profession’s evolving role in today’s risk-conscious world. Is architecture merely about aesthetics, or does it have a more substantial role?


In the April 2024 issue of the Royal Institute of British Architects Journal (RIBAJ), two contrasting narratives caught my attention and prompted deep reflection on the current state of the architectural profession. One narrative was a feature on a design competition with a prize of just £2500, highlighting the devaluation of the design phase; the other was an insightful article by RIBA President Muyiwa Oki titled ‘Confidence Trip,’ which reasserted the architect’s pivotal role in guiding clients through the complexities of risk.

Critique of Current Competitions

The paltry £2500 prize for the RIBAJ competition underscores a longstanding issue within our field: the devaluation of the architectural design phase. It’s disheartening to see young architects and students encouraged to work almost for free, providing companies with valuable marketing material under the guise of competition. This practice undermines their worth and fails to keep pace with economic realities, reminiscent of the stagnant prize amounts from competitions I entered in the late ’90s.

Muyiwa Oki’s Insightful Contradiction

Upon reading “Confidence Trip,” I reconsidered my initial frustrations. Muyiwa Oki, the current RIBA president, argues that architects’ true value lies not solely in their ability to design aesthetically pleasing structures but in their capacity to guide clients through a project by managing and mitigating risks. The more glamorous allure of design often overshadows this essential perspective. Oki’s emphasis on practical, risk-averse approaches challenges the prevailing education system that, in my experience, prioritises design over practical and contractual responsibilities.

Personal Reflections on Teaching

Having taught within an engineering faculty for nearly two decades, I have come to value the direct nature of solving design problems—without the ‘arch-fluff.’ This experience reinforced my belief that architectural education should integrate practical skills and creative design more comprehensively. The focus predominantly on aesthetic and functional aspects, at the expense of construction and legal acumen, does a disservice to students who must realise that architecture, much like engineering, involves significant problem-solving.

The Need for a Paradigm Shift

Our community must embrace a balanced approach, recognising that excellent design must be accompanied by comprehensive risk management. Muyiwa Oki’s call to “forge a future where architecture is not just about design but assurance” should be a cornerstone of architectural education and practice. Most architects already adopt this ethos in their practice; however, it’s rarely celebrated or adequately charged for.

The Role of the Architect under the Building Safety Act

The Building Safety Act marks a pivotal moment for the architectural profession. It suggests that architects should assume the role of ‘Principal Designer,’ leading the safety and compliance processes of building projects. This new responsibility underscores the need for architects to embrace their potential as managers and administrators, not just as designers. If we do not grasp the mantle of leadership in these areas, there is a real risk that other professions may usurp these roles, particularly given their more methodical and process-driven nature.

Architectural Presentation and Perception

It’s time to redefine the archetype of the architect in both popular and professional culture. The days of the ‘star architect’—akin to a celebrity footballer—should give way to a more grounded and pragmatic portrayal. We need to act as much as risk managers and legal experts as we do designers.

Concluding Thoughts

While glossy monographs and stunning visualisations will always inspire, we must not overlook our profession’s critical, less glamorous aspects. The legal, safety, and regulatory components are fundamental to our work’s integrity and success. Unfortunately, RIBA’s bookshop, dominated by ‘archi-porn,’ reflects this skewed focus. We must advocate for reevaluating how architectural value is measured and imparted in education and practice, emphasising the importance of risk management and practical skills alongside creative design.

Call to Action

Let’s promote a holistic view that values assurance as much as aesthetics. The architectural field must balance its priorities to maintain its relevance and sustainability. Prioritising risk management and practical skills is not just necessary for our profession’s survival—it’s essential for fostering safe, beautiful, and functional environments for everyone.

Link to LinkedIn Post

You can take a look at the original article posted on LinkedIn here.

Main Image Credit: Architects: Ensuring client assurance and risk mitigation with every design. (DALL-E)

Ready to talk?

Contact me for a free no-obligation consultation

Contact me for a free, no-obligation consultation

Want to discuss your home? Send us a message and we will get back to you.

By entering your email address, you enable us to send you an introductory email. You can unsubscribe at any time.