Architectural Agency

Recently one my clients, Mike Rehorst with Northwestern Mutual, sent me this link to a TED presentation by well-known architect (in the building sense) Joshua Prince-Ramus:

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/joshua_prince_ramus_building_a_theater_that_remakes_itself.html

During the first 8 minutes or so, the presenter makes a number of excellent points about how architects have abdicated their power to act. (He actually calls us cowards.) The rest of the presentation is an amazing example of what happens when architects take the responsibility to make their creations come to life. As with most TED videos, it is well worth the 18 minutes it takes to watch it.

Mike and I had been talking about the role of architecture and how architects respond to their organizational context. For many architects there is a big divide between representation and what Prince-Ramus calls agency – taking action. Too often we create “genius sketches” but accept little accountability for making them real. We expect the organization to embrace them and do the “easy” work of implementation. I’ve got news for you. Creating the architecture – those genius sketches – is the easy part. Getting the organization to embrace them and make them its own is the hard part. Of course we know that; we just don’t act on the knowledge.

By way of example: I occasionally recommend to architects that they need a small team of developers to implement some parts of architecture like an ESB or SOA components. I get the “we’re architects man, we don’t do that” response. Well ... maybe we should. Maybe we should “own the problem” instead of pointing our finger at others

Four things every architect should completely understand: what their client wants, what their client needs, and what their client will accept – which is essentially how far the client is willing to go in rationalizing their needs and wants. Oh, the fourth item? Architects need to understand their own willingness to jump into the breach and resolve the client’s internal conflict. If individual clients or the organization at large is not supporting EA strategies (what we think the client needs), then who’s problem is that to solve?

Well, I think it is ours. What do you think?

Comments

Jeff, I very much agree with

Jeff, I very much agree with your points, effectively about the goal of architecture being to create not just to define. Its interesting, but also disappointing, to hear that traditional architecture is suffering from the same issue.

Also I can certainly confirm that the best successes that I've had as an architect, trying to get innovative ideas to fly, were by prototype demonstrations. All the clever powerpoint presentations in the world can't shift decision makers to get behind new concepts like the credibility of a working demonstration.