Young architects challenge engineers
The newest generation of architects wants to be part of the larger plan.
In the spring of 2014, I went back to college. Not as a student, but as a professor. Not in engineering (which is my field of practice), but in architecture. I was asked to teach a graduate course at the University of Minnesota entitled “Energy and Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ).” The class is a requirement for students pursuing a master’s degree in sustainable design and is an elective for all other master of architecture candidates. Upon agreeing to teach this course, I was told that it needed to be updated and refreshed to reflect the current needs of the design community. “OK,” I said. “No problem, I’m current in the design community. I can do this.”
I got busy and started working on my syllabus, lectures, reading assignments, and projects. I developed a revised course that I felt was “updated and refreshed.” On the first day of class I felt well-prepared. I walked into the classroom, set up my laptop, got organized, and waited for the students to arrive.
For the most part, I was expecting them to sit back, listen, and take a few notes. To be honest, part of me expected them to be bored and uninterested—because let’s face it: energy and IEQ are not the most riveting of subjects. I have been involved in many project design meetings where I start talking about HVAC and energy and people go straight for their phones. Most design professionals I know are interested in energy efficiency and healthy buildings, but look to the engineer to provide energy models and air quality calculations. Once the students showed up, my preconceived ideas changed. I was wrong. They were interested! They were engrossed on a level that I wasn’t expecting.
This group of students interrupted my lectures and challenged the things I was telling them. They did Internet searches during class and sometimes provided additional support or new arguments. They were completely engaged. What was happening? Why was I wrong? The answers I came up with included things like the mainstreaming of integrated design and the influence of U.S. Green Building Council LEED and other green building rating systems. Another thought was that they were in the happy place of not having budgets and not having clients. Those things help, but I think there is something else.
My students are mostly Millennials (also known as Generation Y, born between 1981 and 2000). They are part of a generation known for sharing. They share everything on social media for all to see. They share rooms via Airbnb.com and car rides via Uber. They respect people in authority, but are not afraid to question and engage authority. They care about the planet and climate change. This group of soon-to-be architects grew up watching natural disasters increase in frequency and intensity and have emerged with a great concern of how the built environment has a responsibility to respond. They aren’t afraid of or bored with the energy and IEQ calculations. They want to understand and be included. This group of students showed me that the next generation of architects is going to be great for engineers.
To further develop my hypothesis of the "new" architect, I reached out to a former student named Lucas Glissendorf. He is a master of architecture candidate in the School of Architecture, College of Design at the University of Minnesota. I asked, "How do you think your generation of architects is different from previous generations?"
His response: “The emerging architectural professional will embrace a shift from the idea of an architect as a singular ‘master designer’ to a ‘master collaborator.’ A successful architect of our generation will approach design holistically, engaging multidisciplinary partnerships early on in the process. Architects of our generation are seeking greater collaboration with engineers, contractors, consultants, even material fabricators. The traditional silos of practice are being dissolved, and the emerging generation of professionals possesses an eagerness to work across disciplines. A diverse team of professionals and specialists is highly valued.
“A successful architect of our generation will recognize the accessibility of knowledge, information, data, and technology as tools that can enhance the design process. We are able to model, predict, and manage complex information with more sophistication than ever before. Research is gaining relevance in the field. Practitioners are drawing from multidisciplinary sources to inform critical design decisions. The emerging generation of architectural professionals is being trained in an age where information and technology are readily available, and knowledge is easily sharable. This positions emerging professionals with enormous opportunities to leverage information and technology in powerful ways, and engage in multidisciplinary collaboration.”
Glissendorf and all of my students give me great optimism for the next generation design community. I can finally see the design silos that pit architect versus engineer versus contractor dissolving. I can see that the practice of integrated design that has had moderate success over recent years will truly be mainstream—not because of code enforcement or state requirements, but because of a generation that just wants to be included.
Julianne Laue is senior MEP engineer, Center for Sustainable Energy, at Mortenson Construction. She is a member of the Consulting-Specifying Engineer editorial advisory board, and is a 2012 40 Under 40 award winner.