HOW DO YOU DEFINE A GREAT ARCHITECT?

Published 2019-12-10

I've asked myself that question several times, and the answer is always the same. A good architect is holistic, with the ability to understand how design, economics, and technology work together to achieve the best outcome. 

That's how I described it ten years ago when I accepted a professorship at the Chalmers University of Technology. That was the first time I truly materialised the idea that architecture is more than an aesthetic expression, although it was something that I had thought about for a long time. 

During the years working in Germany, I was introduced to a working process with a holistic responsibility, and that was also the topic of conversation among the building contractors back in the 80s. "Expensive today, inexpensive tomorrow", as Ernst Rosén said at the time - and it rings true still today because it doesn't matter what we design if we can't calculate. 

So, it's safe to say I've been living with the notion of the architect having a holistic role, for so long now that I can hardly separate myself from the thought anymore. Today I prefer using terms like "architecture, business know-how, and digitalisation" to describe how architects should work. But in the end, the answer is always the same. To me, it's obvious that the architect should have control of the entire process. It is our responsibility to secure that the end result is consistent with the vision and to make sure it has not been lost due to cost reductions along the way. However, that calls for us to assume greater responsibility, and not only having strong abilities in design and technology, but also a thorough business savviness. Only then can we be part of creating long-lasting value, not only for our clients but for the society as a whole. 

When our own project Danska Vägen was finalised in 2013, my market position changed. The industry realised that we had been able to carry out a project where we by our own account had managed to control both the financial part and the aesthetics, and our firm was now viewed through a different lens. As architects, we had proven that we could get the numbers straight, and then some. I then had the options to either continue solely developing our own company's business know-how or take on the challenge of influencing all architecture firms in Sweden.

The decision was rather simple. To develop the role of the architect is, by far, the most critical question to me in my professional role. Stefan Carenholm and I started the organisation Byggande Arkitekter, and the process of adding the economic aspect to the undergraduate program at Chalmers was initiated. Today, five years later, we are finally there. And I'm very proud that Semrén & Månsson has contributed to installing the first interdisciplinary professorship in architecture and economics. When the renowned architect Walter Unterrainer assumed the position in September, we took an important step towards broadening the view of what being a great architect means. Together we are making history, and we are influencing the future work of many architects. Now it's time for us to prove that good architecture and good economics actually go hand in hand. 

Magnus