The Architect as [Other]
In 2015, the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) presented The Other Architect in order to challenge the common representation of the architect as a fixed archetype. Ranging from early 1960s through contemporary practices, the twenty-one subjects on display constituted a spectrum of alternative modes of practice that eschew the conventional notion of the architect as a manager of specialists within an eco-system of owners, developers and contractors for new prototypes that create alternative forms of architecture. From research practices to bus tours and mail-order audiovisual kits, the collection of so-called experiments claimed to “supply us with an ongoing operating manual for critically engaging with the urgent issues of our time…and ideas for new ways of defining architecture.”
The fundamental intention of the exhibition was to present how architectural practice is able to evolve from conventional production methodologies (of buildings) in response to social and cultural environments. The deconstruction of the architect as an archetype is fostered through each practitioner’s critical engagement of their environment in order to subvert any preconceived expectation of their processes and output. The architect is no longer simply a producer of buildings, but rather a flexible creative force that is able to situate themselves in unfamiliar territories to realize alternative forms of architecture.
The Other Architect was successful in its endeavor to reframe how the architect can operate beyond traditional means and methods. The inclusion of alternative models of practice into architectural discourse further destabilizes any traditional definition of the architect and fosters unlimited possibilities in defining new models. However, The Other Architect’s success in exhibiting models outside the conventional sphere overlooks an expansion of potential models within that very environment.
Rather than looking at alternative modes of architectural production altogether, The Architect as (Other) emphasizes newfound potential for operating within the current eco-system. The architect has their role as lead designer and manager of other specialists within the building construction hierarchy, but what happens when that position is subverted or re-routed? The architect as [owner], the architect as [contractor], the architect as [politician], the architect as [economist]…
The exhibition’s research is simultaneously retrospective and prospective in its analysis. The historical exploration begins with ancient Egypt and chronicles the development of practice throughout key historical moments leading up to Modernism. Rather than focusing on individual architects, this analysis displays the transformation of the architect as a dynamic figure holding multiple responsibilities. The historical evolution leads up to more recent and contemporary architects who have reconfigured their position within the architectural ecosystem and illuminates how this reconfiguration informs their practice. The historical aspect reveals the critical influence the architect has in the production of a building, while the contemporary counterpart exhibits architects who undertake multifarious additional roles.
The Architect as (Other) hints at the diminishing role of the architect within the building process as a relatively new phenomenon. Due to the growing complexity of buildings and reliance on specialists, architects have marginalized their role in the design and construction process to avoid issues of liability. However, this exhibition should not be read as a reactionary call for architects to control the entire building process, but rather a demonstration of how the hybridization of roles in smaller degrees can foster significant results.
In its current form, the research is by no means exhaustive or complete; rather it is a skeleton for further research and analysis. In beginning to survey contemporary forms of practice, only a few are highlighted to in order to exemplify new archetypes. Styles are intentionally stripped from each subject in order to focus on their methodology of production, rather than open discussion into formal or aesthetic preference. Through this process, we hope to elucidate both a historical perspective on the role of the architect, and define a stage for its current and future potential.