The Future of Architecture; Economy, Innovation, Collaboration

Location: Mohawk, 04.08.10
Speakers: Dan Kaplan, AIA, LEED AP — Senior Partner, FXFOWLE Architects; Mustafa K. Abadan, FAIA — Design Partner, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Marianne Kwok — Director, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates; Todd Schliemann, FAIA — Design Partner, Polshek Partnership Architects; Scott Johnson, AIA — Associate Partner & Acting COO, Richard Meier & Partners
Moderator: James S. Russell, FAIA — Architecture Critic, Bloomberg
Organizer: IDNY; Designer Pages
Sponsors: OCULUS/e-Oculus

Understandably for a panel entitled #FUTURTECTURE, there were questions concerning the future of architecture in light of the economy, the recovery, or lack of recovery; but other concerns involved computer programs vs. drawing by hand, innovation, collaboration, and why errors happen even to the best of architects.

Discussing the economy, Dan Kaplan, AIA, LEED AP, senior partner at FXFOWLE Architects, noted that he actually benefited from the recession of the early 1990s because many of his coworkers left traditional forms of practice and became clients. “If we can get beyond the short term,” he said, “there will be a need for architects who can deal with complex situations in the long term.” One way Europeans are dealing with the lack of work in the short term, he explained, is that architectural graduates are assuming leadership positions in business and government, which ends up helping the built environment in the long term.

Innovation, and the potential for making errors due to experimenting with new technology, is always a hot topic when discussing the future of the profession. Since buildings are imprecise, mistakes are inevitable. Also, the construction trades are using the same paradigm as they have for years without adjusting to new technology. “Unlike a car, where there are tests and mock-ups before construction, you can’t do that with architecture. The building is the beta-test,” Kaplan explained. When asked about modular construction as an economic solution that uses innovative processes, Scott Johnson, AIA, associate partner and acting COO at Richard Meier & Partners, didn’t think the quality was there yet, and cautioned: “What if the fabricator went out of business?”

About collaboration, the panelists agreed that crossovers can be very productive, and it is natural for architects to work in an interdisciplinary way. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill was founded on collaboration, as its namesakes included two architects and one engineer. Because of this, according to Design Partner Mustafa K. Abadan, FAIA, “we don’t have to wait for the next collaboration to happen.”

Todd Schliemann, FAIA, a design partner at Polshek Partnership Architects, praised architects’ ability weather down markets by exploring different disciplines. Being trained as an architect teaches one to be an organizer, a choreographer, and to be articulate, he believes. “We build models, we’re good at computers, we can be hired guns, and there are options.”

Marianne Kwok, a director at Kohn Pedersen Fox, was optimistic about the future, and said her firm has been fortunate during the downturn. They have diversified their work and have sought out work on a more global scale, especially in China. “Architecture graduates have a lot to look forward to,” she stated optimistically.

Speaking of recent graduates, most on the panel expressed concern that students today view architecture in a different way. Panelists bemoaned students’ lack of drawing skills, and worried that some don’t even have plans in their portfolios. So what can future architects take away from this discussion? Have a broad education and love what you’re doing, said Johnson. Vary your skill set and learn to be articulate, commented Abadan. Perhaps Schliemann summed it up best: “Nothing beats talent.”

To view the program in its entirety, visit