The 20th century saw the birth of collaboration in architecture. The argument was that there was too much to know about building in the modern era for one person to bear.
One hundred years later, institutional consensus on what collaboration means and how it happens remains out of reach. There are a few certainties to capitalize upon. Indeed, to make architecture a collective is necessary. Four constants are routinely present in collaboration: culture, audience, context, and history. A fifth component is an infinite vessel, a wide open book, not specific at all, made of miscellaneous ad hoc project-specific agents. Such infinitude needs to be balanced to yield credible creative results. This ever-changing bundle of components informs the dialog among the many members of the design team to eventually influence the outcome. As recursive and maddening as it is, the whirlwind of conscious design proposals, interactive criticism of proposals, and the subconscious filtering of that critique invariably delivers a design iteration under the pressure of a schedule, an exterior yet stabilizing factor in what could otherwise be a perpetual exercise of amelioration and refinement. Symbolic aspirations and the pragmatics of program requirements coalesce into an artifact of reliable performance to meet the assigned task. The result is sometimes architecturally dubious, at other times inspirational and of the first rank.
Conversely, the creative architect often remains suspicious of groups. Teamwork has been a major source of anxiety in the architectural past. The architect’s charisma, stable belief systems, symbolic charge of a particular program brief, and visibility of location are the tools the most determined use to leverage a whole other level of commitment in the team to give to the project beyond basic competence. There are elements of the heroic, the competitive, the artistic in this enterprise. A lesson learned from history.
Balancing these competing urgencies falls into the repertoire of the architect. Screening input, absorbing without preconception, merging the visionary and the team mentality into a unified course of action, all of it to deliver a space to return to in the highs and lows of one’s existence. The broad philosophy of a culturally informed design firm embraces the acknowledgment of the entropic exchange and cycles of growth that the making of architecture in the 21st century calls for. While the conditions of architectural practice have changed, the mandate of architecture remains the same: to make the world an exciting place to be.