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Can architectural firms be replaced by mega multi-national engineering companies?

TrendsinArchitecture
Ignacio Gomez, Managing and Design Director, Middle East, Aedas, discusses the five biggest trends and developments in the architecture field and reveals how clients, often incorrectly, think that architectural firms can be replaced by mega multinational engineering companies

What do you think the biggest trends and developments will be in architecture over the next 5 years?        

One of the current trends in architecture and the overall construction market is that design projects are being commoditized up to certain extent. It seems that design solutions are becoming products that can be transplanted throughout multiple locations and contexts almost without typological variation.

This is a by-product of the concentration and creation of the mega engineering firms. In the last few years, we have seen how engineering firms have been joining and merging together, creating huge conglomerates never seen before in the construction market. The size of these engineering firms cannot be compared with the size of architectural practices, and therefore the product (the design of buildings) is somehow becoming commoditized and generic, losing its particularity and specificity.

Clients often incorrectly think that architectural firms can be replaced by mega multinational engineering firms that provide architectural services too. The role of architects needs to be redefined if we still want to show to our clients and society that we perform a role that is valid and necessary, otherwise, we will face the same fate that many other trades have faced as they have disappeared in the XX and XXI century. I would like to claim that we might already be a vanishing trade, but we haven’t realized it yet as a collective.

How is the role of architecture evolving in terms of designing for the end-user?

The other trend that somehow also reinforces that feeling is the change of perception of the physical environment and space. Society as a whole is rapidly modifying our understanding and relationship with our physicality. In the past we used to be where we used to be, the space that we occupied with our body and our presence. However, since the invention of the smartphone and social media, we are not in one place anymore, we are not still, we are in continuous becoming. Wi-Fi speed and data coverage are more important than the square meters of our bedrooms. Physical space has become fluid, unconfined and endless.

Ignacio Gomez...

Therefore, we as architects must start thinking and reacting to this situation where the importance of the physical space is diminishing. Why buy in a shopping mall? Why go to the cinema? Why meet people? COVID-19 is making us question all these preconceptions of how we live and interact. Why should I go to the office to work? Is my living room not a better place, since I can wear flip flops? Why should I drive for an hour to go to work?

I would like to see more architects and designers perhaps trying to think about this topic and not leaving this issue in the hands of social media platforms?

How are architects designing for the current COVID crisis? How will technology and digital transformation impact design?

We are not considering the serious consequences that this crisis will have on the way we live and experience the physical environment. There are many considerations that will be easy to implement, regarding social distancing and keeping a sufficient space for people in public and private environments. However, the big transformation will happen in the uses and typologies of the current spaces, many of the current typologies for shopping, gathering and leisure spaces will be affected drastically in the best of cases, and if not will become obsolete. Consider what an office was one year ago and compare that to what it is today. We can imagine how the workplace will continue to transform.

Architects should think about the impact on project typologies and new uses that will be borne out of the social transformation that occurs as a result of this crisis. Perhaps we are not very far away from having to rethink alternative uses for empty shopping malls and commercial buildings. We will need to offer even better spaces and experiences to encourage people to leave their homes, Netflix and their social platforms. Competition is tough.

For so many centuries architects monopolized the creation of physical spaces, however now we are competing with multiple alternatives, the digital space, the majority of them empowered by AI offering constantly changing content that adapts to your needs and necessity, while architecture and physical environing is static and monolithic.

IG2What will the future of city design look like?

In some ways future cities will be very similar to the city of the past and at the same time, it will be very different. If we consider the evolution of the city in terms of millennia, the reality is that somehow the physical aspect of it has not changed fundamentally – groups of housing, space for social interaction, trading, etc. So, therefore, the hardware will essentially already be there and will not be replaced at the speed that technology is evolving. Software, Big Data, AI are here to stay and are evolving at a pace that the city and its physical environment cannot cope with.

What is also surprising is that big transformations in city design are not and will not involve urban planners and architects. The changes are made by a concentrated number of IT companies that are developing applications and platforms that will redefine the way we interact with others and move around.

Can you provide a brief overview of your background, expertise and unique perspective of architecture?

As Design Director at Aedas Middle East, I share the same core principles of the practice. I seek to provide unique and individual solutions for each and every project and take pride in the fact that we never follow the route of formulaic design. My designs are based on deep research and understanding of the region – the people, culture, history, present and the future. Research rooted in the past makes it possible to create a unique story behind every project.

I am committed to the belief that virtual and fictional narratives have and will always be incredibly powerful sources of inspiration, and with the economy and world heading into unknown territory, architects can and should play a part in the role of imaginary landscapes and stories. The architect must be able to create non-fiction from fiction. Then the work becomes an active entity in society’s imagination—a type of fable or myth. The source becomes less important, even obliterated, and what counts more is the way the story or the building or the city lives on in collective memory.

I have been responsible for a number of key projects and established the overall design direction of the practice in the Middle East. Designing many projects in the region including master planning, hotel and leisure, residential, transport and cultural developments.

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