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The Future of Work in Design and Architecture: #IEFutureTalks

By Cristina Mateo, Executive Director of IE School of Architecture and Design

We live in an era defined by a fundamental shift in the relationship between workers and machines. The challenges presented by technology are complex and are having a profound effect in all fields. Architects and designers are at the forefront of this debate, defining it, and dealing with the impact of its consequences.

Aware that today the profession must expand its role and go beyond the narrow definitions of the past, IE School of Architecture and Design has launched IE Future Talks, a series of short on-the-fly video interviews with 20 key leaders in the field of design and architecture who describe the skills required for professionals in the 21st century. They include Pritzker Prize winners Balkrishna Doshi, Alejandro Aravena and Richard Rogers, who set the agenda of what we should be looking at to make architecture and design as relevant as it needs to be today.

Technology rules, or does it?

While agreeing that technology is crucial and is “changing the nature of architecture, so one should go with it”, as Richard Rogers believes, Brad Lynch feels that “it should not run you.” For all of our leaders technology is affecting the profession and is a tool which needs to be mastered to work with others: “It is key for collaboration with other industries, such as the car industry…” (Frank Barkow)

And collaboration is another crucial element for designers and architects of the 21st century. The future requires a collaborative effort which, in order to be successful, needs the input of numerous stakeholders.

Collaboration with different people with different skills, and from different complex multicultural backgrounds  is key and plays a vital role in doing good design (Izaskun Chinchilla, Grace Eun, and Caroline Cole), as does “embracing the complexity”, as stated by Henk Ovink.

Interestingly, our leaders shared the need for skills that are also included in the World Economic Forum 2020 list of top skills. According to the World Economic Forum, complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management and coordination with others is expected to be among the top 10 skills in 2020, having also topped the list in 2015. However, new skills will emerge among the top positions in 2020, such as emotional intelligence, and others that already appeared in 2015 will move to the top positions, like creativity, that will move from 10th (2015) up to 3rd place (2020). Both these skills are at the core of the profession of architecture and design.



More than skills, an attitude

Arguably these are skills that can be honed, although it would require a specific teaching methodology and a sensitivity to the needs of future challenges. Moreover other characteristics will also play an important role. A certain type of attitude, for example, featuring optimism and curiosity, open mindedness, passion and attention to the local environment and its past, will be essential. Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena believes that architects have to be “nerds of the past”, and Balkrishna Doshi, feels there is a need “to go to places alone without cameras, asking oneself what makes one place different from another.”

Designers and architects with this type of education and attitude can be thought leaders when it comes to protection from natural disasters, the ravages of climate change, pollution and terrorist attacks. Who better to deal with these issues than a professional trained in safety, resilience and design on a global scale? They can see opportunities where others see obstacles. They can approach problems from a broad range of perspectives and use multiple techniques and tools without being slaves to technology. They can envision the future, be conceptual thinkers and be able to communicate it to the rest of us.

Such professionals will be essential. Philp Tidd, Principal at Gensler, says that in the face of fear of change clients need story tellers, designers and architects who are able to translate their vision. Peter Murray agrees, seeing communication in the digital age as key, and skills using AR or VR as already crucial to enable designers and architects to tell their story well, in a world “where the relationship between the digital and the physical is symbiotic.”

Indeed, with so many complex societal challenges facing us and virtually all with an impact on or connection to physical space, in the future work will be carried out around teams of talented professionals who understand space and generate solutions in three dimensions. The future will require design consultants able to solve problems and work together, who are valued for their holistic approach to problem-solving.

Designers and architects of the future will understand complexity and propose new approaches and new solutions. The best solutions will come from designers and architects who reach out, connect with, and rely on others’ input, while being fully aware of the role of technology.

See IE FutureTalks.

Cristina Mateo, Executive Director of IE School of Architecture and Design