The Future of The Future Architect

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Do you wonder what lies ahead for the future architect’s role?

The short answer is- great opportunities!

If you like to know the long answer with some details of those opportunities, keep reading.

The world population keeps growing, and so does the need for new buildings to work, rest, and play. 

Besides, the design and construction industry has been looking for architects who are collaborative design leaders. 

This is an excellent opportunity for the future architect to become the leader and bring the profession back to the driver seat of architecture.

An architect who chooses to lead collaboratively is “the future architect” in this blog.

You may be thinking, aren’t architects already the leaders in the industry? 

The architects may think that way, but the industry doesn’t.

In this post, I will elaborate on why the industry is balking on accepting the architect as the leader. I will also discuss what the architect can do to overcome the situation.

The architects’ and the project owners’ priorities are not aligned

The architects’ goal in their projects is to innovate the best design by doing iterations after iterations to save the world as taught in the school, which is excellent!

If you look closely, you will find that that design goal mostly realizes into pretty pictures of slick finishes for award submissions or peer appreciation. The resultant building is hardly durable and barely functional.

In the end, the architect didn’t make any money because countless iterations ate all the fees. Still, the architect was more worried about the award and appreciation than own existence or owner’s needs.

Project owners, on the other hand, not in the business of winning awards. 99% of the projects need to be simple, functional, and durable buildings designed and build within the project budget and timeline. 

Being so focused on design, architects show no interest to serve the owners’ and project’s needs. They would instead like to educate the world how valuable their design is without being able to demonstrate with facts.

This misalignment in priorities has been severely damaging the trust between the owner and the architect.

The trust will be restored only when the future architect will step up to empathize with the owner’s needs, without being a victim of the fickle-minded owner.

I know you are thinking- wait a minute Zulqar, how can I show the world my design talent?

Don’t forget that still, 1% of the projects need star architects’ service. If you feel that you have the talent to be a star architect, then you should target those clients who are looking for you. 

I know it is hard to digest an inconvenient truth, but someone who will take the future architect’s role will understand it and move on.

Learning how to design doesn’t end in school. There is a lot to learn from everyone in the industry, including the owners.

The bottom line is- know your clients and serve them appropriately.

New project delivery methods are taking away design freedom

The industry has been changing rapidly to widely adopt design-build and integrated project delivery methods to get rid of an adversarial and toxic relationship between architect, contractor, and owner.

In the traditional delivery method, the architect is hired first by the owner to design a building with abundant freedom. Then the owner goes out to bid and hire the lowest bid contractor. 

The contractor’s business model is, once is hired, to look for architect’s mistakes in the drawings and push the owner to pay for extras.

In no time, the hell comes down on everyone.

In the new methods, the owner does not pay for the architect’s mistakes and gets a better handle on budget and time management.

That is why the industry is inventing new ways to solve the issues, for example: design build and integrated project delivery methods.

The new methods require the architect to design collaboratively with the owner and contractor. The design gets continuously scrutinized against constructability, cost, and time constraints. 

Naturally, architects feel challenged with design scrutiny and lost freedom. 

For the fact that the design process nowadays has become so complex that it is impossible to design sustainable buildings without being collaborative and transparent.  

It is impossible for other professionals, like engineers or construction managers, to be the collaborative design leader like architects can be.

Therefore, longer the architect will delay taking the leadership, worse it will be for the industry. 

It is an excellent opportunity for the future architect is to learn how to lead a collaborative design process and be the architect as collaborative design leader.

Building technology is becoming more complex each day

During Michelangelo’s time, the building technology was elementary. It was just masonry and concrete structures; electricity and mechanical ventilation did not exist at that time. 

But the mighty artist thought it was too much for the architect to handle both design and construction, and the master builder was split into two separate roles- an architect and a contractor.

Since then, the architect was able to focus more on design with ever-changing building technology, and it also facilitated the division of labor during the industrial revolution 200 years ago.

Fast forward today, a simple building is not simpler than a car. It’s just like a car, but without wheels. 

A car has a steel structure, mechanical ventilation, electrical, data, communication, security on, and on. Today’s building has the same things.

How can someone expect an architect to know everything? 

Today the architect is expected to be the jack of all trades and a master of leading the show. 

It is a challenge to be in that role.

Some architects like to beat this challenge by creating silos between technology experts and the owners. Then things start falling apart, and they think design leadership is hard.

However, there is a great leadership trick to win this game.

The trick is to break the silos and engage the technology experts in open discussions with the project owners. The future architect will see how quickly the problems turn into solutions making everyone smile.

Architect’s education system has become obsolete

The world has changed in the last 100 years, but the architecture schools keep producing graduates who want to save the world without saving themselves or the industry. 

Line, form, color, and texture are still the foundations of architecture. 

How do they get built and how long they last, are no concerns of the architects.

They learn in the school how to think of the owners as greedy businessmen and are ignorant of what design even means. Thus, the world needs to be saved from their greed using the innovative design.

Lately, computer technology has become a craze in schools, thinking it will solve all the architect’s problems. As if, the architect will dream the design, and the building will come out of a 3d printer. 

There is no discussion about how the student will navigate through the burning issues collaboratively and continue to design under constant scrutiny in the real world.  

The students need training on how to prove to the project team the value that the proposed design can offer, instead of complaining that those guys don’t understand architecture.

Students, professors, and patrons alike, everyone is focused on pretty pictures and design awards.

At some point, I believe the new generation of educators will come forward to revamp the obsolete education system to produce architects as collaborative design leaders. 

Those are the future architects. 

In fact, Clemson School of Architecture in South Carolina has already launched a certificate program on integrated project delivery methods. 

Indeed, the change is coming!

Too many architectural graduates are stuck in drafting rabbit holes

Students of architecture graduate from school with a great passion for design, even if they must do it for free.

I know the feeling as I am one of them.

The design was everything in my life, it was like a religion that I couldn’t stay away from.

But it hit me hard when I realized that concept level design opportunities were exclusively reserved for the senior staff. Surely there are firms where you will be allowed to some extent into concept level design, but I had to fight hard to get those opportunities. I was able to win many of those battles and I also lost many.

Most of the graduates, although smart, are very humble individuals who give up easily and not fight for their rights.

They end up detailing and drafting for years after years, and then they even forget that they could design!

These drafters form most of the graduates who are underpaid and very unhappy about the fact that they studied architecture. 

But remember, it’s a great thing that you studied architecture and learned things that many people don’t know about.

The way to get out of the rabbit hole is to know that there is more to architecture than just design by yourself. You could open your own office to be the star architect on your own terms, or you could become a project manager in order to influence and lead the collaborative design process.

As I did not open my own office, I chose project management to get out of the fight. Now I influence and lead the design of large projects by the world-famous architects from a much higher level.

You could do the same or explore other ways to uplift your career and fulfill your passion for design.


The future architect’s role is faced with many challenges and, at the same time, gifted with many opportunities.

The industry expects a lot from the architect. It will need a fundamental mind shift to be able to adopt the potential solution to each challenge that I presented here.

That shift is about a leadership approach to break the silos and help everyone grow. 

It is also about being open to sharing the design credits with others, instead of hoarding it for architects only. 

With the shift in mindset, the future architect will be able to lead architecture from three angles:

  1. Design leadership
  2. Educational leadership
  3. Project leadership

In my next post- “6 Ways to Lead Architecture in 2020 and Beyond,” I will dig deeper into the above three leadership angles.

You may also be interested in reading the post- “How Does Project Management Help Me as an Architect?”

If you want to know about the significant contributions the future architects are making to fight COVID-19, read this post- “COVID-19: How Architects are Taking on The Challenge.”

Please make comments. Your comments will help me improve this blog and help the readers learn from you too!

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