Inspired Leadership In Architecture

To achieve any architectural form requires leadership.

When a building is considered, experienced or used as a completed product, inevitably the serious and reflective person thinks about the circumstances that underpin and precede it. Closely coupled to this contemplation is the idea and reality of leadership in architecture in whatever form it might manifest.

To achieve any architectural form requires leadership. Not only leadership to ‘get the job done’ as if it is a mass-produced consumer product, but inspired leadership that is deeply knowledgeable about the long history of our architectural traditions as well as a kind of leadership that would leave all concerned and the environment better off in the end.

The nature of leadership in architecture is closely linked with how the professional architect is viewed, defined and experienced. We need to decide  if the architect is there to serve, or to be served as the one of a kind highly gifted ‘celebrity’ bringing unique insight and a ‘new’ way forward. The truth of the matter, in this case, might be somewhere in the middle. However, part of this idea that the architect is a hero figure is bred into their training. It starts when there is a type of ‘do or  die’ process of defending ideas against the all-knowing adjudicating panels used in schools of architecture. In this process, ego is placed against ego.

The reality and value of collaboration is nullified in this manner, while we all know that this is not the way that many of the successes that define our world have been achieved. It would seem that younger generations, especially those that have been highly influenced by the electronic revolution, place higher values on collaboration. In this mode of thinking, the involvement of the architect changes from the ‘leader’ to the collaborator, partner or facilitator in the process of achieving buildings. In this manner, the architect leadership role could be turned into the person that inspires higher levels of achievement and aspiration, rather than settling for the lowest common denominator that can also be the outcome of teamwork.

We all know that architectural practice is not merely a process that delivers ‘objects’. It is, in fact, a complex field that needs to foster and control many competing and contradictory forces. It needs to also give the creative process its space while taking care of the expectations of the client and the economic survival of the professional practice as well as controlling the complex process of realising our clients’ buildings. In the world of management teams/consultants/gurus, the scientific methods that they have developed do not leave a neat niche for the leadership skills set required for architects.

The series of skills required of us is very different than what is required for the more ‘ordinary’ ways of managing people. When we consider architectural leadership in this broader manner we realise that it really deals with the creation of inspired value, not only in the way that we make buildings, but also in the manner that people are empowered by the process. All architects know that the creation of trust amongst everybody involved in the process is crucial in the effective realisation of any building. This trust needs to extend to the creative process. We need to believe in it. We need to believe that it is the most beneficial manner to create buildings even if it looks ‘messy’. In this, we need to  find the balance between the required freedom of the creative process and the strictures of the actually achieving well-built and idealistically created buildings.

This issue of Architecture SA is precisely such a celebration of leadership in architecture. In this case, it is the positions of leadership that have been achieved over extended periods of time under a wide variety of circumstances. It is also those positions of leadership that have been widely recognised by the architectural profession in the country. Individuals might have been singled out in this manner, yet they would surely be the first to recognise the influences and contributions of others in their achievements. Hopefully, this publication can take the story of their brilliance and dedication to the wider public who should be the ultimate beneficiary.

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