Clark D. Manus, FAIA, 2011 President
William Stewart Photography Clark D. Manus, FAIA, 2011 President

The fall 2010 issue of Crit, journal of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), focuses on the future role of architects: Will the profession be fundamentally a passive utility, responding to the perceived or imagined needs of the client; or will architects engage their clients, including the public, actively informing and shaping their needs in such matters as, say, health and sustainability?

As fifth-year Syracuse University student and Crit contributor Stephen Klimek correctly recognizes, the way the next generation of the profession answers that question is being determined right now in the schools. There, the art and science of an ancient profession are being transmitted and shaped by current research. But just as potently, values and habits of thinking are likewise being rehearsed and ingrained by the day-to-day activities inside the classroom and studio. Are students learning entrepreneurial habits of thinking and how to use time? Are they interacting with students outside their discipline?

For that matter, what are the opportunities to get off campus and into neighboring communities? Is engaging the public and informing their concerns specifically identified as an integral part of one’s education or strictly elective and extracurricular?

As I’m sure Klimek would admit, these are not new issues for our profession. What makes them urgent at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century are the times in which we find ourselves. Never before have the inhabitants of this planet had greater reason to alter course from the present destructive slide into a dangerous future. At the same time, never have the rising generations of architects had a greater potential to exert their full potential in helping to heal a grievously injured world.

The issues all of us face are fundamentally matters of design. We all know the litany: transportation, security, health, productivity, land use, energy, climate change, and, yes, sustainability. However, there is a crucial disconnect between fact and remedial action that makes a difference: Most elected officials and many clients do not see the connection and the relevance of design in addressing these issues. That’s the problem we must address, and addressing it meaningfully begins in the schools with faculty, students, and professional mentors alike consistently and forcefully identifying civic engagement as a core value of our profession.

In an increasingly congested world, the schools should be preparing those who will graduate to apply their knowledge to help cities and smaller communities become safer and healthier. Never have design professionals been in a better position to mediate, or become part of, the life-shaping human-environment connection.

The profession and those who practice must be committed to a civic dimension. Architects should be facilitators and listeners, prepared to talk with clients and communities about how design can contribute to creating more wholesome and sustainable conditions for present and future generations. Klimek calls on students to become “players and stakeholders in the development of our future.” The AIA’s Citizen Architects program connects and supports those who are doing this in communities across the country.

I recall as a student taking a perverse pride in the all-nighters, the projects that kept us locked in studio, living on barely warm takeout pizza, sleeping on top of—and sometimes under—our desks. Yes, it did build a grim fraternity proud of our ability to endure sensory deprivation and the absence of others not in our field or even our class. It’s time to get out from under our desks and out into the larger world we should serve.

In a thoughtful article that appeared late last year in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Lisa Rochon wrote: “Architecture is only as great as the aspirations of its society.” Engaging with (not lecturing!) society from the time we are students may not stop bullets, but we can shape an environment for hope.

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Clark D. Manus, FAIA, 2011 President