risk…any takers?

12 June 2013

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First of all, what comes to mind when you hear the word risk? When we say risk, do we all define it the same? Is some risk ok, or better yet a good thing?

For those of you who might not know much about architects, this is a concept that most of us shun. Dare I say we avoid it like the plague? For several reasons, we go to great lengths to shed it, pass it like a hot potato and at best share it with someone else. Face it, we don’t like it. But is all risk bad?

What does it take to climb a mountain…and survive? You certainly don’t wake up one morning with the idea, fly to a notable range of mountains and have at it. Those who survive are seasoned pros that have trained and learned how to do it. Climbing a mountain is a risk.

When is risk good? When is it necessary? Should we as architects be taking risks? No risk, no reward – right?

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It’s obvious that the first thing that comes to most of our minds when we hear the word risk is something like danger, negligence, poor judgment or lack of investigation. But is that always the case? Architects, being naturally careful people, who are probably not the “thrill-seeker” type, wouldn’t approach their work haphazardly. That’s a good thing, but can we still take risks in our work? Or have I really redefined the word “safe?”

Many of you know I teach part-time. The subject of taking risks came up last semester amongst my fellow faculty members as we observed the work in studio. It seemed that many students appeared reluctant to take risks with their work. We certainly were not looking for odd formal manipulations, but there seemed to be a tendency towards seeking “right answers” rather than being innovative or seeking new ways to define a problem. This may be connected to their generation, but the more I thought about it (including my own tendencies), I wonder if this is just part of being an architect.

Where is your expertise? What body of knowledge do you possess? What experience have you developed over the course of your career whether it is five years or forty-five years? Now can we take our experience and knowledge and push the boundaries to “climb new mountains” for our clients and for architecture as a profession?

Let’s consider a few examples, but I invite yours too.

We all know a bit about sustainability, but can we get past the obvious, tried and true and push it to a new level that is both measurable, but yet truly affordable and smart to the average client (not just to major corporations and universities needing a badge)? Can we take our building performance knowledge and understanding of physics and create a first-class building envelope that performs yet looks fantastic? Do you have special knowledge of various building typologies that could be applied to design to alter the profitability of a business – be it a Fortune 500 corporation or a local yogurt shop? Maybe the “risk” isn’t Mount Everest level, maybe it’s just convincing your client to take what they define as a “risk” for them…and then deliver. Regardless of how you define it, what else could we be doing as 21st century architects beyond formal risks, structural risks or building the next tallest building?

What if we took a risk and used our experience and knowledge toward humanitarian efforts?

Many of us (dare I say most of us) believe that our work extends beyond the mere requirements or extent of the project. We see each project as a means to learn and extend our own knowledge base as well as contribute to our communities and to architecture as a profession. You think I’m nuts…after all, we only serve our clients – right? Each project could be a little bit taller and a bit more difficult to climb.

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Consider our mountain climber. He or she must spend many hours training for the physical exertion, planning the safest and most appropriate route, studying the local environment and climate. They’re educated and prepared for the challenge ahead of them. However, what they do is a risk.

With the critical juncture we find ourselves as architects with issues like our role and worth in the built environment, addressing climate change and finding new work and avenues for business, should we be preparing to climb a few mountains?

Share with me what your risks are or what risks we ought to be attempting as architects in the 21st century.

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photo 1 is from misbass’ stock photo gallery on Stock.Xchng (used under the Standard Restrictions)

photos 2-4 are from mordoc’s stock photo gallery on Stock.Xchng (used under the Standard Restrictions)

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4 Responses to “risk…any takers?”

  1. aepronet Says:

    Always good to see architects considering and mitigating risk (without stifling their creativity and talent). Make sure to hit us up for Risk Management help. That’s our job. Designing the future of architecture is yours.

  2. William J. Mello Jr. Says:

    We suspect that taking a risk is similar to taking a path that is not charted and that one would be their own navigator using skills both learned and discovered. Intelligence and “smarts” again play their role.
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