In the bid to create places and spaces for clients to live, share, develop and experience the country and globe as a whole, Architects in Uganda are at a new threshold vis-a-vis global and cultural trends in the country. The global future of practice is volatile, uncertain, chaotic and uncertain too, and will require transformations.
I by no means have the proverbial ‘philosopher’s stone’ about trends and directions, but here are a few observations about disruptions in the built environment economy in Uganda and Africa.
Primarily the duty to present utility for users of spaces and places was a docket of Architects, who had a greater imagination and were most often better exposed via travel and subscriptions to content provided about developments in this industry .This has been democratised through initiatives like creative commons, where all interested parties can now access almost all precedents and opinions through collaborative design among design professionals globally. This free accessibility will negate high premiums previously charged for design services.
Other processes like site analysis, production drawings, building information management systems and Life cycle analysis have been boosted by artificial intelligence and smart machines/programs which have automated these tasks. This removes the linear nature of project handling from inception to construction, to a network map with different tasks handled by several players of different backgrounds. This will also shorten delivery times as clients access different professionals for different stages evidenced by their core abilities. For example the need to have permanent staff doing drawings daily in the drawing office will change to drawing firms who will rise to claim the niche-vacuum created by declining numbers of people training in these fields. This also will help as the technical aspects of building design are suffering greatly by persons ‘practicing’ architecture now after hands-on training in building design programs.
The client briefs will evolve to include parameters like investment potential, carbon footprint, social cohesiveness, build-ability, training opportunities for communities and recyclability on projects. This can only mean diversification into software that tackles these issues or collaboration with existing segment leaders. The drawback is that as more detail is expected, the fees may not increase. This will mean the architect will have to be creative about how they deliver; maybe removing unnecessary overhead costs or investing in intelligent machines and software.
The ability of buildings to ‘stand’ has been redefined to include aspects like inclusion, enhanced building functions drawing deeply from cultural inferences, emotive moods and symbolism nuances. This will disrupt the deliverables from just a complete building to embodied energy of constituent materials, longevity and post-building use adaptability. Clients armed with information are now asking some hard questions about the impact of their completed building on their economic welfare, community engagement, social responsibility and environmental blend.
This removes the firmness docket from just the traditional structural engineer and spreads it to other traditionally existing and new sectors. The building will now be viewed like a machine procured to ease the lives of users and processes occurring therein, this then adopts the regular service approach in motor vehicles where all aspects are treated as necessary to the functioning of the whole.
Architects will be able to lead on this too with revision of building standards and archaic byelaws constituted as the profession was formalised in the 1960s when the assumption was that only trained professionals were knowledgeable in these aspects. The global sharing economy which emphasises access and not ownership has challenged ideas like each household or community treating waste separately. The resultant rise in start-ups solving these kinds of issues like energy, waste and shared shelters evidences this.
In the past where clients took a backseat and let the architects lead the design process with only a couple of meetings to receive feedback on ideas and proposals generated by the architects. This has changed and will continue as Architects are expected to be more of Expert citizens, who being trained in various disciplines of building technology will guide the Citizen Experts who are the beneficiaries and custodians of traditions/cultures existing in their communities before the building/space. This will dictate that architects personally have to hone their listening skills and personally develop in leadership, emotional intelligence and mobilisation to be able to ably lead these design teams going to be charged with building places and spaces in the future.
Furthermore, the delicate balance being brewed is the extent of personal and community space. As the country and globe is further digitally connected, people require access to jobs, opportunities, services and landscapes. The impacts of traditional zoning like slums and social vices are evidence enough that status quo must change. Socially driven and inclusive interventions like public spaces will have to be considered OR face high costs of enforcing order amidst disorder.
All this change is not being spearheaded as policy by any authority, but rather a real-time democratic process happening irrespective of traditional boundaries by citizens empowered by the increased connectivity and resultant power of choice.