SPP Journal: Issue number 59 | Summer 2013
“Why not go out on a limb? That's where the fruit is.” Will Rogers
0Buffett’s and Rogers’ quotes are exemplars of the paradox that occurs when considering risk in architecture. Although risk may be inextricably linked to every aspect of the profession, it is valued positively in the realm of design while the demands of practice view it as a negative. What risk simultaneously provides is a source of consternation for practitioners and business owners as well as a source of opportunity for designers. In fact, risk's greatest significance in architecture may lie in reconciling these competing interests.
0Sound advice about professional practice urges architects to be prudent to avoid claims from clients and contractors. In other words, be risk-averse. This attitude is supported by the AIA’s Best Practice white papers that encourage architects to “remember, every step you make is also a risk you take.”1 Untested clients, unfamiliar locations and sites, and project types an architect may have little experience with are either to be approached cautiously or avoided completely thereby minimizing the architect’s exposure. In turn, the industry has responded to address risk management in the tools of practice. Recent technological and contractual advances in the industry, BIM and IDP, have generally been positioned as a means to increase certainty and minimize risk throughout the design and construction process. Even in the context of complex non-standard geometries and structures and parametric systems, these tools have been heralded mainly for increasing the designers’ capacity for control. What was once exotic and experimental can now be commonplace and reasonable.
0For architecture, what may be the most important aspect of the profession’s trajectory toward certainty within project delivery is that it opens up design for increased speculation, experimentation and provocation. In effect, risk shifts from construction to design thinking, from a liability to an opportunity. With the aspiration that aspects of construction logistics, water mitigation, and systems performance are routinized and managed effectively by new technology, architects are liberated to consider new (and riskier) combinations of forms, spaces, and material effects. Scott Marble has noted the necessity of maintaining risk in the advancement of architectural (or any) culture: “…risk has a resiliency that is essential to cultural and technological progress-it is where innovation occurs. Certainty, in the form of technical precision, is always short lived, always overcome by cultural interpretation. So while current digital technology delivers increasing amounts of certainty, it is the risk associated with interpreting and imagining alternative outcomes that needs to be maintained…”2
0The most important cultural innovations have often taken the greatest risks. And in contemporary architecture, the best design consistently challenges our preconceptions about what buildings can be. As we are increasingly equipped with the tools to prove our designs meet demands for higher performance, greater economy, and better efficiency, where are the opportunities for architecture that defy expectations and provide alternative and unexpected visions of the future? Despite that in the very near future many issues of architectural practice may be a sure thing; innovative architecture will always be a gamble.
0Marc Manack, AIA is Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture and Principal of SILO AR+D. Manack also serves on the advisory board of the Small Projects Practitioners Knowledge Community.