Rethinking the purpose of Architecture

Back to basics: what is the intrinsic value of Architecture?

Architecture and interaction. Two terms that are definitely not synonyms. Well, at least they haven’t been in as far as I know. For me personally, they can be nothing but linked. Now more than ever, the future of architecture and design belongs to the brave, to the visionary, to the boundary stretchers. It needs to be taken over by a new breed of change-makers, people who believe that Architecture’s purpose is not to create beautiful sculptures, but rather to create an invigorating context for people to interact on a daily basis. I have never believed the purpose of Architecture to be solely form and aesthetics. I don’t even think that form and function are enough. I believe that Architecture is form, function and – most importantly – flow. While beautiful architecture is necessary, it is not enough. Beauty is essential, but it cannot be the driving purpose.

Architecture is a service, not a product.

purpose of architecture

Have you ever felt uncomfortable in a certain space? Perhaps it was straight-up physical discomfort, but chances are you have also felt emotionally uncomfortable maybe even spiritually so. Perhaps you couldn’t exactly identify what it is that makes you feel that way, but you could definitely recognise a feeling of unease. For some ‘unknown’ reason for you, it just doesn’t feel right. In his foreword to my 2016 book Architecting Interactions, How to Innovate through interactions, Thomas Ermacora, Urbanist, Technologist & Futurist and a dear friend of mine captures ‘that little bit of magic spaces need’ perfectly:

“Imagine you enter a space, it is grey, the surfaces industrial, the ceiling low, the furniture hard, the hallways dark, would you want to stay there and share with others your best? The answer is probably no. We behave contextually. We are gregarious beings. We need an environment to create and bring out the truth in us”.

Thomas Ermacora, Urbanist, Technologist & Futurist in his foreword to Architecting Interactions, 2016

Several studies have shown that the spaces in which we live, work and relax influence not only our productivity but our overall well-being too. “Building design and architecture have been identified as significant factors in the wellness of the people who regularly occupy a building, either as their home or workplace, and if we want to truly embrace our most productive selves, this could be a vital factor,” writes James Hale, writer at Cantifix. So, the question then quickly becomes one of ‘How’. How can we make sure that the space surrounding us improves the quality of the work we do, the quality of the interactions we have with ourselves and others while making us feel better all at the same time? This question is exactly what drove and still drives our vision at AKKA Architects forward. We believe that our scope does not simply entail creating spaces and buildings, but it is really about creating meaningful interactions within those spaces. The conundrum here, of course, is that we can’t necessarily directly ‘create’ interactions, we can only encourage them, foster them, trigger them. The best way to foster interactions is to create the spaces and contexts that are fruitful for interactions to emerge in.

Architecture is for the people using it, not for the architects who designed it.

purpose of architecture

In almost every speech I give, the most recent being at the Recovery Summit organised by the Speakers Associates and the World Workplace Europe 2020 organised by the International Facilities Management Association IFMA, I get asked a simple but fundamental question: “How do you define interactions?”. While the concept is simple, it is not easy. The term Interaction is a wide term and that’s exactly why I use it. With it, I refer to a broad array of dynamics. Interaction basically ‘inter-action’, means the actions happening in between different entities. While the most common interactions are verbal between two or more people, interactions can also be silent, visual, olfactory and they can definitely be individual. While, in the workplace for example, interactions quickly make us think of brainstorms or coffee machine chats, one-person meditating is also a form of interaction. Interactions are at the core of our daily dynamics. Our mood, our physical wellbeing, our emotional and social wellbeing, our quality of life and actually our entire happiness comes down to the quality of our daily interactions. ‘What you do is who you become’ they say. Therefore, focusing on the interactions that the spaces and contexts we spend time in can create, is essential. This is why our entire team at AKKA believes that our responsibility does not end with the bricks and mortar, it does not end with us creating a sculpture to inhabit. Rather, we believe that the value of the architecture we create resides in the quality of the interactions it fosters. The value of something is not what it is, but what it does.

Recently, and obviously exacerbated but the global pandemic we all know too well, it has become clearer than ever that human interactions are at the heart of our daily lives, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health – literally. It has also become obvious how physical space can help or hinder our social interactions and with them our sickness and our health. As an architect, I take this renewed realisation very seriously. While my team and I have never believed the purpose of Architecture to be solely formed, function and aesthetics, we gain a new perspective from recent events. The purpose of Architecture is to create contexts that foster interactions. So, now more than ever, we call upon all our fellow architects and designers to rethink the purpose of Architecture.

At AKKA, we believe that space is a strategic tool that can foster interactions, and any added value or innovation, small or large, starts with interactions. Interactions are the seeds of innovation. At the intersection of the main forms of interaction creativity, collaboration and learning added value emerges. Are you interested in learning about our vision at AKKA and how it can support your workplace design? Download here the excerpt of the book The Power of Interactions.

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