Thursday, January 04, 2007

License Developers

I think the idea to license developers is a great one. Before we let architects practice we run them through a battery of tests -- after 8 years of combined schooling and work experience. But their impact on our environment is small considering that they must work within the visions of developers.

It’s this “within the vision” part that is of concern. Developers aren’t trained in city planning, the importance of aesthetics or urban design, but it is they who determine what is going to be built in our world. Developers control the programs and the magnitude of projects. They determine the style and just how much money the architect can spend on design and materials. As a result it is they, not architects that determine the success of things like public transit, the level of urban congestion, the quality of design and the atmosphere of the place.

Sure, zoning boards have some power as well, but the current system leaves it up to the architects and city officials to restrain/educate them. If it sounds like a battle… well it sure looks like one in practice. There just isn’t that much restraining that can be done. And doesn’t that put architects in the position of condescending to developers? Every developer I’ve met has been smart. I’d rather that they came to the table in a position that defines their responsibilities and capabilities. It would make things less strenuous. Instead there is often a silent and unsettling battle around a project.

Many believe that it is the architect’s role to educate the developer in the course of developing designs but this belief is not realistic. At best you get a developer who is already enlightened choosing a good architect and deciding to give them a program and budget that will allow them to be successful. This is decided before the architect is ever contacted. At the time the developer steps through the door of the architect’s office, the game is set. There won't be any more education.

There are many good developers out there and I’ve been lucky to have been working with many just recently. But when I read the Philly Enquirer and look at the projects it shows being proposed I think we need to require that developers have a little schooling on urban design and city planning before they go to bat. Why can’t we ask that they understand the importance of design to a culture and user? It is they, not architects, who make the master strokes in our cities.

I also think that requiring licenses could turn out to be to the advantage of developers. Listing the licenses, education and specializations behind them would only encourage investors to trust a developer. Licenses would also demonstrate to community groups a developer’s ability to be thoughtful and concerned for a neighborhood rather than capricious and disengaged.

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