Friday, April 18, 2008

Architecting a New Vocabulary

I really hate it when people misuse the word and title: architect.

I think the reason I complain about this finally boils down to a complaint that 'professions' are losing their status and exclusiveness as indispensable and valuable members of society. Being a 'professional' no longer means that you are accredited or licensed in a specialized field that is of particular benefit to the well-being of society and the individuals that comprise it, but rather that you happen to have some semblance of minimum competency or work ethic in whatever you do, even if that is giving someone a makeover.

Classically, there were only 3 professions: Divinity, Medicine and Law. Eventually, that list grew (and shrunk since Divinity unfortunately lost its professional status due to society no longer recognizing the necessity for good theology) to include several other specialties that had as their end the promotion and maintenance of the vegetative, generative, social, intellectual, or spiritual ends of man. Architecture has always been viewed has the chief of the practical arts, and has enjoyed an elevated status as the profession which facilitated the performance of all other professions, by providing the facilities for such noble activities.

Since the beginning of the 2oth century, there have been recognized a whole slew of new professions, including such mundane activities as librarianship. Unfortunately for architecture (and engineering), the language we use has changed as well. I would argue (quite vehemently) that this is not a beneficial thing for professionals, pseudo-professionals or non-professionals alike; i.e. it sucks for everyone.

Moreover, it is architecture itself that has suffered the most from this debacle. Etymologically, architect is pretty clear. From Greek: arkhi- "chief" + tekton "carpenter, builder, craftsman". It is its use by extension that has caused problems: An architect, by virtue of the large scope of knowledge he must have, is an organizer, a deviser, a creator, the one responsible.

So we end up with software architects, who design virtual environments.

We have Architects of War, who are strategic leaders in meeting organizational goals.

Or one of my favorites, from 'Eikonoklastes' by John Milton:

"The happiness of a nation consists in true religion, piety, justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude, and the contempt of avarice and ambition. They in whomsoever these virtues dwell eminently, need not kings to make them happy, but are the architects of their own happiness; and, whether to themselves or others, are not less than kings."

All these people, with their tenuously analogous activities, readily refer to themselves as 'architects' without licensure, yet I cannot call myself an architect, adjectivally describe myself as an 'architectural designer'; or even use the verb as in 'I will help you architect your home', without legal and 'professional' turmoil before passing the Architect Registration Exam.

Wait. I was wrong. All I'm really trying to say is that I wish one of my carpool buddies would stop freaking calling himself a software architect.

That's it. I need to get licensed.


Anthony said...

Although I am too lazy to dig up the historical facts, there is one comment I should make on the profession of architecture, which I learned at some point in art history studies.
In some ways, architecture was not always held in as high regard as it is now. Its primary good was found in military and engineering (especially machines of war, fortress defense, etc...), and not in the building of good cities.
Since the Renaissance, however, we as a profession, have climbed to the top of the charts. As this article shows, male architects are officially the sexiest professionals around.
So, even though your carpool budy can call himself a "software architect", you get to be "too sexy for your shirt" (which is, of course, vertically striped).

Oh, wait, that is only PROFESSIONAL architects. I guess you will have to wait before you can even be "too sexy".

Good luck on your tests...

The Vitruvian Duck said...

I wouldn't agree with that. I can't recall at the moment where it is (I think somewhere in the 'Letters'), but Plato shows some pretty serious respect for an architect he was speaking to. I've gotta find that reference. It's just that there wasn't a distinction between engineer and architect.

Ignoramus said...

I am entirely ignorant of the history of architecture (although I know it began with Noah, who built the first arc), I do recall that Aquinas uses the architect as his example to illustrate what the word "wise" means. Seems to indicate a measure of respect.

The Vitruvian Duck said...

I'd argue that the first mentioned architect was Cain when he founded the city in Nod.

I'm glad you're joining this conversation...I was hoping you'd chime in and remind me of the reference in Plato I mentioned. Basically there was a man walking by and Socrates says something like 'hey [so and so] must be studying to be an architect given the number of books he's carrying...'

Got any ideas? I ran a basic search on Perseus to no avail.