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Architects gather at Ryerson to discuss their changing role

As anyone who looks at Toronto's new skyline will be able to tell you, architects are not what they used to be.

"Architects used to be a profession that was all encompassing, from the broadest formal and aesthetic things down to technical details," says Alex Bozikovic, the Globe and Mail’s new architecture critic. "Architects are no longer in the driver seats, even on projects where their input is valued."

Architects are now just members of committees, Bozikovic says, along with developers, engineers, and often whole groups of consultants on things like acoustics and lighting. Though we praise or blame the architect when the building is complete, she can be as much a victim of circumstance as we bystanders.

Understandably, students of architecture are concerned. Which is why the master's degree class of 2015 has organized a rather nifty talk, not on the future of architecture but on the future of architects, which Bozikovic will moderate.

Speakers include practitioners and teachers from Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and U of T, as well as Jonathan Mallie, a principal at Shop. Bozikovic is especially impressed with how Shop put together the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

"The façade is a very complicated series curving steel panels," he says. "These were made in a shop somewhere else, fabricated using digital specs that Shop created. Each panel was given a specific ID and they were able to track production and delivery using an iPhone app Shop built for this purpose."

By pursuing such avenues, Bozikovic thinks architects may be able to get back the care that used to go into every aspect of a building, from plaster work to pilasters, while maintaining the efficiencies created by the current Mechano-set system of mass-produced modules being put together in limited numbers of ways across increasingly generic buildings.

"The current era in architectural design is a real paradigm shift," says Lee-Ann Pallett, the lead student organizer of the symposium. "I think that really not since architects came into power has such a paradigm shift occurred. The advent of digital technologies is affecting not only the delivery of materials but the organization of firms. They’re creating a change in the industry, which is something we want to discuss from a critical standpoint."

The symposium, which is aimed at students and building professionals, will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 28 at the Design Exchange from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Writer: Bert Archer
Sources: Alex Bozikovic and Lee-Ann Pallett
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