It’s nothing new to say that change is a constant. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus first made the point back in 500 B.C. Twenty-four centuries later, Karl Marx tagged change as the prevailing characteristic of the Industrial Age in a famous passage from The Communist Manifesto: “All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
If change is constant, the rate of change is variable. Sometimes it creeps, nearly unnoticeable, as during the monolithic 3,000-year reign of the Egyptian pharaohs. Sometimes it moves with devastating speed, as when the Black Death cut the population of Europe by a third in just four years: 1347–1351. Lately, change has hit a surreal pace, as though some giant Monty Python cartoon hand is dropping our ancient and venerable prejudices—about architecture, the economy, weather, the government—into a blender, and the machine is set to “liquify.” Who knows what bizarre concoction will eventually come pouring out?
The uncertainty can be crippling. In 2009, in just four months, demand for mental health services in the U.S. doubled, as measured in a survey commissioned by Spectrum, a healthcare consultancy. And according to a December 2010 Rasmussen Reports poll, only 23 percent of Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction. Our national stress level is orange.
It’s not so easy to track the demand for mental health services among architects. But the profession’s exceptionally high unemployment rate would suggest that architects are feeling the effects of change more than most. The economy is just one concern among many: emerging technologies, the imploding star system, a widening generation gap, a shifting regulatory climate, decaying suburbs, shrinking cities, intensifying global competition.
Consider this issue of ARCHITECT as an antidote to our stress-inducing zeitgeist, a necessary investment in professional therapy. The topic, content, and structure are an industry-wide group effort; they emerged from in-person and online conversations with architects, evolved in discussion with the magazine’s new editorial advisory committee, and took final form in collaboration with our creative partners at Bruce Mau Design.
To get the conversation started, we organized the feature section around five deliberately provocative statements, such as “Your clients are really old” and “Your architecture is a commodity.” Articles respond to each provocation from a variety of perspectives, some favorable and others oppositional. In trying to understand the transformation of architecture and spark dialogue around the deceptively simple question, “What’s next?,” it’s critical to recognize that there are no right or wrong answers, merely intelligent guesswork.