If an architect is considered the Right-brain, then the engineer is definitely the Left-brain. Sure enough, they are bound to co-exist.
Reason being: Right-brain is the artistic, creative, imaginative, and conceptual thinker; While the Left-brain does all the precise mathematical calculations, checking facts, and is a systematic builder. If we consider building to be an organism, both take good care for its proper and healthy functioning.
Yin and Yang
This brain architecture defines the relationship to be—between an architect and an engineer—as symbiotic. But let’s face it: the truth is, more often we consider each other as antis rather than allies having conflicting personalities. Those who have worked on a project where architects and engineers are involved know the complexity of them working together well.
That’s why, some of the famous arguments go like this: “Architects spent a whole lot of time on the looks wasting the entire design fee and project budget. And don’t even regard the laws of physics!” or “Engineers don’t care about the looks of the project. They can’t even think creatively. All they care about is getting this job done and moving on to the next.” It is more like an us vs. them relationship. And more or less to show who is the boss. (Side note: This is in no way, to say, that architects and engineers don’t ever get along well. Projects like the Sydney Opera house were only possible due to a long collaboration between its architect Jørn Utzon and engineer Ove Arup.)
It is important to address the flaws for further improvement in the practice for both the engineers and architects. Architects don’t have formal training in engineering with a few exceptions: Santiago Calatrava is one of the most well-known. But we can collaborate on a good note to achieve exceptional feats for the architectural and engineering practices to take on the next level. (More on this later!)
Architect Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (French Architect and author, who did the restoration of Notre-Dame Cathedral back in the 1840s) has described the power of collaboration between engineers and architects very well: “the interests of the two professions will be best saved by their union.”
Best designs are the outcome of a marriage between architectural design and structural design: where form and function meet. In his book Towards A New Architecture, Le Corbusier boldly confronts this issue hands-on. He argues that it is the responsibility of the architect for happy people and happy places. And a huge gap lies in the two professions that must be bridged. Architects are more disillusioned and unemployed while engineers are healthy, active, balanced, and happy in their work. The solution he talks about is in simple and geometrical forms. Simple masses develop immense surfaces—where the adornment of the surfaces is of the same geometrical order, like the Parthenon, the Colosseum, the aqueducts, etc.
And there is not a-single-pill-kind-of-solution available to this problem. But certainly, there are measures.
One of the greatest challenges in the industry is getting architects and engineers to work together. And work together well. Training of both the architects and engineers is as different as a day from the night. Architects tend to look for all the possible solutions to the problems. They focus on function but also aesthetics. Engineers are trained opposite. They are to find the most efficient solution. Period! Find the most functional, cost-effective solution, and make it work.
If we talk about old methods of collaboration, usually it is the architect who is the lead on the project. He is responsible for all the coordination of systems, engineers, and the client. In simple terms, he keeps the rest of the design team informed, updated, and on the same page.
But, in the recent collaborative models, engineers are present with architects in many of the key discussions with the client for coming to a consensus together as a team. We as architects, don’t get such a high technical education as the engineers, so it will turn out to be a highly collaborative model with better decisions. This doesn’t diminish the fact that more hours are required on the part of engineers, for meetings and such—but these are justifiable for advanced collaboration.
Some key points to note for a better working relationship are:
Communication: More often than not, the key factor in helping architects and engineers work together better is communication. It may sound simple but it is not practiced that often. Having proper meetings regularly as the project proceeds are crucial for the successful execution of the project. Discussions should be held at early conceptual phases also. This won’t make it harder to make changes that come in later stages of design due to a lack of communication and understanding.
Meetings: Architects should including engineers in the meetings with the owner. Yes, some architects do like to have all the information themselves and pass it to the rest of the team later. This doesn’t help in the long run other than the control over information.
Open-mindedness: Having an open mind during discussions helps in considering the various point of view. It is a necessity for a collaborative approach. Getting stuck to one idea and overlooking other possible options is a major bottleneck in the process.
Positive Outlook In The Industry
The idea of a collaboration, in fact, is not alien. It is practiced all the way along. A/E firms (Architecture/Engineering firms) in this way, function very differently than firms having only architects or only engineers. Getting architects and engineers under one roof is fundamentally better. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Exchanging knowledge and information especially in the early stages ultimately leads to better buildings. There are pretty preeminent A/E firms already out there, setting the high benchmark in the industry. Hundreds of firms you can see nowadays, but naming only a few here: Stantec; HOK; SOM; Gibbs & Cox; NORR; SYSTRA; HGA Architects and Engineers; S/L/A/M Collaborative, The; Parkhill, Smith & Cooper; Hoffmann Architects; Array Architects, and many more.
There are also firms that are either only architects or only engineers: they do collaborations with each other. Firms exceptional in providing structural, civil, and M&E engineering services (i.e. only engineers) collaborate with architectural firms and the quality of outcomes is par for the course. Some examples are Webb Yates Engineers, Group Work, West Asia, etc.
It is no surprise that the future holds many opportunities where Architecture and Engineering professions pull each other together: by offering expertise and imagination to realize standard-raising projects. The practices with ambitious outlooks, a fresh set of attitudes, broader awareness, and a more integrative perspective!
Indeed, this is an unfortunate divide but— can be bridged.