Professionalism in Architecture and Engineering

Professionalism in Architecture and Engineering

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1999-9.ch007
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Abstract

Increasingly, pressure has been exerted on both architects and engineers to conceptualize their work in terms of economic demands on the one hand and communitarian ethics on the other hand – to be business people and cultivators as well as designers of visual images for the development of future buildings and products. Professionalism is seen to be a means of compromising among the demands of technical expertise, business imperatives, and social ethics. Thus the Mediation Modern of Design Professionalism is proposed as a method of harmonizing the various demands of the triadic forces comprising design as an activity in the 21st century. The history of design professionalism has been different for architects and engineers. Modern architects first regarded themselves as scholarly gentlemen whose work was high art, whereas engineers begin as self-made men who by learning science gained the knowledge they needed to make themselves valuable to society. For these reasons, architects resisted professionalization while engineers embraced professionalization. At the present time the original architectural identification with art and the original engineering identification with science are both being submerged beneath the demands of the marketplace and the political forum. Two things are certain in this new professional climate. Architects and engineers no longer come from different social backgrounds, and neither profession is dominated by white males as much as it used to be.
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Professionalism Examined

According to Walter Metzger (1975), the purpose of professionalism is to organize and assess the ever-growing body of disciplinary knowledge in an honorable manner. Such a definition also suggests the other two characteristics that are usually evoked to define professionalism: autonomy or self-regulation and social responsibility. Societies have traditionally trusted professions and granted them the autonomy to manage knowledge to the best of their abilities. The trouble is, as Adam Unwin (2007) observes, this social trust has been steadily eroding over the past few years, to the point where there have been numerous demands for professionals to be more “transparent” and “accountable” in their operations. Needless to say, this sudden attack on the trustworthiness and autonomy of professions – especially when it is spearheaded by government agencies – has been deleterious, even traumatizing, to many of their members. The implications of this crisis in the discourse of professionalism are something we will look at in some detail in the following pages.

An even more fundamental matter is how professionalism fits into the paradigm of architectural and engineering design. It will be argued that professionalism in design is a mediating concept that allows the concepts of art and business to relate to each other, if not smoothly, at least effectively. In other words, professionalism is a compromising force in both architecture and engineering, a factor that serves to balance and preserve the best of the often opposing claims of theory and practice. Indeed, without professionalism neither architecture nor engineering could survive in today’s world.

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