John Stephenson has seen a lot in his more than 30 years as an architect and now, as the newly installed president of the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA), he wants to ensure his vocation is defended and valued.
“The profession of architecture is facing some serious challenges as the world of procurement and management of building projects shifts the emphasis away from realizing good and sometimes great architecture towards the efficient management of building projects through the avoidance of risk,” said Stephenson, the managing partner of Thunder Bay’s FORM Architecture Engineering.
“The result of this shift is a tendency towards marginalizing and devaluing the role of the architect.”
Stephenson said these procurement and contracting practices, and the language used in requests for proposals and contracts, can put the public interest in jeopardy by requiring architects to assume risk that’s outside their control.
“The Architects Act of 1984 defined the need for mandatory professional liability insurance for architects as being clearly in the public interest. Contracts that make this impossible to realize with certainty must continue to be opposed.”
Engagement and education are important
Stephenson said the OAA must find ways for architects to engage with project managers to make them better understand their value while also making architects effective project managers themselves. One of the OAA’s prime mandates is to further the continuing education of architects to maintain and improve professional competence.
“Our continuing education program, which operates on a two-year cycle, is a model for other professions and takes advantage of the many professional development opportunities offered by experts both within the architectural profession and externally,” said Stephenson.
The OAA must also work with provincial regulators to achieve a national consensus on licensing architects through school and internship since the nature of the profession and the way that it’s practiced is changing so rapidly.
Stephenson also advocates maximizing collaboration with interior designers and landscape architects to look for possible new organizational and professional synergies.
Architects can also play a role in public and social policy, according to Stephenson.
“We need to advocate vigorously for housing affordability and First Nations community-building and other important issues of public concern that intersect with the practice of architecture,” he said.
“We need to advocate for a provincial, and perhaps even a federal, architecture policy to recognize and support the profession’s valuable role in community building through public architecture.”
Creating environmentally friendly buildings
One of the OAA’s goals, according to Stephenson, is to “provide excellent architectural solutions that result in safe, healthy, functional and uplifting public buildings.”
Stephenson cites the retrofitting of the OAA’s uniquely designed north Toronto headquarters as an example of how this can be done. He hopes it will be a model for other buildings to follow to achieve the Architecture 2030 challenge of ensuring new buildings, developments and major renovations are carbon-neutral by 2030.
“We are going to transform a 25-year-old, energy-inefficient building into one that will be zero net energy and zero net carbon,” said Stephenson.
“We see this as our profession’s opportunity to demonstrate that there are solutions for such ambitious goals, and that they’re within reach for clients when the appropriate expertise is at the table.”
The OAA is in detailed design development for the project and, based on modelling and projections, Stephenson believes it’s on track for success.
“This will give credibility to all our members in their roles as advocates for the need for climate change mitigation.”