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Blog / Architecture is for everybody by James Mitchell

Architecture is for everybody by James Mitchell 13 Nov 2014

“Architecture is for everybody” is probably a mantra which every architect would support, yet the profession currently serves around 1% of the global population. It comes as no surprise either to find that this largely equates to the wealthiest 1%. What may be more surprising however, is discovering who makes up this elite. According to the World Bank, anyone who earns higher than £21,000 per annum is part of that group, meaning that over half of the population of the United States and over 40% of the UK population fit the criteria.

So it can be argued that architecture is, in fact, not for everybody, but this idea would understandably jar with most practising architects, and even the wider public, who typically feel that the profession is there to serve society and create not just interesting or practical spaces but also spaces that enhance people’s lives, empower communities and can be enjoyed by all.

In addition to the desire for architecture to be inclusive and not elitist, there is also the unfathomable question of market share to be addressed. Few other professions or businesses would be content with a 1% share. According to the widely accepted Diffusion of Innovation theory (Everett Rogers, 1962), most products or services are not considered to have even an early majority market share until they achieve at least 34% market penetration. Now architecture is not a new service or product so the theory can only be loosely applied, and arguably almost 100% of the world’s population live in some form of architecture. However, the theory supports that those who have studied and become qualified ‘Architects’ are not even close to the 2.5% market share that most new products or services can typically expect upon inception.

In 1945, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) were established as the two main multilateral institutions that would address debt relief and economic development. Two years later the United Nations was formed and with it, the foreign aid era began. It is now widely agreed that charitable aid over the past sixty years has failed to stimulate significant long term economic growth and social development, and so new ways must be sought and a new approach is needed.

The ‘EMPOWERMENT’ exhibition at the Lighthouse explores how architecture, and indeed how architects, can engage a wider population and play a part in affecting long term social change that relies upon and starts to redefine the practice of architecture as something far more entrepreneurial and socially conscious that its current ailing state.

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