If there’s one thing we’ve learned from our regular attendance at major gatherings of audio/video technology consultants and contractors such as NSCA Expo and InfoComm, it is that the most important person to their business is the architect. In the vast majority of building projects, it is the architect who must be informed, enticed, and ultimately “sold” on the use of electronic systems and equipment.
The role of the architect is legendary, often embellished by anecdotes portraying the chief designer as arrogant, disdainful, and unreceptive (to be kind). Yet it is just this unsavory shield that must be pierced if the A/V consultant or integrator is to be successful. As interior designer Roseanne Bell advised eager attendees of an InfoComm seminar on “Working with Architects,” “What’s important is getting a seat at the table — it doesn’t matter how.”
Other panelists at other trade shows (Tom Rauscher, Randy Triz, Michael Chambers, Larry Heilman, Craig Park) have argued the same point, focusing on fostering “alliances” with architects. Indeed, much of Bell’s presentation (with Connie Weber of The Benham Companies) centered on understanding how architects work and what they want (“control”). She advocates negotiating agreements with architectural firms for the mutual benefit of both parties.
The key issue here is building a relationship, and everybody seems convinced this involves education. But this is not education with a capital E. Rather, the consultant or integrator “educates” by solving the architect’s (i.e., the client’s) problems first, thus gaining credibility for more pro-active proposals down the road. (Meanwhile, “stuff it up,” advises Bell.)
As progress may be painfully slow or nonexistent in this business of relationship-building (as with so-called nation-building), we are happy to point out there are definite signs of improvement elsewhere on the “education” front. Most notably, the official journal of the American Institute of Architects, Architectural Record, has begun a new, quarterly section called “Architectural Technology.” It replaces a section devoted entirely to computer design called “Digital Practice.”
Although this new section still leans heavily in the direction of computing, it does offer hope that the mainstream architectural community is on its way towards recognizing electronic systems as truly a part of a building’s structure (“infrastructure”). It offers the same hope that trade publications regularly express, which is that architects will someday accept technology experts as bona fide partners in the design process.