Is architecture down-waving?

As other industries scramble to outgrow their mass-production roots with artisanal offerings, architecture scrambles in the other direction.

As big fan of 3rd wave coffee (shout-out to Blacktop) I was interested to see this article from Nathan Kontry discussing how advances in US coffee culture (from mass-production to made-to-order to artisanal) parallel advances in technology.

But what struck me was the assumption that moving from mass-production to artisanal is “good” (or at least a given). Other than the rich and creamy taste of my artisanal coffee, part of the appeal (whether true or not) is the idea that the people growing the coffee are better compensated and that the people making the coffee are skilled craftspeople who care deeply about it.

So it is ironic that in a profession dominated by the appreciation of culture and craft, including artisanal goods and services, we should have such a drive to industrialize our own profession.

Comparing the 3 waves discussed by Kontry (mass production, made-to-order, artisanal) we could apply them to the profession in a few ways:

  • hand drawn, CAD, parametric design

  • hand built, custom modular, off-the-shelf modular

These fit into the 3-wave model but in the opposite direction: from artisanal to mass-produced.

I’m a huge supporter of mass production in architecture. In order to adequately house ourselves (i.e. all of us) in a sustainable and dignified way, we will need vastly more construction, and the only way to achieve that will be through some form of mass production. So I include myself in the down-waving crowd.

In the dream of us down-wavers, the quality and style of artisanal will not be compromised in the mass produced version. It will be high design, reproduced. But this is the same pitch as in any mass production scenario.

Can we really have instant coffee that tastes like a Blacktop cortado?

Yes, we say, because the mass production of architecture will be driven by architects! Or perhaps the mass production of architecture is not already pervasive because it is being driven by architects — a profession firmly grounded in artisanal history and culture?