Although key partners, engineers and architects are not always aligned on the best path toward the same goal. Improving this relationship means enhancing the quality of the projects. But how? In this second article of the 'Twelve months, twelve themes' series, João Paulo Branco (partner, engineer) and Isabel Pereira (associate architect) evoke this sibling rivalry and some strategies to strengthen the collaborative process.
Engineers and Architects, friends or rivals?
I would say there's a natural cause for this. It's an issue that was very prominent in the past, I believe it's not so much the case now, but it's somewhat what happens because we are people working in the same field with different attitudes towards the project. It seems to me that architects, who sell dreams to clients, focus on the aesthetic and creative side of things, while we focus on the functional, objective side. That's why it's natural that we're not always able to agree right away. (João Paulo Branco)
Concept and technique are not always aligned, nothing is impossible, but there is a path to reach there with ups and downs, and sometimes, the need to adapt technical conditions to the client's requirements leads to project adaptations. The engineer, due to their more technical background, focuses on organization and time, and the architect often doesn't look beyond the concept's realization. This stance was very marked in the past, but I don't feel that anymore. In response to 'friends or rivals,' I would say partners. I think the word today is partners. More and more, and this has changed over time, the architect recognizes the engineer's position, and the engineer recognizes the architect's position. There's a narrowing of that gap, an approach, which is essential to achieving much better projects. (Isabel Pereira)
How has this relationship evolved over the years?
Looking at the project differently is not necessarily bad; it's something that has to happen. At the beginning of my professional life as a designer, something happened that today is absolutely unacceptable. I would receive projects after the architectural designs were approved by the council. We engineers would arrive, look at what we received, and work with it. That would inevitably introduce changes to what the architects had conceived. That's where this rivalry arises: the architect had already sold a project to a client, and we, for various reasons, had to request changes. We've clearly changed this paradigm, and currently, we often enter the process at ground zero, so what we ask for are not alterations but recommendations and suggestions for the project. Essentially, before we were at odds, and today, we move together. (João Paulo Branco)
They're starting to be annoying earlier (laughs). That figure of the annoying one who comes in and alters our project enters earlier. And we are also more prepared and trained for some of the mistakes we used to make. For us architects, there are already pillars and cores from day zero; this didn't happen before. I think the engineer also enters in a different way now, defending the project, already being more part of the project concept. Ultimately, they're more part of the dream now. (Isabel Pereira)
How can we strengthen this relationship and, consequently, our projects?
Technology will lead us to an even closer relationship between architecture and engineering. The software we use nowadays pushes us towards more efficient coordination and cooperation. Architects are increasingly engineers, and engineers are increasingly architects. The future is undoubtedly hand in hand and increasingly early. It's essential to ensure that this partnership happens as early as possible, with engineers present in the initial meetings with the client. In fact, the future is not just two – engineers and architects – but three. Engineers, architects, and the client. And we can only build great projects if that's the case. (Isabel Pereira)
To the triad of engineer, architect, client, I would add another element, which is the builder. Also, a fundamental element in this context and absolutely decisive. Regarding strengthening and reducing the gap between the areas, I believe it's much about being able to put ourselves in the other's shoes, obviously, but it's also about seriously understanding the other's work. There should be an intensive sharing of knowledge. The future must be faced hand in hand. I'll give an example from Fragmentos, because I think it's illustrative: we felt that this divide could be improved, so we created a series of training sessions aimed at bringing architects up to speed on a set of technical concepts they should incorporate into projects. And the impact was very positive. (João Paulo Branco)