Building bridges, tearing down walls

October 13, 2020 | By: Arch. Bibiano A. Luzande Jr. FUAP (as published in The Manila Times last October 13, 2020)

“It is not things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” ? Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

JUST a little warning, my friends, this may upset some of you, but I would heed grandfather Seneca’s admonition and dare to touch on an issue that I deeply care about. I humbly speak my mind about the value of our friendship with our industry allies, the structural engineers because our professions are both vital to the construction industry. As for the rest of the civil engineers, please note, you are industry partners as well, and should never be categorized as an enemy. However, working together in the industry may lead to a collision of conflicting personal and professional goals and to some degree, disdain or disregard for each other’s craft.

This pandemic had already caused us untold mental torture, loss of lives, and even crippled some of us financially. Our industry is sinking. We, architects, engineers, and other construction professionals are on the same boat, leaking, and drifting aimlessly. Shall we plug the holes and start rowing in the same direction or continue to stare defiantly at each other or we will just hope that somebody (not only me) will be so fed up and take the initiative to steer the boat? We cannot steer clear of each other. We are in the same boat, remember?

Calm rationalism

We need to be calm and rational. Surely, those friendly banter that sometimes lead to needless headbutting lets off steam, but I think meaningful dialogues should settle our differences. The construction process relies on the crucial nature of our work as architects and engineers. Yet, at the back of our minds, we wonder whether the other camp appreciates our role and vice versa. We have become adept at playing the blame game and finger-pointing when we work together, and that is all right to some extent, because this friction polishes and refines us. However, I think we should deliberately get along as educated grownups should.

Structural engineers lament their profession’s lack of recognition that architects enjoy in the industry because our designs, which symbolize man’s creativity get publicized in chic magazines, whereas the engineers remain anonymous until something goes wrong. While we get the fame, you get the blame. We receive plaques, you get…flak. So, where do we strike a balance?

Sometimes, we get frustrated by structural engineers’ seeming lack of engagement with architectural design and appreciation for aesthetics. They, on the other hand, are occasionally upset because architects seek structural advice too late for them to offer optimal structural solutions. Architects view structural engineers as uninspired, and they regard architects as idealistic snobs unmindful of budgets.

Community of builders

We are builders. We are bound by a common desire to leave a rich legacy of values and tradition of excellence to future architects and engineers, who must continue to bear the indelible mark of professional integrity. The new breed of engineers and architects should have a sense of belonging to a community, where everyone is beholden to unwritten codes of friendship, mutual trust, and respect. Cooperation and collaboration are big words among us builders, because our brother engineers bring our architectural visions to life.

They provide support on structural and construction concerns to the designs that we architects bring to the table. Together, we execute practical solutions to create unique structural spaces that positively impact human lives.

We may insist on our professional capabilities, but the thing is, we are two sides of a coin.

We go for functionality, while structural engineers are concerned with structural integrity and load factors of a building. While some engineers are aesthetically inclined and some of us architects can be adept at structural disciplines, the extremely complex and specialized fields of structural construction is for the engineers, who deserve merit and recognition for doing the job well. We should strive for an organized industry bent on upholding the standards of excellence. We need to shift our limited beliefs to principles anchored on lasting values of friendship and service to others. Instead of asking, “What’s in it for me?” the better question we should collectively ask should be,“ How can we best serve humanity?”

Philosophical friendship

By holding on to that special bond based on mutual love of knowledge and passion for our trade, we share philosophical friendship. True fraternity between architects and structural engineers comes from a unique brand of friendship that gives, forgives, and corrects each other’s mistakes. It is an alliance that offers mutual support and inspires each of us to become better in our craft.

So, this thing against some civil engineers is hard for me to say, but I will say it anyway. The main issue is, civil engineers are not supposed to seal and sign architectural drawings. Professional services of architects must be off-limits to civil engineers. As per Republic Act (RA) 9266, architecture is art and science of designing and constructing of buildings as a whole. By the same token, we also respect the engineers’ professional boundaries. The practice of architecture should solely be for licensed registered architects. Civil engineering should strictly be for licensed civil engineers. By bringing this issue out in the open, I sincerely hope that this will not be misconstrued as an affront to the profession of civil engineering. Let me assure you, my colleagues, this is the hardest piece I had ever written and it took me the longest time to finish ? vacillating between keeping mum about the topic or treading where angels fear to tread.

Engineering and architecture have a common denominator ? the National Building Code, so collaboration between us is inevitable. This Building Code, plus RA 9266 and RA 1582 will be the team charter and guidelines for behavioral and outcomes expectations for the industry. With regards to our misunderstanding on this issue, let the law experts interpret the laws and give us the true “North Star” to help us toe the line and not step on each other’s toes.

Group dynamics and establishing boundaries

In the 1800s, the famous French architect Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc believed in the integration of the architectural and the structural engineering professions and said that “the interests of the two professions will be best saved by their union.” Indeed, because the truth is architects and engineers have more in common than we realize or even care to admit. Our collective expertise is necessary to provide safe and well-functioning built environment based on the ultimate fusion of form and function.

We can choose to build bridges of friendship and tear down walls of enmity if we have the mind to. Our industry needs to survive not just the pandemic and its aftermath a crippled economy. We are in for a long haul road to recovery. Our group dynamics should define our roles so we can work together and peacefully co-exist within the microcosm of our industry. We ought to be constructive and productive, demonstrate mutual understanding and adopt self-corrective behavior to break down barriers to collaboration.

Together, we can be effective allies and partners, and cater to our clients in the spirit of service. Communal healing for the industry, healthy emotional and professional boundaries, these are goals we all must strive for. No need to look for a Level 2 solution to a Level 1 problem. We are all in this together. Whether we like or not, we belong to the same tribe and in our tribe, there is a pandemic storm and the rain is pouring hard. Shall we continue to blame the weather or learn to dance in the rain?

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