“How might architects reframe their value to be knowledge, rather than the production of novelty?”

— Jeremy Till (2021), Architects after Architecture

Shepp Home, Elevation - West

Thesis statement

With a comprehensive humanitarian framework and systematic thinking, architects can reframe their value to be knowledge (and a bit of novelty!).

In architectural discourse, it is widely observed that digital and construction technologies currently erode architects’ management and control of design-build processes. However, there is hope. The regenerated architect is the visionary – synthesiser of arts atop pillars of communication, collaboration, activism, and advocacy.

This thesis suggests a template mapping an architectural career. The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) supply the comprehensive framework, supporting activism and advocacy. Communication and collaboration are explored via User eXperience (UX) design processes.

Elaboration musings

This submission has no word-count requirement for a revised elaboration, but such is my process! I’m writing an updated un-academic stream of thoughts that will inevitably land us all in a bit more clarity.

The process of translating my thesis statement has revealed my question is nothing new. I have needed further research; I have questioned myself and wondered if I’m just relaying wicked questions in an overcrowded echo chamber of frustrated designers.

Feedback on my developing thesis – or rather an inquiry into what my thesis is actually about – reminded me that communication is what it’s about. I have long advocated for better, clearer, or more accurately, simpler and more diverse communication. However, I still feel the thesis should be a bit broad, as the total fragmentation of Built Environment (BE) architecture (residential architect, housing architect, commercial architect, hospital architect, etc…) that mirrors the fragmentation of Information Technology (IT) architecture (systems architect, enterprise architect, data architect, interface designer) is a mistake. Notice the last role in the parenthesis listed ‘designer,’ not architect, implying aesthetics do not require architectural skill. That is the mistake. The aesthetics and organisation of interface elements (digital and otherwise) affect individual psychology and behaviours, ultimately improving economics. Rightly or wrongly, economics still drive our work – and any move away from a present system must begin within it.

“Today, the world faces new challenges. Designers are starting to play a larger and larger role in not only designing but managing beyond the design studio and even deciding upon the activities that need to be done across the business. Our concern is that design education has not kept up with the new demands of the 21st century.“

(Meyer & Norman, 2020)

Moreover, there is the generalisation of architectures. I’ve seen attempts from IT professionals to normalise the title ‘architect’ for IT [insert specialisation here] architects. Again, a mistake. The title ‘architect’ must grow to encompass IT architecture, not drop BE architecture.

A peer’s comment in class also bothered me, and in contemplating why over the last few days, I realised their comment is why I persist with this position. On my proposition that our studio topic of homelessness is more complicated than it appears and that designing for these clients is simpler than it appears, my peer commented: “yeah, but I think that’s all assumed.”

I am bothered by the idea of assumed understanding. That is one avenue where systems fail, and if BE architecture is to contribute to solutions, it cannot assume. The architect is not a tool of industry. (Darke, 1979)

“When they assume the role of a system integrator, architects have to broaden their activities. On one hand, this gives them the opportunity to integrate and realise their designs as intended. On the other hand, it entails more administrative activities and managerial activities; activities that are usually not among the core competencies of any architect.”

(Renier & Volker, 2008)

There is one sentence from my initial thesis statement that doesn’t make me cringe: the architect is the build-process visionary – the new synthesiser of arts embracing communication, collaboration, activism and advocacy. Actually, one word of it does, so ‘new’ is coming out. There is nothing new to my question, nothing new to my approach. However, that is a positive: the types of progress and change our world needs today can’t occur when ‘new’ is always turning up. My recent research has not changed my initial intent of this thesis, and the design work so far remains relevant. But the entire framework around my project has revealed itself! Communication, collaboration, activism and advocacy are the pillars of my approach to design and practice; the problem I address is how the architect practices ethically and effectively. The framework for this is the United Nations’ (UN) 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (UN, 2023). The method is a high-level, user- (resident-) focused proposal of a construction system for affordable housing, a singular example presented as Shepp Home: small multi-residential homes on a 744sqm block in Shepparton Victoria, Australia. The present conclusion is I have a lot of work to do.

“While architecture’s early adoption of digital technology in the 1990s may have insulated it from the disruptions that affected other industries, its immunity may be over. As in other disrupted sectors, digital technology is also contributing to an erosion of the architect’s control. … It is also ironic that architecture is being disrupted just as the public’s overall appreciation of design is increasing.”

(Sollohub, 2019, pp. 208-209)

I once heard ‘the future of architecture and construction industries are all about supply chain to supply chain.’ Sure, that make sense – as an architect visionary no one is better placed to oversee those supply chains from end-to-end, or design-to-build. So in using the 17 SDGs as a framework, how would I sketch out this high-level proposal? Not all are directly applicable to the process of architecture, but architecture nonetheless directly or indirectly impacts all. Other architecturally-inclined frameworks (NatHERS, Passivhaus, low-carbon initiatives, etc…) lack a comprehensive humanity-centred approach that fueled my initial questions about architectural design and practice in the first place, while others reek of marketing strategies worse than virtue signalling.

For the sake of brevity, the SDGs in focus for Shepp Home are:

 3. Good health and well-being
 6. Clean water and sanitation
 7. Affordable and clean energy
 11. Sustainable cities and communities
 12. Responsible consumption and production
 13. Climate action
 14. Life below water
 15. Life on land

The proposed homes at Shepp Home take inspiration from the diversity of people and their varying needs (see Figure 1), all the while keeping them and our humanitarian values at the forefront of systems.

Figure 1. Home supports residents through all stages of life.
Holt, C. [@beyondthetats]. (2023, 19 March). It be like that sometimes, am I right?! [Reel]. Instagram.
Note: Screenshots from It be like that sometimes, am I right?! by Chris Holt [@beyondthetats], 19 March 2023, Instagram. ( Copyright 2023 Chris Holt.

Knowing my initial thesis question and statement were far too broad from the start, I’m moving away from crafting my own ‘new’ question and putting all efforts into answering a question already asked by architect and educator Jeremy Till (2021): “How might architects reframe their value to be knowledge, rather than the production of novelty?” We can always make up new questions to ask. Making up and finding the answers is now the priority. This represents the growing movement away from individualism and recognises the long overdue need to roll up our collective sleeves and do the work together.

“Most designers lack the skills in humanity-centered design to [have an opportunity for significant influence on the product line]. Humanity-centered design is not how they’ve been trained.”

(Norman & Euchner, 2023)

The UN’s 17 SDGs give the architect a comprehensive framework to reframe their value as knowledge, and covers basic human needs and rights – without belittling or excluding the opportunity for novelty where appropriate (I’m looking at #3!). These goals address the aforementioned activism and advocacy pillars of my architectural visionary. Communication and collaboration are addressed through the method of design: an adaptation of User eXperience (UX) design processes. I made a meme about that once.

This thesis is the start of a template for an architectural career. It will map an architect’s role in designing homes at Shepp Home. It will call out the gaps and inconsistencies as they appear to me, and the contradictions and barriers I find along the way. Of course, there will be plenty I’ll miss, but the time for niche completionism is long gone and we must make progress. This thesis will need to adapt, and it will be incomplete – but ask a wicked question and you might just receive a wicked answer.

The 17 Goals

1. No poverty
2. Zero hunger
3. Good health and well-being
4. Quality education
5. Gender equality
6. Clean water and sanitation
7. Affordable and clean energy
8. Decent work and economic growth
9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
10. Reduced inequalities
11. Sustainable cities and communities
12. Responsible consumption and production
13. Climate action
14. Life below water
15. Life on land
16. Peace, justice and strong institutions
17. Partnerships for the goals


Darke, J. (1979). The primary generator and the design process. Design Studies, 1(1), 36-44.

Holt, C. [@beyondthetats]. (2023, 19 March). It be like that sometimes, am I right?! [Reel]. Instagram.

Meyer, M. W., & Norman, D. (2020). Changing Design Education for the 21st Century. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 6(1), 13-49.

Norman, D., & Euchner, J. (2023). Design for a Better World. Research Technology Management, 66(3), 11-18.

Renier, B., & Volker, L. (2008). The architect as a system integrator? Association of Researchers in Construction Management, ARCOM 2008 – Proceedings of the 24th Annual Conference.

Sollohub, D. (2019). Millennials in Architecture : Generations, Disruption, and the Legacy of a Profession. University of Texas Press.

Till, J. (2021). Architects after architecture. In H. Harriss, R. Hyde, & R. Marcaccio (Eds.), Architects after architecture : alternative pathways for practice (pp. 29-37). Routledge.

UN (United Nations). (2023). THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development.

Collage imagery from rawpixel (

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