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The Architect (2012) January 8, 2012

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, architecture industry, BIM, change, employment, marginalization, technology, the economy, transformation, transition.
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Last night I had the opportunity to see Oscar contender, “The Architect,” a film whose story begins in the late-CAD era.

“The Architect,” whether you consider it a screwball comedy, a sentimental melodrama or a spoof, is a 2D black-and-white film that has received a great deal of praise from critics.

The story is a simple and familiar one

The story focuses on a declining male starchitect and a rising starletchitect, as CAD grows out of fashion and is replaced by BIM.

A valentine to early computer-aided design and drafting, “The Architect,” stars leading man Jean Dujardin as a CAD-using starchitect named George Valentin.

At the top of his profession, Valentin meets eager would-be starletchitect Peppy Miller.

She dreams of success in architecture, invests time in learning BIM, and as her demand rises in the industry, Valentin’s shine is eradicated.

Architect Valentin faces untold obstacles: the fickleness of the public’s changing taste, the adoption of disruptive new technologies, waning powers that come with age, competition from fellow industry professionals and unemployment, among others.

Faced with the economic insecurity of the Great Recession and technological change that threatens to make him obsolete, George is being crushed in a vise grip all too familiar to mid-career architects.

Refusing to adapt to the onset of BIM, he puts all his money into one last CAD production.

George has owners in the palm of his hand, at least until BIM arrives

It turns out George isn’t well-suited for BIM, not least because of his mindset and attitude, dependence on 2D CAD and archaic drafting style.

But BIM is perfectly suited to a vivacious ingénue named Peppy Miller, who crosses paths with George, first as a fangirl, then as an intern in the office of his firm.

In 2009, just after Wall Street crashes, George’s studio stops making CAD documents.

The studio head announces the end of production of 2D CAD documents, but Valentin insists that BIM is just a fad.

It’s fitting that the next time he meets Peppy, on Rapidograph Studio’s main stairway, she’s on her way up and he’s on his way down.

When the studio head lays-off all his 2D CAD starchitects, George decides to open his own office where he could work in CAD.

His project is submitted on the same day as Miller’s new BIM project, and Valentin is ruined.

His wife kicks him out and he moves into an apartment with his valet, while Miller goes on to become a major 3D starletchitect.

“If that’s the future, you can have it!”

However reassuring excursions into bygone golden ages may be – whether drafting in pencil or CAD – they carry with them the potential for revisionism, soft-focus complacency and the refusal to embrace uncomfortable but necessary change.

This is why some critics are grumbling about “The Architect,” which has won a cache of critics’ awards and looks to be a contender for the Best Picture Oscar.

Whereas naysaying design professionals can appreciate the fond look back at the medium they adore with equal devotion, they inevitably see “The Architect” as an all too-comfortable 2D nostalgia trip that represents stasis rather than genuine innovation, provocation or artistic risk that working in 3D enables.

Those skeptics may be missing a modest but meaningful truth buried under “The Architect’s” surface and story, which is that George’s plight could easily be transposed into any modern-day profession or industry.

In one of “The Architect’s” most poignant scenes, George plays a character sinking in a cement pour, an aptly desperate metaphor at a time when so many architects feel they are in over their heads.

It’s a film that taps into our anxieties as we encounter seismic economic and technological transformations.

Having just witnessed his first BIM model, George says at one point:

“If that’s the future, you can have it!”

He could be speaking for an entire generation of architects who feel as if they’re in mortal danger of being left behind, forced into early retirement they can’t afford — literally or psychologically – or leaving the profession altogether.
At the risk of revealing a spoiler, it turns out all is not lost for George.

Disappointingly, it involves a work-around – when everyone recognizes the only way out is the way through.

“The Architect” may be drenched in the romance and visual values of CAD’s bygone era, but it’s a motion picture uncannily of its time.

(Apologies to critics of “The Artist,” which – like this post – is a shameless pastiche.)

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Comments»

1. Just Sayin' - January 8, 2012

Why is the woman referred to as a “starletchitect” and the man a “starchitect”? Shouldn’t they both just be “starchitects”? Starlet is not only archaic, but also a feminine diminuative and (hopefully unconciously) sexist.

randydeutsch - January 8, 2012

Excellent point. Because the movie this post spoofs is a period piece, I felt it makes sense in context to describe actors and actresses as stars and starlets, and architects similarly. It either works or doesn’t work (you’re suggesting it doesn’t work) in the context of the piece. It is not my intention for this to be sexist or to offend anyone. My apologies if it comes across that way.

2. amiliacca - January 8, 2012

I thought “starletchitect” was used to suggest youth and an upstart.

Anyway, it’s still an insightfully, painfully, humourously great critique – now write the screenplay!


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