Architecture Intensive Disciplines in the 21st Century – Learning from the Past
By Roderick Lim Banda

There is continuing discussions on the value and application of architecture intensive disciplines such as Software Architecture and Enterprise Architecture. The contention of the value of architecture comes largely from the conflict between the need to meet immediate and short term demands and the longer term consequences. There is this dilemma of being a consumer or a patron of architecture where the former sees architecture as an artefact or a blue print and the latter, a philosophy and vision.

Even when proclaiming the importance and value of architecture to an endeavour, we often fail to convince those around us as to what this entails and how it is applied. Architecture when seen as an artefact or blueprint that is produced becomes problematic in that it is seen as the deliverable of a process – something that can be produced as a work product or deliverable of a project. It is an input or output rather than being something of much greater value to the entire initiative as a whole.

The past century of modernism, machines and manufacturing has led us to become reliant on the process-centric model where design represented a phase preceding some phase of production or construction. This works particularly well when the work is a predictable set of tasks. But when faced with constant trade-off decisions typical of a human centric endeavour, it is important to have a set of guiding values and principles that inform the practice.

As a philosophy, it represents the essence of what people do. It is the thinking and knowledge that continues to fuel any human endeavour. That ongoing learning process and knowledge is what architecture represents. As a dynamic form that embodies ongoing systems thinking, architecture ensures that any human endeavour has a means of overcoming impediments through solutions and trade-off decisions that keeps the initiative progressing forward irrespective of the complexity. It also ensures a flow of creative thinking that elevates design which in turn elevates construction. It ensures integrity between the conceptual, logical and physical elements of an endeavour so that there is alignment between the high level concept and the low level implementation.

If architecture is a knowledge process based on human abstraction and/or natural patterns, it is then constantly evolving as a discipline. Hence in the 21st century architecture intensive disciplines will learn from the past century of modernism. What are the architecture intensive disciplines that will shape the 21st century and what lessons will can we hope to learn from our past history?

Systems Architecture

Overall, systems architecture will continue to evolve as a holistic discipline. It will be the over-arching discipline that unifies all architecture intensive disciplines. Systems will not be confined to technological systems but will represent broader systems that include man made social and political systems as well as natural and environmental systems.

It took us centuries to develop our approach to dealing with complexity by breaking things down into parts. This way of thinking culminated in the unprecedented and rapid progress of the last century and the age of modernism and the machine. But we have spent the last decades of the 20th century waking up to the reality that we and our planet are paying a price that may lead to our own destruction. A global social consciousness is growing that will define a new value system based on a holistic perspective. This will be the underlying influence for how societies will make decisions, even if these decisions are driven by self-interest, the reality of survival will be the force that will ground us for better or for worse.

Technology and Software Architecture

Technology and software in the 21st century replaces arts and building architecture of the 20th century as the main influence on our way of life. The computing era was born out of the age of machines in the mid 20th century and is a product of modernist thinking and innovation. In the latter part of the last century, there has been a gradual shift in emphasis from hardware to software intensive systems. The internet is evolving beyond a hardware network infrastructure to a platform that is increasingly reliant on advancing software innovation and human social interaction. Designers will flourish in information technology over engineers. It is easier for a designer to become an engineer or to understand engineering than an engineer to become a designer.

Style and form is increasingly influenced by technology with the internet being the converged communication, information, media and entertainment platform on which businesses and households become reliant upon as a utility and service. It is shaping the media, what we read and how we pre-occupy ourselves and will continue to influence our living spaces to re-define the form and function of our furnishings, appliances and devices that we interact with on a daily basis.

Short of chipsets integrated into our brains, wireless data is realizing the dream of living with human telepathy – information directly from one mind to another. Information flow will become increasingly designed into our activities and pre-activity or our thoughts, motivations and inclinations. We will still decide for ourselves but our perceptions will continue to be influenced by the information channels we choose and are surrounded by. Where visual stimulation was a key element of marketing in the 20th century, managing our own choices will become more of a challenge where information and data becomes pervasive and intrusive.

As in the past, there will likely be an ongoing battle between producers. There will be entrenched thinking in software and technology architecture as a philosophy representing the traditional past and emerging future. This will continue into the middle century until a broader philosophy emerges from retrospectively studying the history of software intensive systems – their achievements and failings.

Innovators who adopt patterns from nature to provide sustainable designs will likely flourish. Modernists will realize that manufacturing methods of the past century are not well suited to human endeavours like software development. There will continue to be a demand for rapid production and consumption of software in shorter life-cycles but this will also lead to an over-supply where the economy of integration and re-use becomes more economically viable.

We will be able to retrospectively admire those software intensive systems that have survived and have been re-invented or re-factored to meet the changing times. The software and technology industry will produce the majority of intellectual capital in academic institutions by the third quarter of the 21st century and will re-shape academic thinking and research methods. The gap between academic curriculum and industry practice in computing and informatics will continue to increase and the current computing curriculum will evolve into a foundation course for other multi-disciplinary programs.

Building Architecture

Cities will evolve to increasingly harmonize with nature. Homes will become urban gardens and the movement towards green living spaces and human harmony with our natural environment will dominate 21st century architecture. Postmodernism in building architecture will evolve into natural and organic architectural styles. In the last century, we moved away from integrating nature in our designs. Minimalism became a dominant influence in design over the past century – from “less is more" to "ornamentation should be eliminated from all useful objects." Modern design focused on human abstractions of life in balance with machines rather life in balance with nature.

Designs incorporating vines and leafs intertwined with staircases and facades were replaced by basic geometric shapes and clean spaces. Much of modernist styles will be retained and the desire for clean geometric lines will continue. But we will incorporate more wood and stone into our glass and steel. More importantly, poor communities will re-evaluate their perception of indigenous materials as being cheap or of inferior quality. The challenge for poor communities continues to be inferior work; poor skills and a lack of education systems and resources.

The challenge exists to provide broader access to information systems and technology. Access to information and education along with the sense of connection to a global society through the evolving internet will change the way communities see and empower themselves. Better use of our natural resources will revolutionize spaces in poor slums and create a new aesthetic perspective in densely populated areas or informal settlements.

Social Architecture

Cities and the arts will continue to be a cultural innovator in the 21st century that will help unify an emerging global society. Citizens of the world, those without a single nationality will become legally recognized. In the past century, the western world became a global cultural (and financial) force through the entertainment industry. World music, cinema and arts will end the monopoly and dominance of western entertainment and media. It will create a movement towards realizing a common shared global consciousness. This convergence of culture will be driven and owned by a global community rather than a western dominated centre such as Hollywood. Entertainment will become a tool for social education and will increasingly be an enabling platform for the aspirations of the poor. It will continue to awaken new generations to the potential of a broader global community which in turn will drive a desire for a common world view rather than separate national states.

Social architecture will evolve as a professional discipline. There will be an increasing number of engaged individuals who will work with a variety of tools and mediums to build networks of influence and will become strategic advisors in public and private sector enterprises. Social media will enable the establishment of human networks as organizational structures spanning across countries, industries and companies. Powerful networks of individuals will share their resources and collaborate to compete against established structures. They will form loosely coupled, organized and mobile social and economic groups that will shape the new social corporations of the 21st century. They will be unified by common shared values and staffed by individuals who operate as entrepreneurs. This will change the system of employment where the model of the past century will be judged by historians as a form of modern slavery.

There will be a greater acceptance of the extended nature of the family structure but in some areas, there will be a return towards a nuclear family unit. Emphasis on a nuclear family structure will be driven by governments to help reduce what they regard as extremist belief systems. More governments will turn to social research and try to understand patterns for stable societies and communities.

Enterprise Architecture

The last century saw emphasis being placed on production processes. The modern enterprise as we know it will undergo radical changes in the next century. Legislation will increasingly support human rights and the climate of legislative compliance and governance will make it increasingly difficult for organizations to operate on profit alone. The model of Social Enterprise and the triple bottom line of profit, social responsibility and preservation of the environment will be the basis for economic organizations.

The shift towards a knowledge economy will transform manufacturing industries. Innovation rather production will drive the economy of the 21st century. Social innovation will enable access to free and lower costing products and services. There will be increasing focus on human and intellectual capital. This will shift human resource policies and governance from a set of policies, procedures and standards that support processes to value, principles and practices that enable people.

Controls will increasingly shift from centralization to federation and autonomy. Centralized systems and processes will be applied in balance with federation and autonomy rather than be seen as the best practice. Data and information architecture will focus on context of real time transactions and activities rather than in centralized storage. Knowing about the changes in customer contacts and addresses will be more relevant in decision making than having customer information and contacts stored in a single place.

Change as a Pattern

Are these predictions? Some are already happening and are simply indications of the patterns of change. Some may be utopian predictions based on an overactive optimism about the future. There will be disruptors such as individuals and countries who will go to war for scarce resources under the guise of a more noble pursuit. Each generation will discover old knowledge and reclaim them as new knowledge. We would certainly be more enlightened if we could accumulate the experience and understanding of a life lived over several thousand years. For now, we must learn from the records of the past. We may come to different conclusions but we should all consider the past hundred years when we think of the potential of the 21st century.