How Architects Retake Power.



In the arena of dwelling, the architect once reigned supreme. Many civilizations promoted architects to political power. For the last century, architects lost their power to industrialists and financiers who desired a legacy built largely in their own interests. The public sector quickly followed suit.

The result left architects focusing on either iconic architecture, or theoretical discussions, with very little flexibility in between. Put simply, iconic architects own the conversation of architecture. Architecture serving its patrons, not the public.  

Real estate isn’t to blame. Architects simply rolled over. My options included pursuing the dream of becoming a “Starchitect”, or making changes from the inside at a big real estate firm. How could I continue my journey affecting the way we interact with the built  environment? How could I stop living in the future but working in the past? 

Our generation certainly has a lot to say, but when it comes to shaping the urban environment, only technology companies have the largest observable impact. It became crystal clear that technology needed to be the cornerstone of how I could have the greatest impact on our physical world. 

But we also care about what’s probable, not theoretical. Beneath the polished, or foreign elements of science fiction, the social commentary remains rooted in the attitudes of today. Transitioning from architecture to technology didn’t mean sacrificing vision, it meant contributing something no matter the medium. 

Throughout my journey, there are many elements of study and passion that have served me. They form a basis and commitment for what we are accomplishing at SquarePlan.

Privacy is no longer in the physical arena: The greatest threat concerns our digital footprint. As architecture students, we fixated on private space VS. common space VS. public space. The pursuit? Determining the appropriate threshold between each realm, and establishing a commonality. Realms are shaped by materials, culture, even prejudice. The iPhone has done more to reshape our notion of threshold in the last 12 years, than the last 100 in our modern architectural age. Access to someone’s smartphone, and less than a handful of apps, means unprecedented access into their lives. Technology companies –most for the better, some for worse– developed a universality blurring, and nearly eliminating, our previous notion of realm. 
At SquarePlan, we are not bound by a singular realm. Why fixate on a single window looking out of one building, when our interface can look into all building operations for an entire portfolio?

Solving problems through design: It’s a process with unknowable results. Non-linear design had a strong impact on me. Embracing the transient nature of things, true innovative solutions are not necessarily conventional, and can be as dynamic as the audience they serve. 
Testing SquarePlan in communities stretching from North America to Europe, no opinion or concern was out of scope. Our charge was in the asking of better questions, not simple answers. How can we improve trust between tenants, landlords and staff? How can we end the animosity between tenants and management? Can we improve both at the same time? Too many apps focus on one side or the other, so we decided to abandon an app altogether. 

The tenant-to-management relationship change: We require transparency, accountability, and good building standards as residents in our own homes –what better values to uphold at SquarePlan. But many of us also work in building management, where sometimes what’s best for the dwelling ecosystem is at odds with the tenants. Trust must be built in both directions, so the job of technology becomes raising the conversation, and acting as a bridge between both parties. We’ve determined there needs to be a proxy –a system that both parties trust, and zero potential for mismatched expectations. Tenants who accept building issues as inconveniences of living in the modern world, but completed in a timely manner. And staff who see issues as opportunities to improve the life and livelihood of the building and its inhabitants. 

Tenants, managers, users or landlords –these are all just titles. SquarePlan’s technology erodes those titles, approaching a greater balance. Interests that were once at odds are now united. I’m still an architect, despite the title. I just apply a digital filter empowering our physical world. I urge my fellow architects to reach beyond their realm, and apply a filter of their own. I believe it’s the only way for us to retake our power.

Lio Slama
Founder & CEO