The case for spreadsheets
It seems obvious enough that architecture is evaluated primarily on its visual merits, more so than ever with the increasing capability of computers to generate photo-realistic images of unbuilt projects.
The supposition that unbuilt architecture should be evaluated visually presumes, however, that human beings interact with the built environment in a similar way, otherwise it is a poor criterion for judgment. I suspect that real people interact with their world in this way only at some times and in some places. Are there better ways to evaluate architecture which align more with the needs of regular people in their everyday existence? I think we can do better than pretty pictures.
Either that or architects own the fact that their audience is not the normal human, but rather a coterie of taste-makers who have cornered the field and continue to exert a disproportionate sway over what is judged to be important. The seduction of cantilevered glass and steel! Exposed wood grain! With just a dash of showmanship, a dusting of avante-garde idiom, a hint of something exotic (is that Zumthor, Ando? but it hardly matters), and drizzled with technical competence. Lest we forget the fine tables at which the critic dines.
Students often talk about affordable housing, for example, without being able to specify whether this is market-rate or subsidized, and without a clue as to how the monetary policy of subsidization is put in effect. This is not their fault: the fault lies with their educators. Affordable housing is designed in a spreadsheet, not on a drawing board. When $100 a month means the difference between eating or diapers or driving uninsured do you think people give a damn what the building looks like? What matters is quality. Safe, sound, well lit & ventilated, etc., modify this list as you see fit. And it is my belief that the kind of "design thinking" which is taught in schools is, at best, a poor way to achieve these ends, and at worse, counterproductive — because it is either unable or unwilling to find value. But if affordability is to be considered an architectural problem, then spreadsheets must be considered an architectural design tool — and an important one, too.
What are you really working for?
Who do you want to impress?
Do these goals align?
These are the questions I believe should be on the forefront of young architects' minds.