Under the Malaysian architectural form of contracts, contractors are duty bound to cross-check structural drawings against architectural intentions prior to construction. As a last line of defence against construction inaccuracy, it clearly has its purposes, but the downside has led to most architects leaning on it as the primary means for damage control. It all points to a growing shortfall among architects: those with experience are commonly too time-strapped to run through the details of engineering drawings, and the younger architects are too ill-equipped to pick up on structural translation inaccuracies. The problem is one of complacency: architects have grown comfortable with having finishes hide the slack. The complacency, however, is less a problem in itself than it is cause of a subtler ill: that of a growing lack of structural refinement running through architectural development at every level. Structure has gradually become subservient to architecture.
That subservience is no loss if architecture for one is about the mere appearances of things. If it means somewhat more, however, and is seen through Greek roots with its definition as techné, architecture will be understood as the revelation of technology as poetry. And we would see how the product of architecture, originally integral with the process of its making, has been undermined, and that we have failed to recognise the processes of construction as integral to that of architectural expression.
The understanding of techné is the first step to knowing what differentiates between the picturesque and the critical.
Picturesque architecture begins with the disguise of one's work behind the make up of applied finishes. For some critics, it begins much sooner and at the inception of space. In either case, the end result is one that lends a veneer of appropriated civility, to a work divorced from the deeper search more associated with the act of making and to that which forms the basis for critical architecture.
Critical architecture will inevitably engage both the aspects of finished product and of evolving process in its final formulation of aesthetics; work which reveals some manner of its construction in its end appearance, at the same time as it answers those questions of its specific use, maintenance and functions. The nature of such projects occasionally lead architectural design to profound refinements even before the act of enclosure is even considered: structure may or may not be revealed as an inextricable part of its making, but it will inevitably extend the integrity of its architecture. The processes which critically guide architectural work, aside from integrating structural concerns with architecture, can make structural considerations an inseparable part of design management. The need to constantly check and collate architectural intentions with structural interpretations should result in structural drawings forming a vital part of the architectural package. This means that initial structural drawings have to be checked and amended with all the fine-tuning required of an architectural finish, to effect final documentation in structural format. Apart from the benefit of this step of design development being taken out of the architectural drawing process, it takes the heavy and legal responsibility of architectural and structural coordination out of contractor hands, putting the task in its rightful place: with the architect. The result would be architectural drawing packages with considerably fewer building sections compared to most, since these would already have been documented in the engineer's drawings. Aside from the fact of fewer architectural drawing produced, this process of design management actually produces more accurately documented projects. It weights design development at the beginning of the entire process and emphasises structural refinement over the expertise of the picturesque, being the architectural finish.
Just as architecture requires a structure for its support, engineering has its own poetry, one grown from its multitude of concerns, of tolerances and state of finish, and of spatial quality and proportion. It is only through working intimately with structural issues, both large and small, that we understand how to develop the architecture of engineering and in doing so, lay claim to working our architecture holistically, spatially and critically.