Our Cultural Evolution

As humans, we create culture. As architects, we create spaces where cultures can thrive, where they can continually develop and evolve. Culture is and always should be the foundation of design for our clients and it is one of the more exciting elements in our own profession – always being presented with a new challenge, a different ethos, which we get to explore and respond to. 

As a firm, VLK designs and explores in the same way to ensure our culture has an environment that stimulates creativity, thought, and professional and personal growth. The culture at VLK is incredible because, as evident in everything we do, people come first. There is nothing more important in our firm than our people. Regardless of their experience level, role or background everyone benefits from the shared beliefs and practices our culture has created. And as our people continue to grow and advance, and we welcome new generations into our practice, we must continue to respond to their cultivation, and provide an environment where they can continue to evolve.

Those responses, and those provisions, must be created differently now because we have to rapidly adapt to completely new environments. Cultural evolution is defined as change in socially transmitted beliefs, knowledge, customs, skills, attitudes, and languages. And in the cases of our work and learning, how information is transmitted is the main instigator. Historically, the ability to accumulate knowledge has only happened over a whole population over hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It has not been individual intelligence that has advanced our cultures. The Inuit peoples do not have a gene that tells them how to make a parka. That ability comes from the accumulation of knowledge from generation to generation. Case in point is how explorers looking for passage across northern America froze to death when there were villages of Inuit around them living their normal lives. But today, I can “learn” how to fashion a parka with a click. Our capacity to learn or change, at least in our access to information, continues to grow exponentially. 

Corporations across the world face these circumstances every day as new generations enter the workforce. Each of those generations have developed and learned differently, in some cases in extreme fashion. Take for example our profession of architecture, where the senior level architect has developed their craft through the accumulation of knowledge over decades of practice, problem solving with a pencil rather than a computer. Their knowledge bank could only be developed over decades because it’s passed from generation to generation through physical practice. Now enter the architectural intern, who has developed their craft almost exclusively in a digital world. The same information that their predecessors took decades to learn, they have available to them in one click. How should we move forward to produce the most benefit to our culture? Do we hold on to the traditional art of architecture or harness the resources and technologies that have been made available to our newest generations? 

Cultural evolution is accelerating for many reasons, one of those being the rate at which we can acquire information as well as technology advancements to apply that knowledge. Our design response to this acceleration of cultural evolution not only must keep up, it must stay ahead, which presents unique challenges; we are providing environments that must be sustainable even though we have little idea how generations to come will work or learn in those environments. We must constantly re-evaluate this reality because we design for evolving culture in everything we do. When we can correlate our work with the positive impact we are having on the world, it validates the qualitative measure by which we measure our success.