Architecture & Unbuilt Legacy

30 April 2021

Michael Lewarne challenges architects to stop and reflect on the legacy they want to leave.

When architects talk about unbuilt work, they mean building designs.

What if they were to reframe that thinking?

What if an architect’s legacy was more than their buildings? An unbuilt legacy if you like.

I’m curious about such a question, because I think it has the power to change the way architects think about practice and their work. If an architect’s sole focus wasn’t just on a legacy of the buildings they design, would they change the way they practised? Here’s what they might change and indeed what some architects are already doing…

Developing better architecture business and culture through being better employers and employees. This is a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion, of teaching and learning, good work hours, reasonable if not good pay, sharing, development and growth (professional and personal), and showing generous leadership in doing so. This work includes not undercutting others in the profession through poor fees, commentary or posture.

Shepherding and championing a better attitude to our city, urban design, public interests and the environment. Actively working and leading on the political or administrative side of practice, not just on the design side.

Unselfishly leading in a way that leads to a better profession, a better built environment and public benefit. Leadership can at times come from a position that is self-serving, driving change for the good of a few (or perhaps just the profession). That is not good or unselfish leadership. It’s worth noting too, that good leadership doesn’t always come from the top. It happens at all levels.

Doing work for good that makes the entire profession proud. Not because it is an architectural masterwork, but because it is serving a cause for good that is greater than the profession. Not necessarily in public but for a community. This work is typically not publishable nor does it draw attention to itself – it’s not likely to be, for example, another kit of parts emergency shelter or low cost house for publication.

Considering their legacy. For architects to consider their legacy, they need to think about their work in a broader context. It must be more than a consideration of delivering a building, and maintaining an office in order to do so. It’s really about architects leading and making change for the better within communities, not just the immediate environment they are tasked with.

My challenge to all architects is to consider the question…

What is the legacy you want to leave?


Michael Lewarne is a coach on the edge of architectural practice, curious about the way architects practise and keen to uncover better ways to do good work. Michael founded unmeasured to help architects plot their desire lines in their practice through coaching, workshops and community. He works to build better practice, culture and leadership in the profession.

Photo: Lindeboom Jean-Bapt, Pexels.