An article published in last week's New York Times made me a little queasy. Entitled "Skipping the Architect: Wise or Otherwise?", it profiles a handful of people who, empowered by user-friendly drawing apps like SketchUp, have decided to do their own design work. An excerpt:
Philippe Jeanty was interested in saving money but also time when he decided to design a house using SketchUp. Mr. Jeanty, a 58-year-old doctor with no architecture or engineering training, spent several months coming up with a plan for a one-story, three-bedroom house in Fairview, Tenn., with thick, insulated walls and numerous windows. Using SketchUp, he was able to keep tweaking the design until he was satisfied. “If we had to discuss the plans with an architect and said, ‘We want to change this, change that,’ it would be an endless number of meetings,” Mr. Jeanty said.
As it was, he just hired a draftsman and a builder to carry out his plan, and his lack of design knowledge, he said, wasn’t an issue: “The only thing we really regret is putting marble in too many places. It’s a pain to maintain.”
Here at SketchUp HQ, we're more than a little conflicted about stories like this one. On one hand, it's great that folks like Dr. Jeanty are able to realize their ideas using our software—I'd love to congratulate him on his successful project. On the other hand, owning a scalpel doesn't make me a surgeon. I would no sooner remove my own gall bladder than proceed with a major building project without consulting an expert.
SketchUp is used by everyone from schoolchildren to world-renowned architects, and that's exactly how we like it. But how should we react to stories that portray accessible tools as a replacement for domain expertise? How do we continue to encourage enthusiastic amateurs without downplaying the importance of trained professionals?
The original NYT article didn't include a feedback thread, which is a shame. If you like, feel free to use this post's Comments to let us know what you think.