Saturday, November 30, 2013

Investment, Architecture and Stewardship

On a visit to my son the other day, I was leafing through a back issue of ArchitectureBoston (Spring 2013), where I found an article - an interview, really - on a conversation about the education of architects. It opened with this quote, from the 19th Century: "Shall the pupil of architecture be educated in some mechanical workshop, in an art studio or a polytechnical school?"

One of the interviewees, Nadar Tehrani, offered this insightful comment: "What's remarkable is all the other things that quote overlooks that we consider indispensable to the study of architecture today - history, anthropology, sociology..."

Buildings define our public spaces, the spaces we share with others. Building architects are the co-creators and co-curators of our public spaces; stewards, really, of the shared spaces within which we live and work in community together.

The education of building architects has evolved so that it now includes an understanding of how architecture itself has evolved, over time and within the changing spaces that buildings define and that define the possibilities for how we can live in community together.


I imagine it is because the profession has built up over time an institutional memory of how bad the experience can be when buildings fail to define public spaces effectively.  There is as much art as there is engineering in the design of effective public spaces, and just as all art evolves out of the art that went before it, architecture, too, has learned to evolve out of the architecture that preceded it. And not just the architecture, but the entire human experience of living together, in community, within publicly shared spaces that are co-created and co-curated through building design, construction and use.

Architects are stewards of our experience of living in community, in publicly shared spaces that change from time to time, and over time, as our economy, our technology and our society also change from time to time, and over time. As stewards, they must have a sense of the whole, and not just their part.

The parallels are strong to Pension Trustees, who as stewards of our retirement savings, are also evolving into stewards of our shared experiences of prosperity across the generations. This is new. Before the 1970s, pensions were not significant contributors to wealth creation.  But it is happening. Since the 1970s, pensions have grown is scope and scale, to the point where some individually, and all taken together, now drive the global financial markets, and that drives the global economy, co-creating and co-curating our shared prosperity (and also our episodic losses of shared prosperity - think 2008).

Where building architects use the design of buildings to co-create and co-curate our public spaces, Pension Trustees use the design of their investments and investment portfolios to co-create and co-curate our shared prosperity.

The parallels to education are also strong. The ideal Pension Trustee will be well-grounded in the mechanics of investing; the polytechnics of technology, industry and trade; and also in history, anthropology, sociology and all the other aspects of the story of the evolution of knowledge, work and wealth, from time to time, and over time, that sometimes delivers prosperity, and sometimes does not.

There is as much art as there is mathematics to investing in new wealth creation. Like art and like architecture, new wealth evolves out the wealth that preceded it.

And just as thoughtless building leads to ineffective sharing of public spaces, thoughtless investing leads to ineffective sharing of prosperity.

Good Pension Trustees know that. Evergreen Trustees act on it.

No comments:

Post a Comment