Let me begin with introducing you to Sir Christopher Wren – a great english architect of the 17th and 18th century. He was responsible for some of the great iconic buildings in London, many of which remain standing today.
Of course, he showed the technical genius and confidence that comes as standard in the great Architect of any age – but he would have needed confidence because the CAD tools were not there at the time to justify his conviction that a building he designed would stay up. In fact there is a (reportedly) true story about a row that broke out between Wren and a customer. A guildhall was commissioned in Windsor that was to stand on columns overlooking the town square.
The argument was about how many columns were needed to support the span of the upper building. Wren was adamant that the planned number was sufficient. The customer disagreed, concerned that his building might collapse onto the people below and pleaded with Wren to put in additional columns. Wren was against this on both technical and aesthetic grounds. However, he eventually settled the argument in great style by acceding to the wishes of his customer and putting in the extra columns. This apparent capitulation turns out not to be a surrender after all since Wren had the extra columns built a few inches short so that they neither touched the ceiling nor support it in any way. The building remains standing to this day, several hundred years later, as a memorial to Wren’s technical skill and as an enduring snub to his opponent.
Sir Christopher Wren was buried in one of his greatest masterpieces, St Paul’s Cathedral in London. This is an accolade given only to the very greatest that England has produced. An epitaph written on a plaque mounted on the wall above the burial place includes the words “Reader, if you seek his memorial – look around you.”
The 20th century has brought a new breed of Architects – and we have many fine examples of this new breed among us in HARMAN. The Software Architect has to demonstrate the same qualities we find in the classical Architect. He or she must construct software structures that can be built with the software building blocks at hand by the skilled modern artificer of code – the developer. Software architectures must withstand the stresses placed on it through its use by both people, and things. I dare say that every Architect has stories similar to that of Wren where technical arguments have been settled with a cheeky slight of hand – building short as it were.
My comparison between the modern and classical goes further in as much as I am a firm believer that there is art in software. When an architect does a good job in creating a solution that reconciles the complexities and contradictions of its requirements, a structure emerges that is – I will say it – beautiful. When you introduce new materials such as the semantic web, big data or architectural styles such as the Internet of things you can let your imagination take you in new creative directions to find better solutions to problems – and, by the way, this is the edge your customer expects you to have.
The question is, (queue the violin) who can tell that the great architect has been at work? I have no doubt that HARMAN has many great architects and for that matter developers and other practitioners of the software arts. If one did end up honoured with a place amongst the greats in St. Paul’s Cathedral, what could their epitaph say? You simply cannot look about you and see the memorial because our art is invisible in most respects and only the functional remains. Apart from the user interface any appreciation of the quality of output is difficult to quantify. Without the means for the customer to see the full glory of the architecture, appreciation is often restricted to the functional.
Still, don’t let that stop you. If you are lucky enough to be an Architect, have fun, develop your art, and build your cathedrals. And, if anyone tells you that we work only to live, tell them you are an Architect, an artist, and what is the difference between working and living anyway!
Mark Searle - VP of Development at HARMAN International. Connect with him on LinkedIn.