The Camel Architecture

Years ago, back in college, a teacher of mine defined “Camel Architecture” as a “horse designed by the collective”. It was kind of funny but my teacher was not joking. As students we had to do everything: sketches, design, drawings, model, and depending on how advanced we are in the career we also have to calculate structure, electrical installations, etc. In technology as well as traditional architecture a single individual may wear several hats. This condition is primarily determined by the size of the project or the size of the company. The smaller is the company or the project the more likely we will see one person taking care of everything.

In a large project or a large company responsibilities are often times split among several people: the team. When roles and responsibilities are properly defined, one person will take care of the horse’s head, another will deal with the legs, and other members will focus on other parts. Now, this is in the ideal world. In reality the larger the team or the company is, the bigger is the chance that the horse will look like a camel.

In a table full of professionals that have been tasked with designing a horse, the number one goal is to agree on what a horse is. There are two implicit goals here: the number one is to achieve agreement; and the second it to define the horse. When roles, responsibilities and areas of expertise are well delimited, it is easier to reach consensus in a group. The lack of this delimitation will make more difficult to focus on the subject instead of focusing on avoiding conflicts.

Architecture is a discipline in which complex ideas can always be expressed in simple words. It must be understood by everyone. The downside of this beautiful quality is that everyone who is not an architect might have an opinion in architecture matters. An architect might say: the concept of the building is going to be a horse. Everybody has an idea of what a horse looks like but when it comes to define ‘the specific horse’ we sometimes might see significant variations from one person to another.

If we were to design a building with the form of a horse, we may have the owner requesting the head to be smaller; structural engineer may demand the legs to be longer with big feet; the financial guy may remind us to add more room in the back to make more money; the long tail might be a liability issue if it breaks so if have to be shorten. Everyone will have a unique perspective of the same reality and as you can see little by little the collective could turn a horse into a camel through consensus.