Architects, where are we now, and what is the future?
A provocative question posed by the ‘What Now?’ collaborative, the team behind ‘The Architect: What Now’ an exhibition and debate that checks the health of the Architect at a point of great upheavals from the university design studios to the boardrooms. The architect is the sick man in need of radical surgery and maybe just a few therapists. Does the collaborative – Alison Coutinho, a part 2 graduate from London Metropolitan, Dan Slavinsky, a part 3 student at Westminster, and Wai Shin Li, head of sales and marketing for Dezeen – offer a diagnosis? They may not be at the RIBA churning trend surveys, nor are they big journal penning soul searching articles, but these are the voices of the grassroots with a mind to prompt conversation. Archi-cynics may argue about what these young upstarts know. Surely they lack the experience to comment on such issues. The team will say that they are simply providing a platform for a debate. “Just send us a postcard!”
Above: Postcards sent by artist Andrzej Krauze for the exhibition.
Architects and Aspiring Architects have sent a postcard. In fact the response has been overwhelming, global, and the opinions provided diverse. What do the postcards tell us about the Architect in 2011? Developer control with architect as the powerless face of this; the artistic topping on corporation money making a lifestyle consultant…obsolete…satisfying demands…. Competing against itself…too many architects chasing too few jobs…our younger generation scrabbling for the scraps from the table. Disconnected…isolated from society…ignored by the public. Adored by each other. No longer the master builder. In need of educational reform. Poor and broke. Should we take the lift to the top of the Shard and throw ourselves off? Seems little to be positive about. One might care to wonder what the Architects and aspiring Architects of 1961 thought 2011 might look like? Is this the world they envisaged?
Above: Postcard sent in by aspiring architect Balveer Mankia.
Is 2051 any different? Will the Architect be permanently redundant, only found in Wikipedia as history? Will they be endangered and struggling onwards as the poor isolated artist? This is depressing! Is there an alternative view? Will the role widen? Is the client no longer the corporate paymaster pulling the strings or is it formed from community design centres with the public and the user having a greater role in the design of the building? How do socio-economic factors determine the architect’s role? How will the environmental factors, such as sea level rise, extreme weather, and mass migration determine how architects work? Will the architect act as the problem solver delving deeper into the issues within cities? Will the architect be part of a wider interconnected network
of design professionals? Will they be global linked by the laptop and LinkedIn…etc.?
of design professionals? Will they be global linked by the laptop and LinkedIn…etc.?
Above: Postcards on display at the exhibiion. Photo by Robert Pike
Where do we go from here? The sense is that Architects cannot afford to continue this malaise stuck in the back pocket of paymasters. This is not universal, as there are good practices, yet reform is needed in architectural education; the treatment of graduates and levels of pay; architects undercutting each other in tendering for projects in a perpetual race to the bottom of fee scales; the Architects marginalised role in the project team…etc. Are we best placed to tackle the environmental and societal issues or is our expertise now too narrow, constantly picked at by an ever growing band of consultants for everything? How to move with technological change? Surely it will influence ways of working with more practices collaborating in global networks on projects in new emerging markets without the expense of setting up large offices. What about something from leftfield? Does the bottom up “little society” response to the riots suggest that people are seizing the initiative without invite by authority? Should we the architects just do the same?
Above: The exhibition within the Crypt. Image by Robert Pike
You have to admire the endeavour of the ‘What Now?’ collaborative because at a time when graduates are struggling, it is refreshing to meet a group of aspirant energetic people so prepared to engage with big issues, have the guts to try something and make a career path of their own. An ambitious inaugural event has exposed the team to a number of opportunities to learn new skills, and form new networks. As students they had already been engaged in the politics of architecture, having their say sitting on school councils and being affiliate student members of the Association of Consultant Architects (ACA). ‘What Now?’ was born when Alison Coutinho and Dan Slavinsky were approached by Brian Waters of BWCP, past-President of the ACA, and architect on the redevelopment of One Marylebone, with a view to curating a temporary exhibition in the former crypt? The theme was obvious, but the biggest challenge was generating funding. As Coutinho put it “we needed to turn the business model on its head”…and develop strategies for sponsorship. Wai Shin Li joined the team and used his experience in business development and marketing to develop the business strategy. They approached large practices for sponsorship, and smaller practices contributed work, whilst a band of students volunteered to help with running proceedings.
The team’s hard work shines through in an excellent exhibition that makes good use of the crypt space. As well as the postcards, these old vaulted arch spaces play host to an evocative series of drawings. The first, The Architect at the End of Time, is by Dan Slavinsky and the second, Crafting the Localised Architect, is by Bartlett graduate Greg Skinner.
Above: Arcadia (Perspective) from the Architect at the End Time by Dan Slavinsky
Above: Images from Crafting the Localised Architect by Greg Skinner
Barcelona-based architect Josep Muñoz i Pérez won the commission for a piece of sculpture to mark the event and this too takes pride of place in the crypt. Another corner is home to the informal bar space, The Draughtsman’s Arms, designed and donated by Gundry and Ducker, the interior design and architecture practice of Tyeth Gundry and Christian Ducker.
Above: Sculpture by Josep Muñoz i Pérez. Image by Robert Pike
Above: Interior of the Draughtmans Arms by Gundry and Ducker. Image by Robert Pike
What now for the ‘What Now?’ collaborative? The debate continues apace; meanwhile they are fielding enquiries from Sweden and Holland seeking advice on holding their own debates. The clamour from the emerging wave of young creatives is building, seeking to address the issue of the profession. At present the team is seeking a venue to hold a question time style debate, the original intended debate having been postponed due the London riots, and so if you have a suitable space, get in touch now and start collaborating. ‘What Now?’ are a group of people with much drive and determination to make their presence felt not only in voice but in their production. These are people to keep an eye on for in the future.
What now for the rest of us? Other groups are coming together to address these issues, for example Zap Architecture, the practice of Zohra Chiheb and Pol Gallagher, are involved in Pavilion of Protest. This will be an exhibition at the RIBA that explores the costs of an architectural education and the hardship that some students endure, whilst also showcasing the enormous ability that exists in UK schools of architecture. It opens on the 25th October and runs until the 18th November. Then there are the self organising networks that have come together in recent times such as Riot Clean Up and Riot Rebuild – interested in cleaning up and rebuilding respectively – stimulating new community led debates on a holistic urban regeneration in cities. Finally open source communities is set be hotly debated when WikiHouse, a project for the Gwangju Biennale goes live.
Above: Image from the Pavilion of Protest by ZAP Architecture
In 2051 what would you like to be visiting An exhibition reminiscing about that long forgotten profession of the Architect or an exhibition on the future of architecture in 2100?
With a thanks to Alison Coutinho and Wai Shin Li of ‘What Now?’ who were interviewed on the 5th August 2011. Watch this space for further events organised by the team.
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