Andres Duany's essay ‘Ad majorem gloria me: order out of the chaos of
architectural education’ (Perspective 1, p. 105) will evoke both wry smiles and cries
of outrage. Although written with the North American scene in mind it refers to a
fairly widespread phenomenon — the grooming of architecture students ‘for the
position of Next Mediated Genius … or bust’. It is by no means a universal condition
even in North America but it is common enough to cause considerable concern on
the part of those who want both a strong profession and better buildings and places
— the subject of Robert Gutman's ‘Critical issues for architectural practice’
(Perpective 2, p. 107).
In his critique, Gutman reviews the first two publications sponsored by RIBA
Future Studies — an admirable venture set up two years ago to stimulate radical
thinking on strategic architectural issues. He is critical of both publications, feeling
that they do not address the crucial issues facing architectural practice. In
particular, he takes issue with the emphasis on ‘flagship buildings’, questioning
their often unimpressive long-term performance. Such a focus on monuments like
Gehry's Bilbao and Foster's Reichstag tends to inhibit debate on other, more prosaic
but common buildings.
The subject matter of the first of our two Design pieces, Hans van der Heijden's
‘The diagram of the house’ (p. 110) is of far greater relevance to society than any
flagship building. The author and his colleagues at BIQ Architecten seem a million
miles away from many of their better publicised peers in the Netherlands. Working
on the renovation of problematic post-war housing estates and on the creation of
new housing communities on both almost featureless sites and in well established
urban areas, they collaborate closely with contractors and, in their designs, embrace
the ordinary. This is not ‘fashionable’ work, but it is immensely impressive for its
integrity, its spatial control and its low-key innovation.
Now take a look at Paolo Tombesi's paper ‘A true south for design? The new
international division of labour in architecture’ in the Practice section (p. 171).
Pointing to the sharp wage differentials between architects in the developed and
developing regions, he suggests that, in a few years, most architectural work will
be documented in places such as South-East Asia. Where does this leave the many
thousands of young people — Duany's Next Mediated Geniuses — undergoing
architectural education in the more privileged parts of the world? And what are
the implications for professional institutes obsessed by flagship buildings?
The time has surely come for a more modest and vastly more intelligent approach
to architectural education and the needs of society in the developed world.