## Danger Will Robinson Danger: Policy on the run and Victorian Architects.

Let’s blame the architect again !!!

It is incredibly alarming to see The independent Building Reform Expert Panel’s review of Victoria’s building legislative and regulatory system. The following comments are meant to alert architects in Victoria to the issues for them implied in this document. Some architects have said this is an attack on Victorian architects; other architects see it as an opportunity for ideas of industry reform.

The panel has come up with a document that is a curious mix of ignorance regarding architects. I think the review appears to be oddly angry about us as well –– the old the architects are wankers mantra? Sure, we are not perfect, and we could always continually tweak and reform our practices. But hey, we are not responsible for the failures in the building system in Victoria. I suspect the politicians are too gutless to say who is; so why not pick on the architects. It’s a bit like that novated contract when you only did DD. You are not allowed on-site to fend off the self-serving criticisms of a contractor: Easy to blame the architect. From this perspective, in some ways, this review document looks like a policy stitch-up.

Are architects the real culprits and not the developers, contractors or project managers?

Architects battle daily with the let’s get it done cheaper, quicker and faster, without the design, from the no-design proponents. Architects are not running Phoenix company structures or producing poor quality documentation, as snidely suggested by the report. Architects are not responsible for slapdash construction methods on-site, especially after the power of their roles have been novated out of existence. Architects are always fighting against the contractors doing whatever it takes to erode design quality through the meanness of “Value Management.”

This review document arguably bears a grudge against Victorian architects. It argues that there is a “fragmented approach to the oversight of design professionals.” What does that mean exactly? It’s undoubtedly policy speak. Does it mean let’s dismantle the Victorian Architects Act and the ARBV so we can all live under the “big brother” umbrella of the Victorian Building Authority (VBA)? Will the VBA accredit our schools of architecture? Will the VBA look at logbooks and run the national Architectural Practice Exam? Will the VBA, in an effort to seek common competencies, dumb down our recently revised national competencies,

The real problem’s in the industry, as pointed out by the Cladding Taskforce, is with unregulated developers, greedy contractors and unregulated project managers. Yet if you read this report, you would think architects and the building design practitioners were responsible for all of the ills of the Victorian building system. So hey, it’s so much easier to blame and bully the architects and cloak that blame in the pursuit of regulatory reform.

Architecture is a small profession­––often and easily misconstrued by larger players in the industry––and one whose industry bodies struggle to lobby government. Yet architects produce high-quality documentation and outcomes when involved in full-service procurement. Show us the statistical data that says otherwise. Show us that we are responsible for the majority of poor documentation. Yes, there are bad apples in our profession, but why see it as politically expedient to punish the entire profession. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The report has a number of serious flaws, of which the main ones are outlined below.

No practising Architects on the panel.

This is a panel with limited architectural experience. Have a look at the membership of the panel.

Architects are conflated with building designers throughout the document.

This conflation is erroneous and ambiguous as it is expressed throughout the document. It is a serious flaw in the document. Sometimes architects are identified, and yet sometimes it is not clear if they are included in the design practitioner category. It makes for total confusion, especially if you might like to submit a detailed and focused response.

The document misrepresents the context and role of the ARBV.

The report appears to imply that the ARBV only as a body of enforcement, and the implication is that the ARBV has failed to govern (or should we say punish) architects. Maybe the ARBV needs greater powers in this regard. However, the document fails to appreciate the ARBVs role in a wide range of activities: Accreditation, national competencies or registration pathways, Architectural Practice Examinations, Recognition of overseas qualifications, Alternative means of entry to registration – National Program of Assessment, Professional conduct provisions, Continuing Professional Development policies, The National Competency Standards in Architecture and the proposed national recognition of registration.

No empirical data?

Data, for example, regarding “documentation quality” is missing, and much of the document relies on numerous unsubstantiated assertions. Relying on hearsay and personal impressions is not good policy-making. This discussion framework was meant to follow on from the Victorian Cladding Taskforce, and yet few of that Taskforce’s specific recommendations are linked to what is discussed in the review.

There is also the insinuation in the document that architects know nothing about the NCC. But this area is studied in the schools and is part of the national architectural competencies. The real problem is that this report is so “REGULATION” focused that it has not approached policy reform in a holistic manner.

Policy speak?

Again, it is a report that arrogantly assumes that “umbrella” regulation and defragmenting is the way forward. But simplification and dumbing down our domain of expertise will not solve the ills of the construction industry. Let’s drag architects and the building designers under the “umbrella” as well, where we can keep an eye on them. How much will that bureaucracy cost the taxpayer?

On page 42 of the report, the registration of architects is discussed, as is the Architects Act. In the next section highlighting key issues, the report states that:

• the current registration and licensing schemes, including practitioner registration categories and classes, are limited, and not fit for purpose; and
• There are gaps in practitioner competence which are not addressed by current education and training.

How could you assert that the current accreditation arrangements for architects are not fit for purpose? It takes seven years to be an architect. Let me state that again for seven fucking years. Five years uni, two years experience and then a three-part exam. Again, the tardiness of this report is unbelievable.

Craziness for small practitioners !

Putting Building Designers and Architects together seems crazy. Govern where the information is and where people are invested in that governance. Sure we might share core competencies, sure we can all be registered by the VBA, but why lump is together in a single entity or under a new Act? The risk is that by equating professional (architects) and vocational (building designers) competencies, these two educational categories will merge. Then where will architects, and their Archi schools, be?

Such a proposal may produce unforeseen effects in labour markets, the PI insurance market and reduce competition within the market for professional services. Different categories of practitioner amongst architects may serve to consolidate large firms at the expense of small firms. As the panel may not know, small architect firms constitute 65% -75% of the industry currently.

The Archi Schools

If the report’s vague policy insinuations were implemented in detail, it might seriously disrupt the education, registration, and practice of architects in Victoria. It may have flow-on effects in other states. It would reduce the revenue of the architecture schools through confusion. At the moment, those schools have combined revenues of around 150M. There is no real revenue opportunity for the architecture schools to train up building designers. Why would they do that when their modus operandi is research. More revenue would be lost from uncoupling Victorian Archi schools from the national system than potentially gained. Finally The report represents a clear and present danger to the livelihood of many Victorian architects. It’s time for those architects to wake up ! This document does nothing to ensure that Victoria and Australia’s future built assets are enduring. The very problem it was hoping to solve. It will do nothing to curb the power of phoenix developers and the culture of faster, cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. This report constrains architects from fighting for design quality in the built environment. For example, architects are the only profession with competencies related to sustainability and indigenous rights. No other professions have that to the same degree. Let’s get architects into a big dumbed down tent of bureaucracy so we can discipline and punish them for being naughty once or twice. Really? Too bad the politicians and policy apparatchiks don’t have the spines to say who has really corroded Victoria’s building system. ## A Surviving the Design Studio Survey: Is it “Time to Flip da Switch” and upskill? So now that architects are all at home making Tik Toks, we have lots of time on our hands. If you are an architecture tragic like me, you may even think in the back of your mind its time to upskill a bit. Time to “flip da switch” as they say on Tik Tok. This time may be the opportunity to fill the gaps regarding “what they don’t teach us at architecture school.” However, architecture schools can only teach so much, (especially if no one can travel to them now), so arguably it is the profession that must also take up some of this slack. However, as the recent AACA survey of architectural education in Australia noted it would be better for everyone if there were a closer and more practical integration, between the architecture schools and industry. There is an opportunity to strengthen relationships between architecture schools and practice – with potential for action from both. From the university perspective, there are already excellent examples across Australasia of best practice for professional practice subjects other than dry “chalk and talk”, some of which are based on simulated practice activities led by experienced practitioners. Links with local practices can be leveraged into opportunities for internship programs, site visits and other work integrated-learning opportunities. You can find this landmark report here. All Australian architects should read it. Reshaping post-professional education. I would argue that architects, via all their peak -professional associations and universities can and should get together and start to reshape post-professional architectural education. Architectural education should not cease at graduation and nor should practices shirk their responsibilities when it comes to career development. Here we are living in lockdown in a global pandemic where everything will not be the same going forward. In past recessions, architects have responded in ways that have arguably shifted the nature and direction of the profession. So what will we do this time? Lockdown is probably the time for architects to get some more skills together. Some people will go off and exit the profession and do other things, but if you are committed to being an architect here are some things you might do. Here’s a list of my top ten things I think architects could be better at doing. You will notice, its a very pragmatic list. But perhaps, our lack of basic knowledge, and skills, in some specific areas is why other actors in Design and Construction industry think architects are dickheads. Another Top 10 1. SME Financial Management: Now more than ever, cash flow should be central to small practice management. 2. Negotiations: tired off getting cut into little pieces by bargainers and bully-boy-tradie negotiators? 3. Procurement Selection: Procurement is more than just wingeing about novation contracts. Architects need to be at the procurement policy and decision-making table. 4. Contract Administration; Are we losing this core service to others? Are graduates getting enough experience in this area? 5. Statutory Planning Issues: Why should the planners do all of this work? 6. Business Planning: Yep, if you want to be a glamorous architect who can afford the luxury brands, then get a business plan. That’s what every other professional service provider does. This above is only the start of my list. There are heaps of other things architects might upskill on. 8, 9 & 10. Strategy consulting methods, community consultation practices, research methods (which we don’t learn at architecture school) and even some new theoretical perspectives etc. Welcome to the online zoomi-verse Moreover, in this new zoomi-verse environment, can we learn these things online. Can the zoomi-verse teach us the things we need to know, so we are no longer regarded as dickheads? Check out my survey here and let me know what you think we need to upskill in, and how. I will publish the results in a few weeks. In any case, the global pandemic could be a real opportunity for the architectural profession to reconfigure itself. One way to reconfigure itself is to learn new tricks and upskills. Here some things we can all learn as we are hibernating, living at the bottom of the V, or is it a W, or hanging out in a moribund economy as we wait for those juicy infrastructure projects to kick in. ## Leadership for Architects 101: 4 essential strategies for surviving the pandemic In Australia, many architects in small firms are trying to figure out how to understand and reconcile government support with their finances and cash flows. In the meantime, many employers and employee architects are struggling to juggle new working arrangements. This situation is particularly difficult for people who were already juggling parenting or part-time work responsibilities. Some architects (and even academics) are having to juggle these things with an uncertain future hanging over their heads. In this context, ethical leadership and decision making are crucial. If you are struggling as an Australian architect there a lot of good resources here at the ACA. You can read what the current ACA president John Held has to say about getting through the pandemic here. Architects are pretty good at making tactical and operational decisions related to projects. But when the shit hits the fan, as they say, strategic decision-making involves grappling with high levels of uncertainty. Leadership at Architecture School? Leadership is a critical function in a time of crisis. But maybe its more than just donning the PPE and living in a container. For many architects in small practices, leadership skills and reflecting on decision-making strategies may seem excessive. We just do what we do. Sadly, I wonder why do we keep saying this iterative mantra: “These things are not taught at architecture school.” “These things are not taught at architecture school.” “These things are not taught at architecture school.” “These things are not taught at architecture school.” Ok so much for the attempt at the poetic word song. But for any architect, excellent leadership skills are essential to the successful completion of projects. Moreover, in a climate of high risk, high uncertainty, and high ambiguity, making good, or maybe less bad, decisions is critical. Now all of this is starting to sound like one of those tiresome TED talky things. Like the pandemic itself, this stuff is already all over the internet. The thought leaders are out in force. It all starts to sound like one of those dreary self-actualisation lectures “how to be a nice leader even if you are an arsehole” or something like “Marketing for success during COVID-19 times.” A title like “5 things a good leader should do” or “How to make your team a high performing team” or “Making the most of the new COVID-19 working from home, green, sustainable, resilient landscape.” You get the picture. Is this blog any better? Maybe not, but a dose of healthy scepticism never goes astray in a crisis, and I am always wary of the thought leader sales types. Be extra wary of anyone who talks about your organisation as a “family.” I am fascinated by issues of leadership; having been up close to and observed many different types of leaders in our profession, I think it might be worth sketching out a few thoughts on decision making for architects in these uncertain times. One: Avoid Knee Jerk and Automatic Reactions. The decisions you make now, even incremental ones, might have multiplying effects further down the track. Hence pausing and doing a bit of meditation or yoga before decide on things is a good idea. But don’t be confused; this is not the same as procrastinating, or being indecisive, it is about knowing when to reflect before a decision is made. That isn’t the same a being unable to decide between different options, freezing, or having a sense of anxiety about what to choose. If you are a small practitioner, take a break for a few hours or a day. If you are a director of a more substantial firm, sleep on it before you decide. Two: Don’t make decisions in isolation. Hiding behind closed doors, either alone or with your usual decision making colleagues, to make decisions, may not work in a crisis. Leading in an emergency is not a time to revel in the exercise of authority or organisational power. It is not time to be self-serving or narcissistic. The best way to avoid these decision traps is to include more stakeholders. As data and information spill into the decision field, view pre-existing organisational hierarchies may limit the ability to gather the right data, information and knowledge. Involving more experts and organisational stakeholders (not just those at the top) within the decision field fosters good-decision making. This approach is not the same as allowing more stakeholders to make decisions. Instead, once a decision point is clarified, it is about allowing giving a voice to stakeholders who have better information, different perspectives, or who have to implement a decision. In the decision-making field, leaders need to foster conversations and debates and then decide. Decision-making isolation and pre-existing fitting norms will always go awry in a crisis. If you are a sole practitioner, get a few more people around your table: friends, family, other colleagues. If you are a director of a larger firm or organisation be more inclusive about who you listen to and rely on at the decision meetings. Three: Small choices may loom large later. In a normal situation, a leader probably only has to get seven decisions out of 10 correct to be a good leader. But in a fluid case where there is a perfect storm, small choices may become more critical. A context of rapidly diminishing revenues, project evaporation, the need to quickly repurpose workflows and implementing new modes of working requires a higher level of focused decision-making. A small incorrect decision now may become a nightmare later. There are a few ways to think about how to tackle these things. Anticipating future general scenarios, and the different pathways (good and less good) is one approach. Thinking about what particular decisions now will look like in the medium to long term is another way. Are there any decisions that might get baked in now and lead to more significant effects in six months. What if all those people you have encouraged to work from home don’t want to return to the workplace? Sure, you can pat yourself on the back because your organisation has pivoted to the digital; making all those digital and project workflows take place. But what about the other functions like marketing? Keeping your clients and getting new clients and projects? When the economy tanks where are you getting your next job from? Timing is critical, which smaller decisions should you act on now and which ones should you monitor and revisit later. For both small practitioners and large firms, identifying the low risks that might destroy your livelihood further down the track is critical? You may have no idea what is going to happen in 3 to 6 months. But in any case, what do you need to do, to pivot and keep things going, but to also allow for flexibility in project workflows and organisational tasks, when the risks are high. Four: The Character Test But when the organisation’s survival suddenly depends on good leadership; when people’s livelihood in the company is on the line; then maybe the over-promoted time server; the manager adept at managing up and kicking down; the yes person and the risk-averse manager. All these so-called leaders may not be so good as leaders. They might be crap. Their actions now might be the difference between a firm losing 10% of its revenues or 25%. Being a good leader is not the same as being good at office politics in your architectural firm or organisation. It is not about having a pedigreed architectural education. Privilege, clubbiness and normative masculinity does not always confer the ability to be a good leader. Having extensive networks, or being a sound designer, also does not necessarily mean you are good at being a leader. Yes, it is effortless to be a so-called “leader” when its business as usual and everything is going along smoothly. But in a crisis, you need judgement and character not design ego or political careerism. You need authenticity. ## Architectural Strategy and Firm Survival during a Global Pandemic. WTF was that? A total train wreck. Many architects by now will be working at home and projects would have disappeared overnight. For some firms, there will be huge, and sudden, gaps in their portfolio of projects. For other firms who have lost a few jobs, kept a few and who might maybe get a few new ones, the future is highly uncertain, and project fee revenues are being decimated. The following thoughts apply to anyone in the architect universe. This includes practitioners in small and large firms, solo firms and even people just struggling to manage their career after being made redundant. Architects of a certain age will be accustomed to boom-bust cycles; for the most part, it is the nature of the business. The sequences of boom-bust will be familiar to those firm’s who have in the past cycled through external economic downturns, shocks, changes in their markets or merely the vagaries of clueless clients. But hey, here we all are again, and the global pandemic is a bitter kick-in-the head-mofo. The last crash in 2009 was not as severe as this one. But it also wiped out projects, the money behind those projects and various firms evaporated quickly. In some ways, the GFC was scarier because no one knew what was happening with the flows and circuits of capital in an opaque global financial system. Depending on your country, the information around the COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps more transparent, and we all know what we need to do to stay safe. But fuck this has been a quick slide into the trough and how will you survive until the upswing. So what should you do, if you want your practice (no matter its size) to survive and you want to figure out what to do next. What are the strategic moves you need to make next? Don’t Panic Whatever you do, don’t panic. Panic leads to anxiety and fear has a sequential path; anxiety, then indecision and then to leadership and firm paralysis. Rather than panic, architects will need to analyse and then determine the scale, range and timing of actions required across different parts of their firms. This type of thinking requires thinking that can range across different organisational (e.g. marketing and finance) and project workflows. Thinking related to general management is critical. If all you have been is a design creative, or a client grappling suit or an arse-licking yes person, then you need to think outside the box. Cash flow The sharks may be circling but cash is still king and cash flow is central to firm survival. You better work out how to extend your debts and call in what is owed to you. Maybe after this, architects will figure out how vital cash flow forecasting is. Near-term and medium-term issues of cash management are critical. Strategic and operational decisions at the bottom of the trough can’t be isolated from cash flow information. Game and Scenario Planning The external pandemic shock will completely upend the competitive landscape for architectural services. I would not be thinking that it is going to business as usual after this. The fabric of global trade, supply chains and knowledge creation will be completely reset. While architecture itself, all too annoyingly, seems to exhibit a never-changing industry structure the markets architects compete in and provide services to will never be the same again. For this reason, architects will need to propose, identify, rehearse and game-plan future scenarios for the markets they work in. Just being intuitive in your small practice is not going to help your game-planning. Game planning needs to be comprehensive and systematic. No matter how large or small your practice is, not doing this will limit your resilience coming out of the trough. More than ever, architects will need to understand clients perspectives and client markets. Sure, everyone is pandemic fucked. But architects need to understand the dimensions of the uncertainties that their clients and potential clients are dealing with. Reinvention Developing greater foresight will help a firm to reinvent and reconfigure itself. Things won’t be going back to Business As Usual. Architects need to see this as an opportunity to do things differently. Nothing should be considered sacred in terms of reinvention. Decision-making norms, firm culture, organisational structures, operational steps and knowledge creation should all be open questions. The firms that can select and then reconfigure things quickly and confidently will do better in the new environment on the other side. Surprisingly, it may be a good time to innovate, and yeah make your firm more inclusive. Back from the dead Making the return to new operational regimes will be difficult. Prioritising, sequencing and especially timing decisions will be critical. For any architectural practice returning to a “new normal” of operations will centre on two issues. Firstly, and foremostly, staff. How will you rehire and retrain people? What are the operational contingencies relating to the knowledge and experience you need to put back into place? For example, if you got rid of your research, business development or marketing staff as the pandemic hit to save money, you won’t get back as quickly as possible. These are the very people, or initiatives, you should keep. Not every firm will survive this, so it is better to be back from the dead with your marketing functions intact ready to take advantage of new market spaces. Better to have a few new research ideas up your sleeve. Secondly, if you have spent your life being an IT cheapskate, then coming back from the dead will be harder. Robust IT infrastructure enabling new forms of working and collaboration will be inevitable in the new landscape. Finally If you were ignorant enough to slash and burn your staff, to throw them unceremoniously out of the bus, as the pandemic hit, you might arguably have trashed your brand. Even when an entire project cohort can’t be sustained, the smart firms downsize architects with civility and then carefully and incrementally. Resilient firms will still maintain relationships with their staff. Not surprisingly, the Architects Lobby is keen to learn about the experiences of architectural workers in this climate, and I recommend their survey, which can be found here. Oh, and don’t forget all of the resources around managing through this time at the Architect’s Consulting Association to be found here. When architects come out of this, the architect universe will be kind of the same but also very very different. ## Welcome to Zoom-world Part 2: Running a Zoom Design Studio Welcome to Zoom-world So now I have spent the whole week in Zoom-world. I have had so many Zoom back to back meetings and classes it’s been overwhelming. I have seen so many white plaster walls and Ikea supply chained backgrounds. No wonder I dislike all that flat-packing CNC lean construction theory which is aligned with the horrors of Ikea products. Anyway, who wants to shop at Ikea now, and who would want to get their frozen tasteless Lingonberries packs home delivered. Some people have even been sharing pics of their ugly fish-bowled and caged pets, comfy ugg-boots and fleecy bathrobes. FFS, even Tik Tok has Gucci and Prada and Wolford hashtags. Could you ever trust a middle manager architect who thinks it’s funny to flash their acrylic Ugg-boots in your Zoom screen gaze via their laptop or phone camera. My Around the house Ugg boots As architects in Zoom-world should aspire to higher aesthetic ideals. As architects, we really should not succumb to displaying the gross creature comforts of our domestic lives to others in Zoom. At the very least, we need to maintain our unique fashion sensibility. We cannot let technology destroy the old traditional ways of the architecture cult. We must all still wear black, cool streetwear and luxury brands. What kind of background scene should I have? What shade of black should I wear? Where should I position my laptop? What books that demonstrate my in-the-know and amazingly erudite knowledge and erudition should I prop my laptop up with. I vaguely remember I had Zoom drinks last Friday and it was great. I got smashed on three Vermouths. Vermouth being my current drink of choice. I have been able to do quite a few things I wouldn’t usually be able to do. Weekly meetings with the tutors. Zoom Q&A sessions with the students and also popped into a studio or two. It’s so much more efficient to set up a Zoom meeting than meet in person. It was all great. I love Zoom-world after a week of it. Nonetheless, I think a few more things need to be said about running the post-graduate Zoom-world architecture design studio. 1. Zoom-world space Excellent design tutors will understand the Zoom studio operates in a different scale to the physical studio. We are not looking form a different distance when we are looking at the zoom screen. I think this affords several opportunities for better interactive feedback and criticism. A pdf file on a screen is different from a pdf seen projected from 3 meters away. Zoom-world potentially allows for greater scrutiny of conceptual frameworks, diagrams, sketches and aesthetic details. It’s much harder to hide things thing’s or present a superficial view in zoom-world. My kind of studio leaders 2. Be interactive Zoom-world studios are best interactive any efforts to sue the zoom polls or chat functions or break out rooms are really going to add to the interactive student experience. Arguably, this will help you will engage the “silent” students, who typically say nothing in the physical studio and coax them out of their shells. But you will need to build in breaks and pauses for students to also the questions. You will also need to decide how you handle private messages during the zoom studio meeting studio participants. If you can record the studio that’s great. This will help you go back and reflect on the ideas and the work presented. Any excellent design tutor will be thinking about each student and where they are at between zoom sessions. 3. Screen view power But the normal spatiality of the design studio has now been supplanted. In the physical studio, there is usually a spatial hierarchy where critics and students and observers sit in the same space. This has now been transformed to the screen view, which has different view lines and visual trajectories between participants and within individual screens. While you may be the studio leader, your “authority” and power, if we can call it that, is now translated through the scale of and the gaze of the screens. It is all about communication, and I suspect that hand gestures might work well within this new screen space. Zoom background tryout 4. Short rather than long and boring Pecha Kucha’s and short videos from the students should be encouraged. You really want to avoid long monologues. Zoom-world studios will work better in shorter segments. This doesn’t mean, as the design tutor, you are prevented from thinking about things reflectively because of shortened time frames. I am thinking it means your teaching will be more effective if you think about your student’s work and its development as design over a series of shorter time frames. I am not sure about spending 15 to 30 minutes on a student’s work once a week is going to work in the zoom-world studio. Structuring your program a series of many smaller design tasks might be one way to go. 5. Prepping I would also encourage your students to prepare and submit their work before the studio session. That way, you can look at it quickly beforehand. Asynchronous learning is vital in a design studio. But as a design tutor, you will need to provide materials that engage the student in this process, and you will need to check-in and make sure the students are involved with the material. Building a shared repository of resources is a good idea. As well as creating a forum for sharing online design practices. My laptop book supports 6. Studio tools Utilising the page seriality of pdfs may also be a useful and straightforward way to help students to develop good habits of design iteration. The comment function in Adobe is probably something I would use. I am told that Adobe captivate is good. Short youtube clips will work well to illustrate things if you share your screen. 7. Watch that gaze Some people in the Zoom-studio will select a different view on their laptop. As a studio leader, you probably need to be wary of where your own screen view or gaze falls. This consideration is essential, especially if zoom is recording the session of your own laptop screen. (although I need to check and see how it does this). 9. Camera etiquette I think as a Design Studio leader I would insist that everyone be on camera and not hide their camera (unless they have really crap bandwidth). Probably okay to have people turn their audio off but maybe you want to encourage engagement with the central focus of the studio at any given time. Zoom background and costume test. 10. Zoom studio as performance space I can’t stress this enough; the studio needs to be interactive. If you have fallen into the traps of spending your previous studios doing “research” for weeks, focusing on over every tiny abstract gesture, and berating students over issues of functional pragmatism, then a boring studio is going to be even more annoying in Zoom-world. Finally My intro banter above points to the fact that the Zoom studio is just as much a performance space as a traditional design studio, and this engenders a different kind of spatial performance. You can’t wear your fleecy beige bathrobe or Acrylic South Park tie to the studio. Hence, you need to think about the production values of the zoom studio: backgrounds lighting, camera positioning and sound. Do you have stylish headphones, do you even use them? Online educators often talk about so-called “blended learning” and then wax lyrical about the necessary IT infrastructures and tools to support that learning doesn’t necessarily mean the studio outcomes will be okay. All very well, but don’t be deceived by those wishing to make the architectural learning into a commodified product. Doing a design studio in Zoom-world is not akin to doing a BIM model. Excellent design teachers will have an in-depth understanding of both design and the available range of teaching technologies and tools. Not just one of these things or the other. So yes, I am thinking shit studios in graduate architecture schools will be more shit in Zoom and dickhead tutors will still be more dickheaddy in Zoom. Oh and, as you self-isolate, don’t let your standards of architectural fashion and decorum drop. ## Making the jump to Zoom hyperspace Part 1: Running a Zoom design studio Architecture as a Global System But to begin with, my book launch has been cancelled due to Covid-19, so here is a blog instead. Thank you all for your heartfelt good wishes. No point having a book launch if you can’t have a banger of an after-party It was going to be an awesome architecture book launch, with all of my low-friends scavenger friends mixing with the grandees; I think we will reconvene in November to celebrate the publication of the book’s first anniversary. You can order the book with a discount with via this NBI_EM_Raisbeck_Architecture_as_a_global_system_DNB230120. A few people have read the book and tell me its an enjoyable read. I guess if it was a canonical ‘theory” book, you would have to suffer as you read it. I still have some colleagues who think I have written a practice management book. Now that I am isolated in my Covid-19 hermitage, from next week I will be running a book-reading discussion about the book on Zoom for those interested. It will be fun. How the fuck do you run a studio on ZOOM? So lots of people have been asking, and I guess it is a thing all over the world in the architecture schools: How the fuck do you run a studio on ZOOM? Firstly, for many design studio teachers, it’s going to be a work in progress. In the global system of architecture, architects who have focused on being design teachers, rather than being pompous wannabe alpha-privileged warlord architects have been undervalued. Elite architecture schools don’t invite great design teachers to give glittering public lectures. But hey, it is now time for the great design teachers to kick ass. As any good architectural design teacher will know: being a great designer or getting excellent marks in the final year or getting lots of A-list publicity for your designs doesn’t necessarily mean you can teach design. Can you imagine sitting in a design studio with some of those male Pritzker types, or even sitting in a ZOOM design studio in a soup of a Murcutt monologue? Apologies, for all you Glen and Bjarke and Remmie lovers, but many architects now live in ambiguous and challenging times, so maybe for our own professional survival it’s time to call out the BS. One way to start is to value unsung great design teachers more than what we previously have. Imagine listening to the rational and poetic spinnage for 6 hours on zoom. Zoom as a Disruptive Medium Conversely, if you are already a great studio teacher, jumping into a new medium isn’t necessarily going to mean you are going to be great in the Zoom room. I suspect. Zoom is unforgiving for some teaching techniques and tactics. For example, I think I need to stop shouting on Zoom. That is probably the first thing to bear in mind. Face to Face studio teaching is now, at least for the interim, dead. Not recognising that in the process of digital and disruptive transformation, you cannot simply cut and paste your Face to Face methods across to the Zoom studio makes you the same as the elite Warlords who have done so much to destroy our discipline. OK, here are some ideas, and it’s still all work in progress, to help you make the shift to Zoom Hyperspace. 1. IT Infrastructure Health Check All of you IT excusers who mutter the mantra “I am not so good with IT” All I can say is time to clean up your desktop and start figuring out how to use standard IT applications. This is no time to make excuses. But you need to have good internet access and good bandwidth, or you will be done for. You need a laptop (preferably) or a functional PC workstation that actually works. So you need to do a quick health check on your primary device. Do you have enough storage, etc.? Do you have RAM (look it up if you don’t know what this is) on your laptop to use visualisation software? How will you transfer large files? Likewise, is your phone up to date etc. Have you got your passwords and authentification under control? Do you back up? Do you have your security and virus protection act together? Do you have two-step authentification on your phone? Are you using or running I-cloud? Does your workplace or uni have a VPN or an Intranet, do you even know what a VPN is? All of the above questions may seem simple, but you can’t spend your life mucking around cluelessly with poor computing technique in your Zoom studio. 2. IT applications You need to make sure you are running the latest version of various apps. Outlook and Zoom, for example. Are your Adobe and AutoDesk apps up to date. You need to know how to use and switch between the basics: DropBox; Google Drive etc. Again, how will transfer large files. Can you get to and see these things via your phone as well? 3. Communication Apps. Now, this is the real key, you need to be able to communicate with your students by several channels. A lot of them will already be online using these apps. Therefore, as well as Zoom studio meetings, you probably need a few other channels of communication with your students. I would set up some sort of group and will this be via text apps like WhatsApp or Signal (ER’s app of choice). There are others. You could use Slack or Yammer. Check out what your workplace or University prefers to use. Do you have an Insta page for the studio and a Facebook group page as well? Can students post comments to these? Does your University or workplace have policies around good digital citizenship and culture? How will you manage comments and messages? Does your University use Canvas or Blackboard as a teaching platform? Are there discussion boards or grouping functions you can employ. Can you use, and do you know how to use the video app Kaltura? Or any video app In my subjects at MSD, we use Kaltura, I can record a video on my laptop and get it out to the students via a Canvas announcement within about 35 minutes. Maybe you will just use email or text as your secondary communication channel or text. 3. Face to Face on Zoom In the zoom studios, our thinking is that you really need structure. Yes, structure, structure and structure. You can’t just rock up with your big ego and do a little Tik Tok dance for 6 hours. How do you fill a three hour, four hours or 6 six-hour slots in zoom? Standard face to face crits is not really going to simply translate across to Zoom. You will need to keep things lively and avoid zoom fatigue. We are thinking batching works, via students in groups or batches of students. You need to encourage the students to ask questions via zoom or via another app like Slido or Poll Everywhere. For example, a simple, word cloud in Poll Everywhere, can help you prompt great discussions. Both tools allow otherwise shy students to ask questions. Or do this via your chosen chat app. You can’t expect students to come to the meeting and wait around for 3 hours in Zoom. You can’t see each student individually for twenty minutes that will take too long. But maybe you get them to pre-book in individual consultations with different crit panels and people. Given that everyone all over the world is at home working, or with no work, so it’s a great time to book wonderful guests in. Architects are great at doing and surviving recessions. Architects are great at doing and surviving recessions. This is the architectural downturn and recession where design knowledge will emerge in the collectively organised virtual world and not in the fucking BIM model or in the gallery. Students need to be prepared to present on their laptops. You never want people dithering as the pin-up on walls, Same with Zoom. I reckon to give them a minute to be ready. Kick them out of the room if they dither. As always, the tone is essential, don’t talk down to the students. Don’t subject them to pompous monologues. Don’t harangue them (my natural tendency). If there is a silence as you wait for them to respond then be confident enough to remain. Questions and interaction in this media are so important. I think keep the studio flowing and have a few different zoom activities. Here is an example structure that you may like to think about. Adapt as you see fit. 4. Zoom Studio Structure 1. Use the waiting room function. 2. Don’t admit students in super late (haha). 3. Intro (what are you doing, in that meeting where are you in the overall program or design process). 4. A guest lecture or two keep these to 15- twenty minutes plus questions. 5. An exercise for your groups (even if the work is individual get them into study pairs or groups). 6. Groups report back. 7. Crits in batches (3-4 groups and a break) with strict time protocols. 5 minutes of student presentation. A few questions from you and the other students 5 minutes Final discussion 3-5 minutes a few primary points. 8. Last Zoom meeting comments and follow up 5-10 minutes Follow up with individual students later between classes on the other channels, post some images up to Instagram. Reconfiguring the culture More in Part 2, as we all figure out how to do this. This could be a great way to rejuvenate our design culture. Oh, and if your one of those design tutors, who allows the students to put off designing for half the semester I am not sure that’s going to work in Zoom. And if all your have ever done is studios is teach your life is Makery Spacey 3-Deee Printing Lab stuff I think you will need to set all that up in your home self-isolated workshop. This is an opportunity for a very different architectural culture to emerge. ## How to be a Parametric Revolutionary and pretend you are saving the planet. There was a time when I was right into suing new technologies to do things. I was enamoured with various techniques of reprographics and representation. I was right into all of the architectural making machines of the late 80s. I loved the bromide machine, the dyeline (I loved the smell of the ammonia), Pantone paper, reverse bromides and of course that greatest of all devices the PHOTOCOPIER. Of course, I had no illusions about using these technologies to save the world. It didn’t need saving then, but it did need fucking up. At that time, in my tiny architectural brain, the principal means to achieve this was through the critical commentary enabled by collage. As a result, my modus operandi was the comic. And it was always fun to see the grand poo-poo-bah of my architecture school totally flip whenever he saw my seemingly insane comics. Nowadays, all of the old reprographic techniques that I had some expertise in have disappeared. Even the long studio nights in dimly lit rooms where we suffered under the light of oh so long architectural slide shows have gone. All of the above has been replaced with graphical interfaces, Kuka robots, 3D printers and non-existent supply chain drones. For some, these new technologies will save us from climate catastrophe. Why will these things save us? Because, apparently through these technologies and processes, we are going to save the world by producing less waste and emitting less carbon. Sadly, I don’t believe that. However, if you believe in simple fixes and bad architectural science, and you want to get onto the parametric revolutionary bandwagon, then jump on board; and you might then enjoy the ride with all of its naïvety, good intentions and the curious know-all vanity that goes with those intentions. So, what follows is all you need to do to be a Parametric revolutionary. 1. Talk about revolution Yep, that’s right the revolution is going to happen. It’s a technological revolution and its coming tomorrow. And all you have to do to partake in it is to learn how to code and make stuff. You don’t have to think about revolutionary politics or even think about the sophisticated software development cycles of the tech giants. Nup, all you have to say is that a ‘revolution’ is on its way. Even better put another word in front of the word revolution. 2. Talk about the planet. Yep, talk about the planet as if it’s something you can fix and engineer with some new really cool technologies. Geo-engineering maybe? Floating cities? Beautiful little orange tables and nick-nacks made with robots and ‘new’ materials? 3. Use some fabulous words. Here are a few: prototypical, performative, materiality, speculative, trajectory, distributed, integrated, deployment, customised, networks, generative, elasticity, composite, non-linearity and of course the word that makes me think of an abattoir’s conveyor belt: machinic. Wow, that word, ‘machinic’, really sums it up. Its diction is so precise when it comes out of the mouth in speech. It sounds like its got a bit of philosophy behind it ( Deleuze and Guattari) and it implies an ability to control things. To control elements in an objective, rational and seemingly engineered way, to control shit that might otherwise get out of control. 4. Chuck in some systems theory. Yes, mention the word systems a lot as it will give the impression that a wholistic, organic and multi-layered approach is being pursued. Add the word systems after other words. For example, ‘Foam systems’ is one thing I read recently. But hey, what was actually meant by this was making stuff with polyethylene styrofoam. But all the systems theory in the world doesn’t help us untangle the complexities of our current modes of carbon production and rampant carbon emissions. Just saying the word systems doesn’t account for a complex understanding of ecological science or a dismantling of anthropocentrism. In the 1920s, even Bertalannfy, the founder of General Systems Theory, was to contrast the mechanistic, or machinic, approach to biological disciplines and he consequently advocated: ‘an organismic conception in biology which emphasises consideration for the organism as a whole or system, and sees the main objective of biological sciences in the discovery of the principles of organisation at its various levels.’ 5. Sustainable How many times have we heard that word? Don’t you love it? As a word, sustainable has certainly been misused. But for the Parametric Revolutionaries, it can be used to make it all seem ok. It doesn’t matter that all of this technology and verbiage is half-arsed because it is ‘sustainable’ 6. Argue for the holiness of BIM. Invoke the sacred name of BIM. But ignore its dreary and banal impact on our suburbs and cities. Our suburbs are becoming multi-residential BIM libraries. We all know the look. It’s a charcoal grey orthogonally articulated off-site concrete panel kind of architecture. Streets jammed with buildings with lots of frames and framing, volumetric blocks, rectangular slit windows, little black steel window reveals and striated timber slats on steel frames that you know are going to fall apart in a year and glazed balconies you could vape on. 7. Stop talking about architects as architects. So old hat to even call ourselves architects. Lest call architects: building engineers, design technologists or better still superusers. 8. Be Male Yes, much harder to be a Parametric Revolutionary if your female or non-binary. The parametric revolution is a predominantly male discourse and hey where would we be without all those Zuckerberg dudes in the Silicon Valley incubators. As I write in my forthcoming book, in the back office of every Warlord or star architect, there is the ‘BIM guy.’ Who is more often than not rubbing shoulders and linked to the other guys making the new generation of AI armaments. Parametricism is like Pornography The entire Parametric discourse the obsession with revolutionary fever, the big dick geo-solutions, the spitting diction of parametric words, the fleshy appeals to organic systems, the feigned softness of sustainability, the eroticism of BIM, the fetishised names and power of remotely operated drones all evoke the technologies, genres, scenes, scripts, words and objectification that we might find in pornography. There are too many parallels. But that’s ok because all of the new materials and technologies are just around the corner and it’s all going to be ok. When the planet warms by two or maybe three or even four degrees, the Parametric Revolutionaries can hose it down with parametric spunk and that will save us from extinction. ## No Future (god save the queen): Is architecture a viable future career path? I walked past the above placard the other day at my architecture school and thought; yes, that is pretty spot on. But regardless of the climate emergency, it also made me think about architectural career paths. There are several theories advanced about architectural career paths. The traditional career path is arguably no longer sustainable. Given the lack of industry research into career trajectories of people who have graduated as architects, the alternatives and different pathways are murky, and I suspect no-one really knows what is going in. Blah-blah-blah After my second post-graduate degree (my first was in urban design), I was never going back to architecture. After five years or so years of practice in the Keating years, I was over it. Sure. We could have kept going but it wasn’t just that the remuneration was too low it was the fact that the other incentives and potential rewards were also few and far between. At that point, I even struggled to get a sessional teaching job at my old architecture school. You might ask why not? (and I am sure some of you older colleagues reading this have extremely selective memories or have chosen to forget). My truth to power antics never really went down that well. It’s probably career-limiting to call out soft corruption and the inequities of provincial star-lord favouritism. Even worse to get a few petitions going. In any case, it was awesome to get out of the small architecture bubble I had existed in for almost twenty years. Some of my esteemed peers are still in it and have never really left it. A few have even had more predictable career paths. But, I weep for them. In contrast, my career path has been more exciting, chaotic and haphazard (I love my job). But, there was no way I was ever going to ‘selected’ to be an associate or tracked to be a principal in a big practice. So what are the options for those who graduate from architecture schools in Australia? Graduate, get registered and then go into practice. One question: Why would you do it? Your design education probably hasn’t equipped you for business. Apart from a grab-bag of graphic skills it perhaps hasn’t provided you for branding, marketing, networking and sales—yes let’s be blunt, and use the word sales, because that’s what it is. It will probably take you maybe ten years to have sustainable cash flow business. This time might be quicker if you are smart and good at strategy, leadership, negotiations and operational tactics. The time might be faster still if you start with more than three people. Of course, if you want any life balance, want to have children or afford a mortgage, then it’s a tough gig. Architectural practice is about the hardest thing you will ever do, and no-one will reward you for it. Graduate, get registered and work in a sizeable self-sustaining office. This may be a good option. Providing you don’t get typecast or stereotyped as the BIM guy or the interiors girl, model-maker or the office hipster barista. Ask if your office has a graduate program or leadership mentoring or focused in-house CPD. What about a design mentoring program for those hotshots who think they can Pinterest design as soon as they graduate. Contract to Contract. If you love hanging out with recruiters and like being a kind of lone wolf expert, this might be ok. But contract work, including the expatriate kind, relies on a strong national or global economy. To do it, you will need enough experience to convince a recruiter that you have some kind of special knowledge of expertise. Something else. Yes, not everyone who graduates from an architecture school wants to be an architect. But architects are trained in a unique way of thinking that no other discipline has. Architects can make great CEO’s general managers and policy leaders. Architects generally make better than average politicians. The chilled options: beats, beans, beards craft beer, or furniture making. A variation of the above point. Adding on some ancillary qualifications I know lots of great people who have gone into Project Management. But maybe we should encourage more of this. But hey, don’t we architects hate project managers? Add on another related degree like property or construction management or landscape architecture is probably a good idea. An architect with a follow on Quantity Surveying degree? Now, that would really do my head in. The Academia option The less said about this option, the better. Let’s say it’s a pathway akin to getting a camel through the eye of a needle. The start-up option. One of my favourite options. Start your own non-architectural biz, or perhaps slightly related, business from scratch. But you will need lots of help and mentoring from others to do this because what you learnt in architecture school has probably not fully prepared you for the wonderful world of start-ups. Climate emergency activist Yes !!!! We should all be this and call out the green-washers and business as usual types. Architecture is at a tipping point. Is it still a viable career? As with recruiting procedures, the career development processes and infrastructure in architectural firms are, for the most part, pretty crap. If the Australian Institute of Architects were serious about industry reform and advancing the cause of architecture, it would get rid of the awards system. This move would force individual firms to get serious about their branding and marketing, break the stranglehold of the star architects and save a whole lot of money on those futile award entries. Yes, to reiterate, one of the best things the Australian Institute of Architects could do if it were serious about inclusivity would be to scrap the awards system entirely. Wouldn’t that be a hoot? The award system only perpetuates the existing ecologies of privilege, mythologies and stereotypes that have been so damaging to the architectural industry. Developing the careers of young architects once they graduate should be a priority for the whole profession. Instead of spending all that money on futile award’s submissions, architects could spend it on the most critical thing in their offices: The talent. ## “If you have a go you will get a go”: Architectural recruiting practices. In my part of the architectural woods, there has been a lot of movement alerting architects to many issues around labour practices. Indeed, Parlour and the Architecture Lobby are actively working to bring attention to poor labour practices in architectural practice. One neglected area of this conversation is how architects recruit staff. Of course, not all architects are crap at this, but I would argue there are some widespread recruiting practices in practice that are unfortunate. I have a friend who has applied for 140 architectural jobs since graduating. His crime? Hard to know what the problem is. He is personable, highly intelligent, he already has a degree in planning and had the motivation to do a Masters of Architecture in his 40s. Oh fuck, did I say the 40s? He is now in that not so fantastic position of being a graduate with minimal architectural experience — an older person in that difficult zone between graduation and registration. For international students, I would suggest the situation is even more difficult. I cannot begin to write about that here. From what people have been telling me, it is all too painful and damming. Few architects are trained in Human Resource capabilities. For many practices, the worst thing that can happen is that the design architects get hold of the recruiting process. Imagine being in a room full of critical negative designers who think a BIM is the greatest thing since Salada crackers. But if you are looking for a job in an architectural firm this is precisely some of the things you may be confronted with. The pressure cooker ambush The firm asks you to come in for the interview. When you arrive, they ask you to “do a BIM software test” as a part of the recruiting process. You were not expecting this. You are ambushed! You have 45 minutes to do a complex drawing (like the one above). You are told that at some point during this time someone will come in and ask you impromptu questions. Your tormentor’s also want to “debrief’ after the test. In the debrief they ask you if you like Heatherwick. The Revit sinkhole A variation on the pressure cooker. You have three hours to do the computer test rather than 45 minutes. They say take as much time as you like. You find yourself on a crap windows machine with a few digital files to deal with. Nothing works, and then you realise this is a kind of weird REVIT test. But the libraries don’t work, and the machine keeps crashing. It’s a REVIT sinkhole. One of the architect correctional officers slowly paces the room as you try and make sense of things. There is no debrief, and they say that they will get back to you, but they never do. The take-home exam This selection process is a variation on the pressure cooker above. You get an email 12 hours before the interview asking to do a design exercise. The exercise is to design using sketches, In Design and Revit a 90 unit multi-residential development on a site in the outer suburbs. You are told you must establish design principles, siting principles, draw some typical unit floor plans and sketch a hero shot. At the\end, you need to stand up in front of the design directors and explain your “concept.” They ask you critical negative questions, and one of them starts asking you about stair tread and riser heights. The innocent face of recruitment You are over 45 with lots of experience. You have just been made redundant. You apply for a job through a recruiting company. You go in to meet the firm’s recruiter who finished a marketing degree straight after VCE. Their previous role was in events management. You check out their Instagram profile, and they are doing Mezcal shots with their friends at a mango vape bar. In-person they look very “corporate”. They dismissively glance at your portfolio and tell you are over-qualified for the role. You never hear back. This cycle repeats every time you go to a recruiting agency. Some people say the recruiters only recruit in their own youthful mezcal shot vaping image. The misplaced role You apply for a project architect’s role for a large medium-density residential design project. You get to the interview, and they tell you it’s a hospital design role. They ask you for examples of your hospital work. Luckily you have this type of experience and send it to them. They respond by email and say they will get back to you in a week. You never hear back despite repeated calls over the following six weeks. The money machine future It’s a high-level role, and in the interview, the directors ask if you are confident enough to bring in6M in fees in the next year. They quiz you about your school networks and contacts. It all goes pear-shaped when you tell them what school you went to. A year later the firm goes into liquidation.

The form filling-in-thing

Often you have to fill in forms. Often these forms are incredibly generic, and you wonder what the point of them is that a civil conversation cannot establish. If you get a form that has a field for your hobbies, I think it’s best to answer this in the affirmative and fill it in by writing Crystal Meth or something like that.

Don’t mention the baby

The interview was going well, and the interviewers then get the fact that you and your partner have just had a second baby. You mention how you would like to get home at a reasonable hour. You are having another child with your partner. They quickly shut down the interview saying “we don’t think you would fit in with the culture of our firm.”

The old promise

We will contact you say the recruiters, the HR people and the architects who interviewed you. But they never do.

The hunger games

What can be said? This is the group interview. It privileges the pushiest, show-offs and best-dressed candidates. These candidates may or may not be a good fit for the office. Of course, this kind of process will favour the candidates who are more like the architects doing the recruiting. It is an opportunity for them to see more people that they can “select” with the filter of their own unconscious biases. If you are shy, without English as a first language, mature age or just normal without being a pushy sociopath, this process will exclude you

There is a lot more I could say about all of this. Selecting the best people suitable for your office is a complicated business decision. You may not always get it right. But I am sure most of the above practices aren’t going to help you get it right or help your bottom line. We talk a lot about the demographics of diversity in architecture but maybe its’ time to start talking about the mechanisms that foster and discourage diversity.

## So who needs architectural theory? It’s mostly rubbish isn’t it?

A colleague from an Architecture School in another University said to me that the current crop of students had no interest in learning history or theory. Maybe the new generations of architecture students don’t like to read. Perhaps these students have no desire for books and archival research. Maybe the centre of the student’s limited architectural universe is that of Dezeen, ArchDaily and all those brutalist schemes on Instagram.

As one Sydney colleague reported to me:

Start of design for some new low-rise apartments in North Sydney. The instruction from the directors was for 4 recent grads to come to the next meeting with any first thoughts, generative form-making or at least some intentions. Of the four on arrived with a sketch (educated in another country), the other three raided Insta/Pinterest for their latest favourites, tabled images only and talked about marketing aspirations for the building.

It can be argued that the relationship between theory and architecture has been broken. Theory is not about critique or the construction of new ideas that support, explain and confirm our architectural endeavours. It’s about consumption.

Philip Johnson

For example, I tried to rev some of my students up the other day with a shortish discussion about the Architect Philip Johnson, his problematic fascism and the camp subversion of the hetero-normative and corporate American dream. But they just looked at me like I was some kind of eccentric and irrelevant idiot.

I guess those students would rather watch Madmen. I think, I wasn’t talking about those zinc-clad googly gables you see on Grand Designs. Or Bajrke’s latest scheme to save the whole world, and New York City, from global warming.

I thought WTF maybe all they want to learn are the software programs rather than history and theory. I guess if you don’t learn history and theory in your Architecture school, you are easily seduced by techno-utilitarianism. As well as falling prey to the combination of architectural and urban fantasies mixed in with the propaganda of software vendors.

Without theory, you will be oblivious to architecture’s relation to politics.

Yes, design methods and digital practices are political. The ‘Paraguru’s’ as a friend of mine calls them, have by and large forgotten this. If they ever remembered it in the first place. The paradox is if architecture is merely a useful vocation, then why aren’t architects better at managing their businesses.

Without theory, architecture is just spin.

Without some theoretical underpinning or narrative, architectural work will easily get lost in the overriding swamp of consumption. It may look good on Insta, a few arches a bit of funky brickwork a few parametric gestures, but without a theoretical position it’s just an empty shell. There is an image-politic even on Instagram and without theory how would you usefully interpret this constant flow of content. Or is it just base judgements of taste, profiling and bias? How would you try and figure out anything without some contestable and argued theory?

Without theory, there is no danger.

So why is history and theory so difficult for students or architects to swallow? Might it mean you have to read some stuff? Such things seem too far removed from the cult of design. Could also mean you have to use your brain to try and figure out how to judge precedents and identify various controversies in history. I guess it’s easy to go with the flow of architectural pragmatic architectural production.

Theory, of course, has its dangers. For the practising architect fully embedded in circuits of capital, they don’t really like being told their work is lacking in some way. In Australia many years ago we had a magazine called Transition it was a site where theoretical debates in architecture could play out. It was and still is a site of conflict, in the end, it was killed off by an unfortunate combination of misogyny, cronyism and an ego-centricity that did not need any theory—particularly not feminist theory.

But isn’t that the point? The point of architectural theory is to offer a perspective that enables architectural design knowledge to be assessed in order to create new design knowledge.

Without theory history is just description.

Yep, we can catalogue, describe and profile the canon of modernist, post-modern and parametric architecture in all sorts of different ways. But without some critical theory, all these efforts become simply evaluative description at best. One brand of pedantic scholarship that seems to thrive these days always seeks to recast historical narratives without questioning the prevailing paradigms of history or the social conditions of architectural production. In these monolithic accounts of architectural history there will always be an invisible ‘other’ an invisible entity; the intern, the invisible female partner, the BIM slaves in the back room of the practice or the actual workers and users of the building. Power asymmetries are rarely discussed in these accounts. We never hear about the webs of finance that corrupted and gave rise to the building’s genesis. These normative, and on appearance oh so seemingly reasonable narratives, of the architectural canon, are crazy because of what they exclude.

So What?

Of course, I hate that kind of theory that is seemingly apolitical and moored in the fashions of continental philosophy. Try listening to a philosopher talk about architecture and then try listening to an architect mix it up with a bit of philosophy. Try listening to one of those long dry dialogically argued talks by so-called architectural theoreticians.

FFS the house is burning down, and for architects, we are mired in a quagmire of abstract theory that has no idea about practice, the production of space and the real lives of people. Let alone, any engagement with the extinction politics of the climate crisis beyond good intentions.

Theory is essential to practitioners and practice. And I don’t mean the utterances of the shamanistic shamans that inhabit the elite schools. Without architectural theory, we will never be able to explain and argue the collective worth of our discipline to others.