Surviving the Design Studio: Why are architects so fucking serious?

I went to an advertising function a few days ago, the Moet was flowing amongst the producers, copywriters and account service people I ran into an ex-architect now working in advertising and he looked me in the eye and exclaimed: why are architects in Melbourne so fucking serious? Good point I thought, and I had to agree as the verbal case was laid out over the champagne. And my agreeance, was not merely politeness because this claim struck me as the truth. So, I thought given the amount of auto-ethnography I had done concerning architects in Melbourne, in one way or another, I thought I would accept the claim and then try and develop a theoretical model around it.

Melbourne Architecture is probably the epi-centre of architectural seriousness. I guess I can’t talk about Sydney but maybe the model developed below can also be generalised to encompass other places.

Serious Architectural Insects 

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The first lot of serious architectural insects I met were at the tail end of the early seventies mud-brick, alternative living, roll your own spliff movement. This time was a kind of cross between the post 68 countercultures, Alastair Knox’s mud-brick houses and the Sunbury rock festival. It was a kind of blues and roots and Whitlam thang. Everyone hated Malcolm Fraser. My shared house flatmates got busted for growing marijuana. At Archi school we had self-assessment, my first project was a long essay on alternative energy sources, my second I learnt how to design in the style of MLTW’s sea-ranch (think, planimetric chamfers). At archi-school our orientation camp was at a monastery where a guy played the bongos and as I listened my head span around and around and mesmerised by the sound I vomited. It was a serious vomit and set the tone for the rest of my architectural education.

 

No need to shed tears of nostalgia for this long lost era. Funnily enough, I think a lot of it is now back in fashion, and the common denominator is and has always been, the seriousness. For the earnest or humanistic architect, the architect without irony wanting to do good in the world, the seriousness is a natural state of being. However, this too often masks a desire for economic gain or a proclamation of egocentric vanity. For seriousness, the parametric architects are the worst and take the cake. Since when was coding a computer to make Bucky Fuller like domes, and their squishy variants, ever considered to be in any way fantastic.

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The cult of the seriousness tars even those Australian architects who appear, on the surface at least, to pursue irony and absurdity. Just have a look at the northern end of Swanston Street in Melbourne. An entire block of very very serious architecture and perhaps it would have been better if WB looked happier. Nowadays all the universities are getting into their very own Archi-serious capital works programs. The serious architectural sensibility too often about branding of one kind or another; the branded pomposity of neoliberal and market-driven clients.

And surely the absurd gymnastics of super serious architecture without whimsy is a terrible and empty thing to behold. Paradoxically, architectural seriousness has always had its darker hues. All this seriousness is serious. But what would I know as I am really really serious too?

But hey these days you would be fooled into thinking seriousness never really exists. This situation is the case if you looked at architects and social media, it all seems light and fluffy, and oh so we don’t need theory we are just doing what we do. Little arches, trellises and meshes. However, even this frivolity seems too serious especially when it is aligned with the torrent of nostalgia around the history of Melbourne architecture. This is too often a history all about the cute little 1950s housing boxes; Boyd in all his Brahmin caste politeness; the sanitised and domestic machines of the Small Homes Service; the little follies and gems of architecture recycled as serious doodoos. In Melbourne, there were lots of serious insect architects in the 1950s: Neil Clerehan, John Mockridge, James Earle, David McGlashan, Peter Jorgenson, Ken Hardcastle, Geoffrey Woodfall, Peter Burns and David Godsell. In posh Toorak, there was Guilford Bell, Rosenthal and Holgar and Holgar. Hit me up with a bit of Mid-Century Modern nostalgia insulin.

So what is the unhappy dynamic driving this seriousness and what is its pathology? Below are a few thoughts towards developing an all too slight model that might explain all of this architectural seriousness.

Insularity

Insularity the idea that nothing exists outside of the autonomous culture of architecture is the first factor. The realm and boundaries of this culture are strictly reinforced. A larger scale of geography often determines the insularity. For example, a Melbourne School or a Sydney school. However, other factors may define the boundaries of each of the clubs, clans tribes and influence networks that each city has; different ideological and theoretical ideas formed at architecture school, and even at secondary schools, may also determine these different clubs and clans and sets within the larger geographic realm.

Jargon

A peculiar language often emerges in the different architectural tribes. The utterances, aphorisms and codes often emanating from these groups often constitutes a private language. As someone remarked to me if you met these people at the dinner table, it’s difficult for an outsider to understand the lingo. Within each group, this language might evolve a little over time. Rarely is there any thought that this way of speaking might be a real bore at dinner.

The group’s jargonistic expressions will ensure that its central tenets will remain stable over time. To the initiated, some of these words and sayings seem to have magical and talismanic powers. To the outsider, this private language is instead of explicit communication and plain English. As many architectural websites attest to plain English is not often pursued. To the outsider. Let alone the client, and this results in an impenetrable language that can only be deciphered if you are in the favoured circle.

Abstract Language 

A key feature of seriousness is a verbal language of abstraction based on logic. As if to say, either reasoning and abstraction confer authority (I prefer the ravings of Artaud any day). Eisenman was good at this as was Colin Rowe and perhaps this way of speaking has its sources in the late 1980s and early days of the American architectural journal Assemblage. In any case, any of the Architectural engagement with continental philosophy since the 1970s has not helped this. Anyone reading this who may have heard Brian Massumi, Deleuze and Guattari’s translator, speak about architecture should know this.

Pecking Order

Within the circle of seriousness, the pecking usually determines who has the most power over language. Many architects will be familiar with the traits of these orders. Pecking orders are primarily determined by pedigree. Class, school of origin, architecture school, or whom you did studios with and the office you may have worked for. Alpha males win out most of the time in these orders. Having independent wealth may also help. Combine both of these attributes and will do better than most. Architects are fascinated by genealogies: Who worked for whom, who can trace their family tree back to a master or a heroic figure. Even I have claims to tracing myself back to Robin Boyd. Ridiculous, I know.

Deification

Within this system, some are architects, or deities, are bestowed with power. This endowment may or may not translate into commissions or a legacy in the canon. Usually, only men are deified, and they can then determine who the enemies are. There are always perceived enemies in the cult of seriousness, and the idolised gods have a number of tactics to relegate you to the enemy camp. We have all be written off by those helicoptered in well-pedigreed leaders who only recognise their own kind. That’s how architecture works I guess.

Maybe the above is because the notion of the enemy has a long history in the creation of modernist architectural history. From CIAM onwards there was always an enemy for modern architects to fight against. Across the globe, in the provincial market-towns of architectural culture making and remaking enemies is a constant sport.

Lack of Fluidity

In this ecosystem of seriousness, architectural experiment and the fluidity that goes with it is often abandoned. This move is in order to maintain power. Creating design knowledge is secondary and expanding the stock of architectural knowledge is secondary to maintaining a status quo. In other words, all of the above, all this seriousness, is not there to enhance the discipline or to create new knowledge and promote an engaged discourse or think about architecture as an evolving and dynamic field of expertise. No, architectural design is posed as something to defend, an inviolable territory of privilege. This defensiveness is, for the most part, a ruse to maintain and enforce power in whatever local architectural culture that power is claimed and employed.

Masculinity

All of these processes emphasise norms of masculinity within the profession. The single architectural voice with all of its mystifications, contrariness, rationalisations and self-importance has no interest in more fluid notions of identity.

This gendered voice seeks influence, authority, power and sometimes a pathetic kind of social notoriety and deification. This voice continually seeks to prescribe and fix its own identity. Perhaps, we have all wanted to be there and have saught this. In contrast, collective notions of design, or architectural theory, that questions fixed identities is belittled or relegated. Consequently, the design process itself is ring-fenced and quarantined in a way that always links it to fixed architectural identities. As a result intersectionality and its attendant approaches are never something that comes into play. Any suggestion by anyone that points out the jargon, mystifications, influence, and deification that result in this seriousness is overlooked and at worse silenced.

The paradox is that architectural whimsy, a lightness of being, has a more significant potential for emotional and political nuance than the strictures of seriousness. And I don’t mean a whimsy devoid of politics. Perhaps all we can hope for an architectural culture that embraces a collective lightness and openness, as much as any other sentiment. But hey, who am I to talk when I am also so serious. But anything is better than vainglorious seriousness and insane pomposity that characterises much of the profession. Architecture as a genuinely collective endeavour and a contested field of knowledge deserves more.

Due to work commitments, I have not been able to get the blog out as much as I would like. I did manage to get to ARCOM in Belfast, and my co-author Loren Adams and we won a prize for the most innovative paper! Read it here if you dare. However, more about that in later blogs. For those of you in my own special identity cult don’t worry too much: I am alive, but only just.

Surviving the Design Studio: Baristas $20.22 per hour vs Architects $29.76 per hour.

Thank you to everyone who supported the RAsP initiative. This applied architectural research would not have got any funding through any existing channels of research funding. I am hoping that it is the first foundation for creating a transparent and well-governed research fund serving the needs of architects. 

With the recent ructions in the Institute of Architects, one can only be reminded of the way the design focused discourse in architecture, has both corrupted and arguably destroyed, the way that architects both govern themselves and practice. The mantra that its all about design has led to an unbalanced design-centric discourse. This discourse has paradoxically diminished design and has done much to damage the profession in Australia, its institutions and the way it practices.

Is the Design focus a good thing? 

The focus on Design has meant that Architects are coming off a low base when it comes to a consideration of general business practice and protocols. As a result, an evident naivety abounds across the Australian profession when it comes to business. This naivety exhibits itself in a few extreme ways. Firstly, either in a direct antagonism towards considering business and management issues. Or secondly, bypassing antagonism, a complete lack of knowledge and a fundamental ignorance of money; alongside the idea that you can just fly in someone with business knowledge and they will fix everything.

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The naivety of architects regarding strategic management, business strategy and financial management often leads to poor decision-making. Often architects, get into a bit of a panic and say hey let’s get a business plan together or let’s get someone in with a bit of corporate knowledge to do our marketing. They then make the mistake of employing people who, while they might have business credentials, or appear to be “corporate” have no understanding of the profession its nuances and certainly no understanding of design. I have seen this happen quite a few times. Sometimes architects employ people who are from allied industries, but they still have no idea about design. These examples are all too familiar: The general manager of the large firm that was appointed because she had a background in construction (or worse still law), but no idea about general management in an architectural setting. Or the growing small firm who got in a marketing person they went to school with who also had no understanding of professional service marketing.

Only get in the experts with architectural knowledge

It is naive to think a firm can get ‘corporate’ by getting in people from the corporate world with little or no experience in professional services or architecture. It’s always best to get in consultants with direct knowledge and experience of architecture. Preferably people who have worked in practice previously in some capacity.

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The full story has yet to reach my ears about the demise of the CEO of the Australian Institute of Architects. But I suspect that this particular train wreck is a confluence of the above factors. A mismatch of expectations and naivety on the part of all concerned. A naivety about architectural profession on the one hand and perhaps a naivety by architects about policy, advocacy and strategic management on the other. Maybe, if architects knew more about money, they wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. We really need to mentor people in our own profession with both design skills and financial and strategic management skills.

Its all about design 

This discourse that has led to these train wrecks and its associated mantras and aphorisms goes something like “it’s all about design” and any other consideration is secondary or the be disregarded entirely. This disregard leads to the most visible and remarkable naivety.

Within practices, both small and large the so-called design architects more often than not need to be saved from themselves. But often these design architects resent this, and the strictures and limitations placed crying out that money or even common sense management practices are crushing their sensitive souls and egos. I was the same when I was younger. Mostly such lamentations by these designers are an excuse for poor design outcomes. When will the architects who subscribe to this cultish view recognise that a consideration of other discourses outside of architectural design is essential if architects are to survive and prosper?

Selling out 

Of course, in writing this, I will be accused of somehow “selling out” design; which is by and large the general accusation levelled at those of us who hope for a better, smarter, meritocratic and inclusive profession.

Central to any rejuvenation of architectural discourse is a consideration of the organisational sciences including management and finance. The discourse focused on “design”, and its cult-like nature, as an autonomous, and singular practice, within architecture, has damaged the disciplines ability to support itself. To prove the point if there is one area where the design cult– and its insidious culture of business phobic managing up, discrimination and pedigreed favouritism — have destroyed the architectural profession it is in the area of employee wages.

2018 ACA salary survey 

The latest salary survey put out by the ACA and ably put together by the fantastic Gill Matthewson has just come out. As it summarises there is still a gender pay gap and some practices persist in paying under Award minimums. Perhaps the best thing that could happen to the profession is if a few architects were prosecuted for paying less than the award wage.

Paygaps

A Barista or a person with some training (Level 2 – food and beverage attendant grade 2 full time) gets an adult minimum hourly wage: $20.22. But also some get more on average if you look here. Architects get $29.76 an hour if you are registered and a full-time employee. This is not to suggest that the work of a Barista is in any way less worthy than architectural work. But it is to suggest that architectural training could be better served by a profession that took its responsibility for its own well-being.

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Woohoo! That’s $9 bucks an hour more than a Barista or a waiting person.  That’s like more than an extra dollar an hour for the combined 7 years (5 years of tertiary study and 2 years of experience) that most architects need to do to register and call themselves architects.

Thank you to everyone who supported the RAsP initiative. This applied architectural research would not have got any funding through any existing channels of research funding. I am hoping that it is the first foundation for creating a transparent and well-governed research fund serving the needs of architects. 

Support RASP: Six Myths about Architectural research and practice.

The June July issue of Architecture Australia dossier section on research in large practice is a must read for any Architect. Research-In-Practice is now a hot topic. About time I reckon.

AA Dossier on Research in Large Practice

The issue is ably edited by Naomi Stead and Sandra Kaji-Ogrady the Architecture Australia dossier raises some serious questions about architectural research in both large and small practices. Sandra Kaji-Ogrady and Naomi Stead point out pursuing the divide between architects in academic and industry will only be detrimental to our profession at large. Its great to see two esteemed academics reaching out to practice in this fashion and credit to Cameron Bruhn of AA for instigating the issue. Of course, I am biased because I have also written something in it.

As a part of the dossier I was invited to the roundtable discussions with the large practices, and these really blew my tiny mind away. Ten large practices were involved in the discussions and I, despite my reputation as a cynic, I was really impressed by the range of different research models that each of these practices has developed and then implemented into their businesses. It was great to see how research and knowledge are actually managed in these practices. Yes, that’s the correct word: managed. In other word’s, the systems and processes in place needed to both create and capture new knowledge. It was perhaps even more interesting to see how the research in these practices then informed firm strategy and competitive advantage.

Heres our RASP pitch

As a result of this experience, I am beginning to wonder if the best research in architecture is now currently be done in the larger practices both here and abroad. Traditionally research, in architecture, has seemingly been the domain of the architectural schools and smaller niche firms dabbling in computers; yet now I wonder if the big practices are being more effective at architectural research than some of our nation’s 18 architecture schools.

The smarter big practices have the grunt and the systems to do effective research. You might ask so what about the rest of the world’s architectural practices (the smaller ones) and what about the architecture schools? Well, that question is best answered by addressing the various myths that seem to be associated with Research-in-Practice.

Myth 1: Architectural design studios teach architects how to do research

Only to a limited extent.

Don’t you hate those studios where all the so-called research is front-loaded at the beginning of the studio? That’s not researching, and its probably not design either, and as a result, quite a few architects are fishing around and talking about the need for architectural research without really understanding what it is. While our architectural education gives us a great way of thinking it does not give us much regarding research methodologies, methods or the rigour to think through the methodological dilemmas proposed by design as research.

Myth 2: Research is only for architecture schools

Not true.

Research orientated to architecture is increasingly difficult to get funding for. I think that the current climate of pandering to research metrics and the labyrinthine ARC funding system across all disciplines in universities is killing architectural research in Architecture schools. These measurement and funding regimes might work well in the biosciences but not in architecture.

Why not?

The metrics favour specialists and not transdisciplinary generalists. Nowadays, it’s all about your citation counts and your h-index. One of my colleagues in a related field has a really great h-index but as far as I can tell the research knowledge produced is pretty mediocre. But hey, who am I to judge this. His work might be seen as being great in future years. On the other hand, I have another colleague who doesn’t receive much credence as their research is considered to be beyond the pale by the successful lovers of research metrics. Again, who am I to judge?

At the moment, the hot topics in the university research sector are arguably transport, health and education. The weird thing these topics are driven by various government funding priorities are the big ticket items, and they reflect various government spending priorities. I think the name of the game for some unis is about picking winners; most innovation economists and start-up types will quickly tell you where that approach leads: to losers and not winners; mediocrity and the squandering of public resources.

Heres our RASP pitch

A play in one act 

But picking winners has a trickle-down effect and to illustrate my point allow me the luxury of being cynical: The other week I was grabbing a quick coffee with a research Biz development person from another faculty and this is what happened.

PR: Architects are great and architectural research is really significant.

BD person: Oh look Professor Super-Research-Metrics-Producer is getting a coffee (joyful tone).

PR: Here is your chai latte.

BD person: See you later! (BD person exits).

They were gone from my space in two seconds. Apparently, my citation count, h-index and funding bucks weren’t up to scratch. I felt deep shame. So much for building a bottom-up research practice, dare I say research business, centred on architecture.

Universities like to pick big winners and get the big teams together. Fair enough. That’s where the money is. Maybe big research teams will be doomed to fail in our discipline.

The hot ticket items these days are AI, Data Analytics and Neuroscience, just mix and match those fields with the big ticket social issues like Population Health, Education, Housing and of course CITIES. The words sustainability, modular and that old favourite density are good words to throw in as well for a bit of detail.

Here are a few mix and match titles for research projects. Population Health Data and Sustainable Cities. Here’s another one, Artificial Intelligence and Modular Housing for Health.

Here it is again

Myth 3: Design is Research

Not always.

Design research is too often vanity research. Architects just need to do design research and it that’s fantastic. Hey, where architects and we are so good! We don’t even need to communicate how good we are! Whip out a few design competitions, do a bit of coding stuff with the fabrication machines, come up with a few new conceptual public space concepts. Everyone knows we are a shit-hot profession. Hey, we earn a bit more money than baristas (or do we?).

No, that is not correct, architects need to do more than just doing it. We need to constantly capture, verify and communicate our research knowledge.

But doing a competition or running a studio, or doing an exhibition at an Architecture School is not quite the same as doing effective research. Hey, many architects don’t even measure or quantify what they do in research. As a result, architects are continually giving away their design knowledge for less than what it’s worth.

Myth 4: Architects are valued for their research knowledge

Nup.

This follows a bit from the above myth. Developers, property planners, contractors, middle brow council bureaucrats, love to get architects to help them brand their apartments, schools, police stations or those train stations on the bogan periphery. They will tell us that they value our design input. These assorted characters love to make us think we have designed something great (after they have value managed the life out the project). But maybe all we have really done is branded something. Without research, we will never know if this is true or not.

But hey, ask the developers, contractors, or the gatekeepers at the other funding channels for some architectural research money, and they will run a mile.

Myth 5: Practices don’t have enough money to spend on research

No excuse.

Apart from small practices this shouldn’t be an excuse. Research should be an ancillary expense item in practice. It should be budgeted for the same way that marketing or rent or cars are or software licences. Imagine what would happen if every architect did that in some measure.

At the moment many large practices are doing and involved in different types of research. But those large practices that do not build or implement organisational structures, processes or systems concerning research knowledge models will lose competitiveness.

If medium practices are to grow or to compete with large practice’s they need to build some internal research infrastructure. Adhocism or vague project by project notions about what constitutes a research process (for example; just talking to potential clients, or doing a competition) is not quite enough. For medium practices, the danger is that large firms with specialised researchers and field-specific experts who can efficiently use research knowledge–especially if it has been developed in-house–to move downstream to mop up work from medium-sized practices.

Just in case you missed it; Heres our RASP pitch

Myth 6: Research is not practical

When I get a whiff of this kind of sentiment, I think: stab me in the eye with a biro. Research has a direct relationship to policy and advocacy. Targeted and applied research can really help architects get the message out. Research can help position No wonder the Australian Institute of Architects is in such a mess. We are now reaping the benefit of years of research, policy and advocacy neglect.

As pointed out to me recently every other professional group is much better at industry research policy and advocacy. The developers, property types, the contractors, the housing industry, and the engineers are much better at it. Australian architects never seem to get together to have a seat at the research lobby tables.

One more time 

So Here’s the sales pitch.

So put in a few bucks into our RASP crowdfunding campaign. It’s research that will make an impact. Yes, Tom and I are on Vimeo. Superstars in the making. We should each have had a makeover before we filmed. It’s a team effort of course. You can watch it here.

If we can raise the funds, it will be shouting out that research in and around architects and architecture is of real consequence. If we don’t it’s just more struggling to keep ahead of the Barista wages.

Always a bit crap: The Repair exhibit in the Australian Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Biennale.

There is so much at stake in this year’s Australian Pavilion at the 2018 Architecture Biennale that it is really hard to know where to start. What is at stake here is the question of how Australian architecture represents itself to the world. Maybe I am overthinking it, and perhaps the glittering spectacle that is the Architecture Biennale shouldn’t mean so much. And I don’t mean to sound overtly nationalistic — which seems to be a profoundly unfashionable position to some — even as the project of globalism in architecture, is fading and facing a period of uncertainty. But to ask this question, of how a nation-state like Australia with all its layers of race, gender, class and professional apparatus represents its architecture in a global forum is I think necessary.

The concept for the Australian Pavilion is Repair. You can read a bit about it here.

Indeed, the manifesto of Freespace ably curated by Farrell and McNamara in this 2018 Biennale certainly points to the cracks in considering architecture as a global system of centres, peripheries, pedigrees and stars. A great thing about Freespace as a theme and the manifesto that goes with it its focus on the regional and local architectural practices. It is by and large a celebration of the enmeshing of architects with both modernity but also local communities, cultures and the traces of the morphologies of settlements. Such sentiments are aptly conveyed in the Japanese, French and Spanish exhibits.

This all very nice, and this will sound like a kind of spoiler alert: in this age of blandish boosterism and uncritical praise anything even slightly critical risks danger and the silence of the bland boosters and Instagram influencers of contemporary architecture.

The primary criticism of past Australian architecture Biennale’s has been that the official curated theme of the Biennale is always set after the curators for the Australian pavilion have been selected. This time appears to be different, and the curators seem to have connected to the Biennale’s Freespace theme

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Always a bit crap  

Nevertheless, as a friend said, the Australian architectural exhibits are always a bit crap. And after visiting this year’s Biennale, my first reaction was yep that’s right.

The Australian Pavilions are always a bit crap, and we could blame the committee structure that seems to exist to promote mediocrity, the Australia Council, the AIA, and of course the usual coterie of pedigreed and “representative” curators. There have been some spectacular failures in this selection process in the past. Why Justine Clarke and Rory Hyde never got their gig a few tears back points to the mediocrity and perhaps small minded political treachery of the selection process. Look, I don’t really know but this is what I suspect. Mostly, the efforts have been mediocre and there have been few stinkers. For some people, like my anonymous friend, this year will seem no different to previous years.

Sometimes it’s easy to see how and why a car crashes. In this particular car crash, it’s hard to know at what point the entire exhibition started to drift off. The sentiments underlining it a fine. The central conceptual idea of Repair, in theory at least is well-meaning, but then it seems to go all wrong. It’s like none of the bits of this exhibition connects or come together as a whole. This is not to say that I want my exhibitions to be big and larger than life themes (for example the British exhibit with its theme of Island). Nor do I expect there is anything wrong with presenting fragments. But in this instance, each fragment seems isolated, and it’s difficult to make the interpretive connection between the different parts of the exhibit.

The Pavilion

The new Australian pavilion seems to be better this time I visited it. It is certainly a building that is not kicking us in the head with some kind of spat out chewing gum masticated and parametric forms. Sure, it’s a little conservative and neat, but it is undoubtedly a vast improvement on the previous pavilion with its monomaniacal focus on all things shed. I think we can all be glad that our collective shame has been erased with its demolition.

The grass is dying  

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Yes, the western grassland plants in the exhibit are dying, and no one really knows what this means. Were they intended to die or not? Nonetheless, this is the great sorrow of this exhibit.

Yet, what saves this pavilion are the grasslands themselves. That was a brilliant idea. Their materiality is palpable and as one person said to me it was great to see the spiders crawling over these plants. I don’t know the back story, but I fear that the ambitions of the curators may have been foiled by committee structure and then difficulties of procurement in Italy. A country not known for the efficiency and rationality of its logistical supply chains. To be more generous this was a dangerous experiment which like all such endeavours needed to be perfected and refined. Dealing with anything living is bound to be a problem.

The associated projects

Aside from the grasslands, there are fifteen or sixteen (is it eleven?) architectural projects are featured in this mélange. There eleven projects represented in the entire show are ok. But you wouldn’t think they were even a part of what is exhibited in the pavilion. I stumbled across them in the broadsheet catalogue and apparently each one has its own video. But in the pavilion, annoyingly, you have to wait a long time to see them. It would have been better if the projects were presented in different media. Anything else would have been better. As it is not clear that they are a part of the exhibit at all.

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The one movie I saw projected in the space was execrable. An unfortunate combination of interpretative dance, cult yoga pants in a building that looked like an Australian brown brick version of a Jodorowsky set. It was actually the Featherston House (I feel we have now reached peak Boyd) and it all looked a bit too much like people doing River Dance. I presume the other films were better.

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By and large, these ancillary projects — and I am not sure if they are meant to be only incidental — do appear to pursue the notion of Repair. Most seem to proclaim their heart on the sleeve greenness and naïve ecological goodness. Of the 15 in the broadsheet, I think three do not deserve to be there. They seem gratuitous and connect nothing, and even detract from, the concept of Repair.

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Curatorial Approach

The curators try and bring all of this home by arguing for a transdisciplinary approach regarding architectural practice one that encompasses a broader range of practice the curators argue that:

We don’t have any definitive solutions, but believe there is a role for architecture to actively engage with the repair of the places it is part of, the soil, hydrology, habitat, connections, overland water flow, microorganisms, vegetation and so on, and that this type of repair is critical to enacting other wider types of social, economic and cultural repair.

Consequently, the broader team supporting the curators is impressive: includes architect Paul Memmott, landscape architect Chris Sawyer, landscape architect and urban designer Tim O’Loan, ecologist David Freudenberger, curatorial advisor Catherine Murphy, architect Lance van Maanen and a graduate of architecture Jonathan Ware.

Yes, transdisciplinary knowledge and its practices are mainly lacking in Australian architectural research, strategy organisational practice and design. Landscape architects and urbanists would claim that the ideas presented in this exhibit, are not new, and already form the theoretical background of landscape architecture in Australia and elsewhere. Of course architects, research academics (including myself) love to pay lip service to and generate spin around transdisciplinary ideals. But these days it is not the transdisciplinary architects, or architectural researchers, who are getting the commissions or research funds or all of the research metrics. Design research that most transdisciplinary of practices is still a second-class citizen in many forums.

So, from this perspective the aspirations of the curators are admirable. But paradoxically, the misplaced outcomes of this exhibit suggest how much further architects need to go in pursuing transdisciplinarity as real practice.

The next one

As for me well I am already thinking about the next one. This time I am going to put a pitch in for the gig. I have an idea for a team of architectural misfits. I even have a concept in mind. The space needs to be filled again with the craziness that is the best of Australian architecture. Tight-lipped and po-faced conceptual pieces need to be banished forever (as well as the bad curator portraits that go with them). No more bad conceptual abstractions that can only be used with difficulty.  Plus, the interpretive material really needs to be of a better standard. It’s just rude to make visitors guess, WTF or what on earth, is going on.

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I really love the grasslands

I love them because they speak to a lost landscape and country, they make of the other 71 curated exhibitors by the Farrell and McNamara look like earnest, well-meaning self-congratulatory bores. But these grasslands are really different to the self-congratulatory patter of Farrell and McNamara’s presentation of the regional practices of Europe. These wilting and dying grasslands with their ridiculous felt containers point to the need for architects to theorise a new relationship between natural history, ecology and immanent notions of cultural landscapes. Whilst, the idea of Repair, does have much in common with the Freespace manifesto the grasslands themselves point to the triviality of thinking Architecture is all about the cultures and histories of the European City.

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Species death

The idea of using the grasslands could have been great. But I think it was hampered by the conceptual regime of Repair combined with the worst techniques and artifices of an abstract curatorial method. I shudder to think of the “Repair” ideas workshop: “hey, what do we mean by Repair” and “let’s try and really understand it deeply” etc etc.  Unfortunately, and too often abstraction and conceptual artifice are somehow seen as being cool. In this case, I feel this worked against the material and the animistic and cultural presence of the grasslands. In response, all these species could do was die.

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Seeing the grasslands dying in the pavilion in Venice reminded me of this story of horror. There is a monument in Reading cemetery for a Wotjobaluk boy, who came from the beautifully crafted and managed lands of the Wimmera. He lost his mother and drifted to the muddy metropolis of Melbourne, where he was adopted by an Anglican cleric from Reading and ended up in England where he died in 1852.

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The grasslands in this pavilion reminded me of that story, and I think the great moment in the exhibition are the missing indigenous names for these plants. Its subtle and the curators don’t hit you in the face with it. But who knows if they meant to do that or not? After all, what can you do after a genocide, after a crime of crimes, and crimes of extinction? Yes, the curators seem to be saying: we seek to Repair what we will, and we will never mention the horror. Let’s wash it all clean with some new green. For me, and others may disagree, this position is so lacking in rage that it points to an underlying and empty politics.

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Yes, the grasslands are the real stars of this exhibit. Their seeds have been dislocated and nurtured, but now they are dying. Spiders are crawling over the grass in a far country. The grasslands, for those who wish to listen to them deeply, are a different kind of city which cannot be ignored. But that lost city has nothing to do with the notion of Repair.

Writing the Unspeakable: Sean Godsell’s Chapel at the Holy See in Venice

In keeping with the theme of #Freespace, the Holy See has commissioned a number of small chapels on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore for the Architecture Biennale. There are 10 chapels in all. The commissioner was His Eminence Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi. For whatever it is worth Cardinal Ravasi is the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture. Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore is the site of the chapels and the place where the Benedictines first inhabited Venice in the 10th century.

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The curators were Francesco Dal Co and Micol Forti. The curators asked the invited architects to consider the chapel as a place of:

“orientation, encounter; meditation, inside a vast forest seen as the physical suggestion of the labyrinthine progress of life and the wandering of humankind in the world.”

Magnani and Traudy Pelzel were the architects of the introductory pavilion, where the exhibition starts with a kind of small chapel dedicated to Asplund’s Woodland Chapel of 1920 located in the cemetery of Stockholm. A suitable introduction to the architectural explorations of the 10 chapels.

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The invited architects were Andrew Berman, Francesco Cellini, Javier Corvalàn, Eva Prats and Ricardo Flores, Norman Foster, Teronobu Fujimori, Carla Juacaba, Smiljan Radic, Eduardo Souto de Moura, and the Australian architect Sean Godsell.

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I never thought I would say it, but Sean Godsell’s chapel is an exceptional contribution to this endeavour. Let me repeat that. Indeed, I never thought I would write these word’s, but the small chapel designed by Sean Godsell is tremendous and certainly better in many respects than the chapels by the other architects.

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Catholic liturgy

The Godsell chapel does not seem to just recreate what one might expect of some of the auteur architects represented here. What’s more, it seems to speak to an understanding of the Catholic liturgy that is not merely superficial, thematic or the usual riffs about sunlight, the sky and the meditative life.

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The Godsell project’s strength is that it is a discernible celebration of the Catholic liturgy itself. A celebration of its gestures, and a celebration that intimates that once its panels are closed, they could then be re-opened. The laity seating is distant from the altar, and the altar itself is all hot-blooded galvanised steel; above which is a gold metallic light shaft, even the hydraulic canisters, which support the verandah like panels, seem to suggest that this is not a static place but a working and operating chapel. The hex screws look like they have been drilled in so hard they are stigmata. The small primitive half-log benches for the laity are outside of the main area but these face the altar. The message is clear: the priest-architect is at the centre of this chapel.

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The galvanised steel work reinforces a sense of temporality in the way that appears to imply the chapel can be opened and closed. It would be interesting to see how the light on this chapel changes with the season of the Venetian lagoon. One could certainly imagine rituals, Catholic or otherwise, taking place here. It is orientated to both the sky and the lagoon, as well as a focus that directs worship towards the central liturgy of Catholicism.

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The BBQ and the Design Hub 

I have heard a few of the other blokes sniggering to say that altar looks like a BBQ, in the summer heat of Venice its natural to think you could easily fry a few strips of kanga on it. I am not sure how our collective critical faculties came to such blithe readings. Its always easy to scoff at the architect-priest driven by intuition, who readily conforms to the trope of the holy monster or outsider architect. But hey whats wrong with the barbie. Isn’t that what the Catholic liturgy is all about in a way: red meat, eggs and poking forks into flesh. Every Ozzie, Ozzie, Ozzie, Oi, Oi, Oi, BBQ is a kind of transubstantiation in its own way.

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Now I am being blithe, but more seriously, this project in Venice suggests that a reading of Godsell’s largest project to date, the Design Hub, could be seen differently; a jewel box or casket, a kind of crematoria and chapel situated in a profane world. Arguably, the pragmatic controversies surrounding the Design Hub have distorted a critical reading of it and the architect’s intentions. No matter how much that intention might be the result of an intuitive and primal sensibility adrift from theory.

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Christ Almighty 

Can we just write off such architectural contributions as ecclesiastical outliers for the faithful? Or can we scoff at them in with all the instruments of secular rhetoric? Does religiosity, whatever form it might take, really matter and is its representation in architecture anything we need consider? Interestingly, the Melbourne School of architecture (let’s call it that for the sake of simplicity) has been driven by a big swathe of Christological narratives. By focusing and drawing attention to the actions of the ritual itself Sean Godsell’s approach is different to the embedded symbolic narratives of Howard Raggat’s designs for our city and probably more straightforward than Peter Corrigan’s work and the complexities of his theatrical catholicism. What is interesting is a big swathe of our city, and the tribal life of its architects, has its origins and legacies in the work of these very Christian architects.

Catalan Pavilion

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A useful comparison to the Holy See’s contribution at Venice is the Catalan Pavilion. This pavilion is suitably distant from the main centres of biennale action. Of course, given the politics of Catalonia, it appears telling that the Catalan architects RCR, recent winners of the Pritzker prize, would be on the margins of the Venetian lagoon. Approaching the Catalonian exhibition you find a tin shed; another temporary fragment built on all the other fragments and accretions that have made Venice. But unlike many of the other National Pavilions of this year’s Biennale, including the Australian pavilion, this exhibit presents a dream sequence of images rather than some polemical rhetoric about architectural nationhood. As the architects themselves say:

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“Architecture shouldn’t be about doing difficult projects and iconic buildings but about creating spaces in which people can have their own experiences and develop their own creativity,”

The Catalan pavilion “Dream and Nature,” evokes the landscapes of Catalonia and the relationship of the architects to this place.

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Filled with glittering plastic lenses, grainy media projections and whimsical images of nature the Catalan pavilion presents a series of unstable images that seem to exist between waking and dreaming. If one of the primary tasks of modern architecture is estrangement, to make us perceive things differently, then this pavilion achieves this. (Shklovsky’s literary notion of defamiliarisation and estrangement and its relation to the forms of a tradition have always seemed fitting theory in this regard).

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RCR’s Catalan pavilion, called “Dream and Nature,” takes the visitor far away from Venice’s canals by evoking the woodlands, fields and volcanic hills of Catalonia. The pavilion presents images of 120 hectares of land in Catalonia that the three architects bought and have started to turn into what Mr Aranda called “our legacy” — a farming property that they aim to make a place of study and reflection about architecture and how it interacts with nature and with other disciplines.

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There was a moment in the Catalan pavilion, projected onto one of the lenses, where the architects are walking through a forest. It is like they had abandoned architecture and had become children at play, positioning architecture between nature, folklore and the spirit creatures of their own land. That’s the kind of kool-aid I want to drink.

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The Burbs 

As for the spirit creatures in our suburbs. They have all been killed. Killed by the big roofed Christian churches, Ronchamp look-a-likes and basic brick sheds next to the suburban freeways. Yet, both Corbusier’s Ronchamp and Asplund’s chapel advance an architectural language based on a ancient animism celebrating a primitivist and folkloric nature. A natural and organic world separated from the strictures of organised religion. For modernists and those who succeed them religious buildings have perhaps always presented a dilemma. What are the appropriate modes of representation and architectural language for such buildings? How do Architects build programs that represent different faith communities? The efforts in Australia to build mosques that counter Muslim racism indicate other examples of this genre. Moreover, how do we build on country?

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Nowadays every city has its own little-bejewelled icons. Little nuggets and follies designed to travel through our social media feeds with dreamless iconicity. Image canoes determined not to dissolve or get swamped or sunk or lost on Insta or Twitter. Canoes attached to confected outrage or bland boosterism.

What is the point of follies, or exhibitions if they do not estrange our minds, or take us to past rituals and lost dreams. So what can we say about sacred liturgies, pagan rituals, dreams and wanderings at a time where every city has its follies and pavilions. Have we become slaves to a political economy of iconicity that is really not making our settlements any more living or sustainable or resilient or smart?

#Freespace: The 16th Venice Architecture Biennale

For regular readers of this blog, I am sorry for going AWOL for a few weeks. This is the biggest break from my weekly blogging that I have had since I started this endeavour. Of course, I feel a little guilty. But hey, this blog is not always about the Google stats, if it ever was. For the past few weeks, I have been in Italy and managed to visit the Architecture Biennale. So, dear blog reader the next few blogs will focus on the 2018 Biennale. So dear readers, you can now say, as they say in the Chucky Movie he’s back. Typos and all.

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Freespace

Freespace is the theme for the 2018 Architecture Biennale, and it has been curated by two Irish architects, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara. It is thought-provoking and well curated, and this is the best Biennale I have seen. They have done a great job. And for the most jaded of architectural hacks such as myself, looking at it through a haze of Cocchi Americano spritz, the curators have presented their theme as a comprehensive vision (Aperol is no longer my drink of choice on the lagoon). Its a vision of what architecture can aspire to be. Compared to past Biennale’s, it is not as muddled as Chipperfield’s theme of “Common Ground” or as ambiguous as Sejima’s “People Meet in Architecture” of 2010. This Biennale, unlike previous versions, has its very own manifesto written around the notion of Freespace.

The Manifesto

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara are graduates of University College Dublin and their practice is called Grafton architects .  The Freespace manifesto has six points. You can read the entire manifesto here. Here are a two manifesto points for your edification.

FREESPACE can be a space for opportunity, a democratic space, un-programmed and free for uses not yet conceived. There is an exchange between people and buildings that happens, even if not intended or designed, so buildings themselves find ways of sharing and engaging with people over time, long after the architect has left the scene. Architecture has an active as well as a passive life.

FREESPACE encompasses freedom to imagine, the free space of time and memory, binding past, present and future together, building on inherited cultural layers, weaving the archaic with the contemporary.

You can see all the selected architects here

These are noble aspirations, and the manifesto helps to keep everything together. I think that Farrell and McNamara have curated a Biennale that is in keeping with their manifesto. Of course, the theme must allow enough room for broad interpretation and yet lend itself to specificity. Farrell and McNamara, and the architects, have done this admirably, and one of the great joys of this Biennale is the effort that has gone into the interpretive signage of each of the 71 or exhibitors in the Venice Giardini and the Corderie within the Venetian Arsenale; the impregnable complex of shipyards that was the epicentre of the Venetian Republic’s power. For each exhibitor, Farrell and McNamara provide for the visitor a piece as to why each was chosen and how their work relates to the overall theme. These little blurbs are concise, well written, refer back to the Freespace manifesto and are a pleasure to read.

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Frampton

And it might seem foolhardy to find a stable point in the plethora of approaches selected and presented at this Biennale. Nevertheless, this Biennale evokes Frampton’s 1983 essay, Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance. In it Frampton argued that optimising technologies had delimited the ability of architects to produce significant urban form.⁠ The curators, like Frampton, strenuously advocate for the legitimacy of localised architectural cultures and a discourse resistant to processes of universalisation. The work of Critical Regionalism itself was to, “mediate the impact of universal civilisation with elements derived indirectly from the peculiarities of a particular place.⁠” Much of what the curators have selected in this Biennale accord with this sentiment. So much so they awarded Frampton a Golden Lion.

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A Computer #FreeSpace Zone

Best of all this is a Biennale that is very much a computer free zone. Yep. Let me just say that again. This is a biennale that is very much a computer free zone. Yes, there are lots of exquisite laser-cut models, there are obviously computer-generated drawings and diagrams. But for many of these architects, their patrons, and ordinary punters this is an exhibition that is about a kind of bottom up-architecture. There is no bombast or hyperbole related to the latest computer technologies to solve all of our problems. By and large, most exhibitors have provided representations of their own work, rather than pursuing dreary conceptual pieces based on abstract ideas. One might ask Farrell and McNamara, if they think computer hyperbole is diametrically opposed to the aspirations of Freespace?

Of course, between these two polarities–the curator’s against a universal society and the absence of in your face computing–there are other pathologies at play that probably cannot be covered in a blog like this.

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A schlock free zone

This is a Biennale refreshingly free of abstract schlocky volumes, cheap Eisenman-like syntactics and thankfully para-mucking-metrics. A few installations are overly conceptual, and they fall pretty flat. There is only so much you can do with gauze curtains and multi-media. This is a biennale depicting an architecture still based in the techniques of drawing, model making, section (remember those) and the plan. Yes, the plan, the plan as a working method, before it became an overly coagulated El Lissizky composition; drawn over and over and over again with line sequences adjusted a little bit here and there; lines never expressive enough to break out of the constraints of fluid capital.

This is a Biennale exhibition of models, materiality, construction and spatial context. An architecture cognisant of regional differences, cultural layers and as the curators say in their manifesto.

FREESPACE encompasses freedom to imagine, the free space of time and memory, binding past, present and future together, building on inherited cultural layers, weaving the archaic with the contemporary.

Highlights

This is very much a Biennale that exhibit’s work that is shaped by propositions and experiments of the European city. The stats tend to suggest this: 46 of the firms represented are from Europe, 11 from across Asia, 5 from South America. Peter Rich from South Africa. Notably, the Trumpian republic only has 5. In theory, this Eurocentric focus and pursuit of Frampton’s credo is paradoxically the limitation of this Biennale. In accord with the Freespace manifesto, much of the work of the firms in the Arsenale is focused on exploring layers, community, culture, memory and the morphologies of the European city. Yes, the curators have selected some non-European entries from India, China and South Americas. But overall, the wan light of the iniquitous slum-cities now sprawling across the globe are missing at this Biennale. This is arguably an architecture formed in a Eurocentric bubble, and one wonders if Freespace is radical or confrontational enough to fill the gap. Perhaps in the future, some historians will decide that Betsky’s 2008 Biennale was the last gasp of American architecture.

Nonetheless, the result is refreshing as this is by and large it’s a star architect, and parametric free zone, although beautiful, charming and talkative Bjarke is there with a dreary flooded scheme of New York replete, in a room with plasma screens which have a cheesy blue bubble water that rising up on each screen. It reminded me of the Bubblecup franchise (I guess that’s what happens when you leave Europe and go to New York). Nothing like converting global warming and rising sea levels, to a graphics device on a plasma screen to help avert the actual horrors of climate justice.

Ozzie, Ozzie, Ozzie

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And of course what about the Ozzie’s? What about the Ozzie, Ozzie, Ozzie, Oi, Oi, Oi architects. Well, there are two plucky little Australian firms selected by the curators in the Asrsenale. John Wardle and Room 11. Wardle makes it into the Arsenale with a giant kind of conceptual spotted gum (if that was the species) piece, sadly let down by an overwrought plastic red thing with a mirror at the end. I can’t even begin to tell you what it reminds me of. It would have been better to see some of the practice’s work. As for Room 11, from Tasmania, I think I have written about them elsewhere.

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Caccia Dominioni

One of the revelations for me was the presentation of the work of the late Milanese architect Caccia Dominioni curated by Cino Zucchi. Dominioni worked to create magnificent apartments for the Milanese bourgeois.

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When I see this work I think it indicates a rigorous working method committed to a project that inscribes the lives and habits of a people into the plan. His work is a far cry from the Jim Jims and melamine soaked interiors, featurist luxuries, and cheap scrims in the apartment plans of Australian cities.

In coming weeks I will discuss the Sean Godsell’s contribution at the Holy See, Repair the Australian Pavilion and maybe even the MADA wall. In the meantime don’t forget to help Architeam fund the RASP project. 

Boom times but Australian Architects still facing Mutually Assured Destruction

Shaun Carter’s recent piece on architects fees and money is something I think everyone should read. You can find the full article here at ArchitetcureAU.  Shaun is a past president of the NSW Institute of Architects Chapter.  I thought it would be worth commenting on some of the questions and issues that he raises. Everyone architect in the country should read this article.

The old joke 

He starts with an old blokey architects joke.

Did you hear the one about the architect who won the lottery? They kept on working until they were broke. This was my introduction to architecture. I thought it was a joke. Now I’m not so sure.

This was a fine joke thirty years ago. It has a little bit of the boom-bust mentality about it. Plus a tone of altruism. In other words, architects get money and then spend it on architecture. They get money and spend it on design hours. They do this because of a love and passion for architecture and society.  But as a joke it implies architects always go back to zero, or square one, when they go broke.

The usual catastrophe 

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However, while the joke might contain some sublte truths, the problem is as that architects don’t just go broke to the point of zero dollars. They go negative, and the financial and emotional toll on themselves their families and their profession is enormous. No adequate superannuation, no assets no worth in their small businesses when they retire, its worse I guess for employee architects who are inadequately prepared for their later years. Working from contract to contract, below award wages, no paid overtime, moving from poorly managed firm to poorly managed firm isn’t really a recipe once you are past 50 or 60 for a comfortable grey life.

Exploiting the talent

Last week a graduate came to me and said he had been offered a casual job at 17 bucks on a kind of “training” basis. Anyone reading this can look up the award. Sometimes I wonder if one of the best things that could happen to the profession is that the Fair Work commission starts to prosecute architectural employers for not paying award rates. Under the award, a graduate architect on a casual rate should get $31.09 an hour and if full time or part-time. $24.87.

The Scourge of Fee Cutting 

However, as Shaun says the real problem is price competition and fee cutting:

I talk to architects all the time and in almost every conversation hear stories of outrageously low fees and cutthroat fee gazundering. Economics 101 taught me that when a good or a service is in high demand and the supply is limited, the cost goes up. So why is it, then, in this boom time for architects, that we have managed to slash our fees in a desperate race to the bottom? He then goes on to say: If we are to achieve major reforms and be respected as a profession, we need to be not only financially viable, but financially successful. Otherwise, how are we to achieve gender equality? How do we stop our practices becoming sweatshops of juniors working long and late hours?

Shaun Carter proposes four areas where he feels that architects need to change. These are architects, clients, regulation and cheap overseas labour (WTF?).

Idolising the creepy architects

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Shaun argues that architects need to be better at business and that being poor at it is “just plain dumb.” I agree with this but to change this architects really need to shift their culture around. As architects, we have to stop idolising and revering “bad boy” designers. These guys are mostly creeps and yet they are the ones that get all the symbolic capital in our profession. Plus they know nothing about business or management. Or for that matter anything really. But hey does it matter when you get all the street cred.

Sludge 

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However, he argues that architects need to collectively bargain minimum rates of fees and architects need a “strict ethical and moral code to prevent rogue architects from damaging our profession.” Fair enough, but try telling that to the AIA which as an organisation appears to have governance and decision making processes that are slow bureaucratic and easily hi-jacked by ego-driven personalities. Witness the recent hoohaa around the AACA vs. the AIA. Hence reaching any consensus that might translate into policy or advocacy approaches for architects is like wading through sludge.

Going for the Mandate 

Carter calls for minimum fee guidelines for the entire profession. He argues that governments should then follow these guides as well. However, I am not entirely sure how this might work in practice, and I am concerned in legal terms it might be seen as being anti-competitive. But hey if you are starting a practice, it would be great to get an idea of what you should be charging. I think one thing that all of our professional groups and associations could get behind is the idea (suggested to me by Vanessa Bird previous president of the Victorian Chapter). This is the idea that it should be mandated that every building project in Australia, over a certain amount, should have an architect. I am not sure how this kind of regulation would work in detail. But as Shaun Carter argues:

Regulation has been a dirty word these past 30 years of neoliberal and trickle-down economics. What we know of this period is that the failed economic model has advantaged the few at the expense of the many. Economic literature has thoroughly documented the failure of loose and limited regulation and the way this has run down professions and reputations.

Mutually Assured Destruction

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Shaun’s third notion for saving the profession from the “existential cliff” and “Mutually Assured Destruction” as he calls it is to limit university places in architecture degrees linking this to the outsourcing of architectural work offshore. As he says:

“If the profession is going to send our future architects’ jobs offshore, then let’s stop the cruel practice of offering them meaningful employment with one hand and ripping it from them with the other.”

He then goes on to say:

Perhaps the most controversial reason for the erosion of fees is firms employing cheap overseas labour to undercut the market. I believe that this is the emperor’s new clothes of business school management. It drives down fee expectations that will be difficult to claw back, while limiting employment opportunities for our young architects because their jobs are being sent overseas, all at a time when we are enrolling and graduating architects at record rates.

Protectionism?

I am not sure about this line of argument because it starts to sound a little “protectionist” and raising the spectre of “cheap overseas labour” suggests stereotyped images of what that labour looks like. Think, call centres full of Revit CAD monkeys in large second-order centres full in South, South East or North Asia. Nonetheless, I certainly dont think that Shaun Carter is intending to cross the lines into Trump Tariff and Immigration territory. But really what is being suggested here does raise questions about some of the current dynamics in practice. This includes the globalisation of competition between architects and the commodification of architectural services with the rise of new technologies. Despite all the BIM hoopla are we really ahead of the technology game?

Too many at Architecture School? 

As for the numbers of architecture students in the Universities and how many graduates are produced in Australia I might leave that to a later blog. But needless to say in 2015, the universities made $225 million bucks out of architecture (Check that out here). I also doubt that very much of that goes back into research of direct benefit to the profession. On the plus side, the Architecture Schools do support the professions with lots of sessional teaching contracts. However, is that enough given how much money the Universities are making out of architecture? For Australian Universities, Architecture Schools are a valuable cash cow. However, Architecture Schools are by no means the largest of their international education cash cows. The universities also love architects, and they love architecture schools because it all adds to their branding, reputation status and symbolic capital.

However, I don’t see many of the 18 schools of Architecture joining these debates about the value of the profession and its worth. Most architecture schools and faculties are struggling to manage the strictures imposed on them by central university executives who think that having an architecture school, in the portfolio, is a bit valuable and kind of quaint. If that is the case, maybe those same executives can give architecture some more research money.

We are family

To overcome the malaise that architects find themselves in the architecture schools, the professional associations, and the AACA need to lobby for the worth of architecture collectively. A fragmented and ungovernable architectural community will not solve the problems architects face. As Shaun Carter argues fee cutting is a recipe for Mutually Assured Destruction.

I am almost on annual leave between semesters. In the next few weeks expect to see a few more relaxed beach blogs and tweets from Italy and the Biennale. If you want to know more about our RASP research project you can find it here