James McQuillan

Between the Citadel and the Labyrinth; the Future of the Architectural Profession.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Cannot put Humpty together again.


The activity of architecture, or the production of buildings, has always had some form of leadership or direction, recognisable since the Renaissance in the office or agency of the modern architect. Over the past three hundred years, a number of specialisations have arisen which have questioned the centrality of the architect’s position as mediator between the client and the building team. At the same time there has come about an increasingly intensive system of training and education, requiring accreditation from either the state, or an academy with state backing, or by a representative professional body or bodies without close political control – the model found in Anglophone societies. Due to the ever changing conditions of modernity, many questions have been raised about the validity of the architect’s role – ‘Is the architect dead?’ Frank Lloyd Wright, in his RIBA Gold Medal acceptance speech 61 years ago, demanded, ‘The great implements that science has put into the hands of humanity are themselves carving out this new city that is to be everywhere and nowhere. Architects are not going to build it, I fear, because I see that, as they are educated, they are not in competition even to see it. And so these natural agencies, these tremendous scientific forces, will build it without them.’1 A contemporary commentator echoes this sentiment with another fear, ‘A century after Nietzsche’s death, architecture is reduced to the status of just another consumer item, available to order’.2 The excesses of gross forms of capitalism are ironically parallel to the arid monstrosities of state capitalism, seemingly defeated. And so on . . .

The Free Profession and Society

In what follows, the discourse arises from the British experience and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), perhaps the foremost national representative body of architecture in the world today, if only through its influence in architectural education and professional recognition flowing from professional accreditation throughout the Commonwealth and elsewhere. Founded in 1834, the RIBA, though not an exclusive representative body of architects,3 has put forward the notion of a free profession until about twenty-five years ago, with a fair measure of authority and success. However the challenge of the future looms, no more portentously as it ever did than today, when Britain and the Institute emerge rather battered into the Third Millennium and the Twenty-First Century: survival amidst rapid change is the common agenda for everyone.

Even now there tends to be a prevalent romanticism about the historical role of the architect, in that many unthinkingly seem to consider that architects were always around, from Imhotep4 onwards, a reference full of mystic and
artistic implications at various levels. This is not to deny that certain privileged agencies were in charge of building, but they usually shared their common task, and there could not have existed such a person as an architect as we know today before the Renaissance.5 We must accept that patrons were heavily engaged to different degrees in the processes of building, which were in turn heavily imbued with traditional practices, only requiring considerations of iconography, or substitutive techniques, or financial support, to ensure the satisfaction of their wishes. It is the undoubted contribution of the Renaissance establishing the self-consciousness of the modern artist, that grounds the emergence of the modern architect, loosely modelled on some Vitruvius-style figure of the Roman Empire, but supported by techniques of perspectivity and design/disegno that remain with us today. The programme of renovatio urbis and the recovery of classical norms may have receded, but the assumptions of Renaissance reason and apodictic science are still there, and will emerge in the course of what follows. In a sense, what happened was a form of proto-scientific revolution, which we celebrate in terms of the artistic triumphs of the High Renaissance and Mannerism, where the predicative potential of a mathematical procedure – linear perspective, heralded an investigation of nature with secure and repeatable results in visual terms, backed up by other techniques such as the use of oils in painting and the perfection of large-scale casting in sculpture, not to mention the triumph of domical forms and the application of highly detailed decoration in terms of the Orders and a host of other building refinements, all coordinated by the universal genius of the oumo universale.

What Jacob Burckhardt called the ‘the state as a work of art’ – the Renaissance programme of artistic remodelling of the European princely or centralised state, first in Italian cities and the Papacy, and then in France and Spain - demanded the official encouragement of artists imbued with the education and skills of the modern practitioner of the ‘fine arts’. The artisanal or guild roots of the Gothic master-mason did not disappear, as some great architects still emerged from the workshop, but the need for special training however unspecified, travel, and even writing skills in providing treatises and teaching, attracted candidates from most literate ranks of society. The basic desideratum was the command of Euclidean geometry and the awareness of particular paradigms, which could vary according to the general availability of models, graphic illustrations, pattern books and treatises and any other form of access to exemplars, including local and regional traits. Very rarely is the professional image invoked, which makes Philibert de l’Orme’s depiction of the Good Architect and the Bad Architect (Fig. 1, Fig. 2) all the more interesting, the bad architect posed with his physical deficiencies in front of an out-moded medieval fortification in contrast to the beneficent presence of the good architect amid lush surroundings in front of civil buildings dressed in stylar décor.

In order to advance to an elite position in the state, the favour of a patron was essential, and the first academy of architecture was restricted to a small cadre of French pupils to be employed solely by the king, an open academy not appearing until a century later.6 Architects, engineers and surveyors were registered following a university examination in the modernising Duchy of Savoy and Piedmont by 1730, and here emerged the specialisms that became stronger throughout the Enlightenment epoch. The application of statics and strength of materials to structures laid the foundations of the engineering discipline by 1745, again in France, while professionally there was some security in terms of the fast-spreading activity of military architecture and field campaigning, due to the rise of gunpowder fortifications in the early sixteenth century in Italy. At the height of the Industrial Revolution, the need for the amelioration of the worst of urban excesses by the late nineteenth century required the demand for another full-time specialism, that of the planner, stimulated by the utopian visions of architects and architectural programmes of varying planning innovation, detail and cross-referencing. In the thirties in the USA, out-of-work architects and others formulated a new profession from gardening, the ‘landscape architect’, to be based on a systematic form of education provided by the example of mainstream architecture in twentieth-century universities and colleges. Then in the sixties, there emerged the urban designer, seemingly in response to further degradation of the modern city, victim of the achievements of unplanned development in a liberal society, or more paradoxically, of the sterility of once-lauded development under ‘modern’ auspices. Since then there have been moves to separate the architectural historian from the art historian, with professional societies and even primary degree courses to match. In the public arena the expansion of environmental or installation art has also questioned the static character of preconceptions about architecture of even the most avant-garde, and the work of sculptors such as the wrapped buildings of Christo and the large-scale sculpture of Antony Gormely as in his Angel of the North, and the efforts of land artists, have provided alternative visions of artistic intervention, not envisaged by the narrow planning aspirations of the late twentieth century.

The deployment of more special skills may have reflected new procedures in terms of these ‘design professions’, each with a direct connection with the client and the builders on the established model of the modern architect. Recently new challenges have arisen threatening such a relationship, principally from project managers and accountants not claiming design skills as such.7 Another threat was the move to deregister the profession in the interests of a free market, as promoted by Mrs. Margaret Thatcher and her successor John Major as UK prime minister in the early nineties in the UK, and currently in Australia.8 This is an easy move as in both countries only the title of architect is protected, unlike the function of the profession, which is normal for such learned professions as medicine and the law; it was defeated in Britain though the registration body was rejigged. And another threat has been around since the mid-eighties – the thunder of rough criticism from on high, undermining what public confidence that the profession could command, given that most practitioners are members of single-member or small practices. I refer of course to the campaign on architecture of the heir to the British throne, Charles, prince of Wales, who has seemingly influenced both the appointment of architects and the planning approval of buildings, this in a democratic society where more transparent procedures are normal. He has been credited with the financial injury of practices, and his fifteen-year-old campaign has little to show for it, as he has refused to debate his propositions in public9 – his pronouncements are always formal speeches. He has set up a small school of architecture and a Foundation, which has stumbled through the vagaries of mismanagement and frequent staffing changes. He still castigates the profession from time to time, like the boy who cried ‘Wolf!’, but there has been no retraction by modernists of their doctrines in the face of princely displeasure.

Despite his princely displeasure at the profession, the prince most probably has the public behind him as in the USA, where ‘After fifty years of indoctrination, the majority of the public remains indifferent or hostile to the modern aesthetic. The predicted universal acceptance of modern architecture has never happened.’10 Furthermore, many famous buildings were at the outset slammed by the critics and well-received by the public such as the Eiffel Tower and the Transamerica Tower in San Francisco, and many other great ventures have been always disasters, Brasilia and the Boston City Hall being at the top of a long list.11

Beyond such culture-wars, it seems that post-imperial Britain seems caught in a ‘blame-culture’, just as the rightwing ideologues of the British Conservative party blamed the decline of societal mores on another profession, that of teachers in the primary and secondary schools. No less than the president of the RIBA, Marco Goldschmied, was stung into defending the profession recently when the Prince described modern architecture as ‘genetically modified’, the kind of generalised attack that is almost infantile in manner and effect.12 Increasingly there is a dialogue of the deaf, with various factions such as classicist traditionalists like Quinlan Terry accusing the architectural schools of ‘brainwashing’, and others accusing the Prince of not recognising the multicultural quality of British life. Unsurprisingly such blaming becomes fruitless, and has now reached the fundamental question of the future of the British monarchy itself, for reasons outside architecture, of course.13 In the interests of critical thinking, I propose to rise above the particularities of the argument at this stage, by recourse to symbolism. The symbols have already been announced in the title of this article – the citadel or castle and the labyrinth.


Constructing Symbols

While both of these symbols can be regarded as constructed, they also relate to most important modalities of life. The citadel, walled city, fortress or strong tower, can be identified with security, the governance of the intellect, and the permanence of being; and therefore interiority. This can be appreciated in the concept of mystical and metaphysical refuge, as in St Teresa’s The Interior Castle (1588), and other works of the period, such as Record’s The Castle of Knowledge (London, 1556), or the Baroque descriptions of Paris by Desmarets, courtier of Louis XIV. The citadel was regarded as the heart of the Baroque city, and de Rougemont asserted that there could be no metaphysics in America because of the absence of castles!

In contrast stands the labyrinth, ‘a confusing maze of chambers and rooms so constructed as to make it difficult to find an exit.’14 The maze has commonly multicursal designs, but the true labyrinth has one way, doubling back on itself, as in the Gothic labyrinths on the floor of cathedrals, the puzzle being merely visual, resolvable in time by following the single path. The religious meaning derived from initiation and fertility rites and the theme of triumph over the adversities of life through persistence to attain the centre, is clear enough.15 These images are very much alive today even in the otherwise flattened discourses of modern commentators and architects, - a good example being on one page of Rod Hackney’s autobiography, but the distinctive imagery indicated by each symbol has now tended to become elided or mixed. If we consider that the maze can be seen in the grid – specially polyvalent and place-denying – and used as a strong two-dimensional pattern as in curtain walling, where top and bottom do not matter, then we have lost the meaning of the maze or labyrinth which bore evidence to a centre and a periphery. Equally the traditional tower was there because of survival against
destruction, and permanence was its primary quality on a number of levels. This is not possible where expression of other modes of construction are manifest, and the general tenor of ‘efficiency’ and lightness, e. g. in the curtain or glass wall, demonstrates this very well. But there is deeper level of significance in these symbols and their common expression in the past and correspondence for today. The maximum shock value of conflating and fragmenting these symbols has been exploited by Eisenman (with Trott) in his Wexner Centre for the Visual Arts at the Ohio State University, opened in 1989 (Fig. 3, Fig. 4).

Ever since Claude-Nicolas Ledoux in the eighteenth century and A. W. N. Pugin in the nineteenth, the desire of architecture to ‘redesign’ society, to remodel man in terms of a critique based on rationalism or historicism, or in pursuit of an utopian idea (all of these very much related) has become almost unconscious in the teaching and thinking about architecture in many quarters today.16 Le Corbusier’s tabula rasa design for Paris meant the obliteration of a huge swathe of the old city, and this was obvious to at least some students of architecture back in the sixties – and therefore a serious question mark over the wholesale adoption of Corb’s doctrine in toto. Nonetheless, this form of planning had been endorsed in post-World War II Britain. The mistakes of the fifties’ and sixties’ policies where huge housing schemes were built cheaply using draconian legal powers to replace ‘slums’ (of varying condition in reality, as Rod Hackney attests), employing untested materials and building systems and without the social controls that existed in the thirties such as concierges, led to the almost complete devaluation of the profession of architecture in Britain, from which it has yet to recover. Of course other agencies were also or solely to blame, such as planners, now drawn mainly from geographers with allegedly no visual training, and city officials and elected councillors, not to mention corrupt practices that, in the nature of these things, were probably more widespread than the record indicated. These sad events can be examined at a number of levels and resulted in the shunning of Britain’s greatest post-war architect, Sir James Stirling, in the land of his birth after the repeated shortcomings of premiated and much-lauded projects in the sixties. The sorry tale continues in the otherwise success-laden careers of Lord Rogers and Lord Forster, the former linked to the Millennial Dome designed without any contents, and the latter allowing the wrong type of stone in the conservation of the British Museum, at the heart of the aesthetic ghetto of Bloomsbury in a world-class institution for the preservation of world culture. Of course these blunders are not restricted to Britain, and the questionable reputation of ‘modern’ architecture has been recorded by any writer wishing to make a splash, led by Tom Wolfe. Architecture is the most exposed and public of activities, so that failures are their own advertisement – a factor not recognised by the avante-garde posturings of young architects anxious to ‘catch up’, certainly a feature of British consciousness during the slow recognition of Continental and American achievements from the First World War onwards. The irony remains that in the original seat of the industrial revolution - Britain, the legitimacy of modern architecture, part of whose rhetoric depends so much on new materials and efficient methods of production, are eclipsed, as in Stirling’s late work, with its celebration of masonry ‘construction’. But the failure of the modern profession goes beyond the role of imagery, important as this may be, to the self-consciousness of the profession itself. What then IS the modern profession?


Architectural Practice as Social Service

Certainly a profession earns its privileges of self-government and legal protection (in the UK and Australia restricted to the title ‘architect’) by its rigorous training and command of knowledge and skill in pursuit of higher goals, and not those of its members. Furthermore, the possession of mere skills and expertise does not constitute a profession, as in the instance of a marksman, who can repeatedly execute a task any other agent can set up. As Brian T. Trainor implicitly recognises, most professions are social service professions, for him those of ‘law, social work, education, nursing, psychiatry, etc,’ where the ‘etc.’ would indicate established medicine, and most probably the clergy.17 The polar opposite of the social services is the profession of arms, which is granted a monopoly of one form of violence, partially shared by the police. The soldier professes the instrumentality of death in the defence of society, bound to legitimate orders but with little other social responsibility. The rise of the modern architect took place at the courts of Europe, where the state as a work of art seemed to lack no bounds, as Goethe recognised in Faust Part II. The late Renaissance modern engineer shared with the soldier and the courtier-architect the values of the Machiavellian justification of ends outside of means, which I have called the ‘tragedy of modern development.’ On the model of the soldier, it could be described as the ‘instrumentality of development’, a phenomenon all too familiar to the modern city and which has been so costly to the reputation of the architectural profession in Britain. (Fig. 5) This phenomenon, as Marshal Berman has demonstrated in All that is solid melts into air, is not reserved to architects, but to many with determinative powers in modern administration, exemplified in Weber’s characterisation of modernity as an ‘iron cage’, Michel Foucault’s discussion of panopticonism and the development and uses of power through exclusion.

A most interesting instance of professionalism in its highest sense occurred at the end of the life of the most prestigious military engineer and most famous personality of the reign of Louis XIV, Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707), celebrated in place names in almost every town in France today. Near the end of his long life he almost destroyed his reputation by his publication, Projet d'une dixme royale (printed anonymously, 1707; Project for a Royal Tythe, or General Tax),

suggesting the abolition of nearly all France's existing taxes and the substitution of a tax of 10 percent on all land and trade from which no one should be exempt. He substantiated his arguments with a mass of statistical documentation practically unprecedented and, in so doing, pioneered the use of statistics in economics. But the French government - too deeply committed to the system of tax farming (i.e., selling the right to collect taxes to groups of financiers for a fixed sum), reluctant and even unable to revoke the exemptions of the privileged classes because of dependence on them, and lacking interest in fundamental reforms - suppressed the publication of his book.18

We can glimpse the heroic nature of reform that became second nature to all ranks of men of either learning or ambition that found its full surge in the French Revolution and impelled the shock of the new, something that we now take for granted. This heroism was codified by the avant-garde as the principal agency of modern art – political liberation, and shared by some architects in varying degrees and at varying times in their careers. Not unexpectedly, this has resulted in tensions of awareness and selfconsciousness, described as postmodernism, a term sufficiently diffuse to cover most adoctrinal aspects of modernism. The heroism of the avant-garde has now been transmuted onto the shock-tactics of the vacant banner, the empty gestures that have given the whole subject of rhetoric such a bad name. The heroism of the avant-garde is better known today as postmodernism. Is postmodernism a threat, i.e. an obstacle to progress, what Trainor calls ‘outright anti-modernists’, or as ‘a harbinger of fresh opportunities’, the latter described as ‘ambivalent postmodernists’, accepting and at the same time moving beyond modernism?19 Trainor asserts the legitimacy of some foundational core that must be preserved in professional life, and should inform human experience at all levels from individual to collective through to professional life. ‘If we wish to find a foundation or justification for the (modern-ist) human service professions, then surely we need to look no further than this image of a "wellspring" of value that flows through the universe, for the ancient world philosophies that articulate the insight it conveys provide us with the kind of "ontology of value" which the justification of the profession requires’20. So what might this wellspring of value be for the architectural world and the profession that Trainor identifies so adroitly? Once again we are confronted with the values of the citadel as much as the promises of the labyrinth, to justify the profession in the future.

Where are we today? Certainly the binary nature of deconstruction, the search for a perceived or yet-to-be-discovered difference in our self-awareness and appraisal of political and cultural order, is so essential for the post-industrial architect, that we must be careful to read closely our own conditions as historically constituted. For the British situation, there are two social/intellectual forces that must be recognised - a firm belief and a firm doubt that have coloured the otherwise highly-prized pragmatism and empiricism of the Anglophone tradition since the Age of Discovery. The firm belief is the role of Whiggism in British life – the belief that this is the way things are to be due to a succession of best choices made under prevalent terms of a beneficent order of life and society in the eighteenth century especially. This is of course a form of historicism, linked to the notion of progress, but subtly conforming to the eminent role of England and its dependencies in so many areas for so long (Herbert Butterfield). The ‘firm doubt’ is in the devaluation of the parts of the post-Renaissance tradition and the eventual discrediting of what any slighted part might have stood for. This radical doubting is endemic to the complexity of the modern individual, especially the artistic individual, where the tendency to ‘turn’ – to reject or partially suppress long-cherished aspirations. Thus the glory of nineteenth-century British industrial might was celebrated, not as the Zeitgeist should demand - by the triumph of an empirical rationalism in architecture, but by the triumph of Gothic Revival, stoked by High Churchmanship in excess of any ‘excesses’ of Rome itself. British industrial regionalism was discovered in the fifties and sixties by people like James Stirling and his wider circle.21

The mundane triumph of industrial and mass society easily passed over and left behind the values of the citadel - preserve of the privileged and the old elite - and instead sought the image of the labyrinth - open to all - more mundane, more earthy, and eventually transformed, after the hammer-blows of the First World War, by the growth of new transportation in the motorcar, and the changes and disparities of land-values and new planning disparities as the twentieth century progressed. The two great architects of the twentieth century in Britain were Lutyens and Stirling; both displayed all these traits that I have just described in analogous and paradoxical terms. Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) began as a consummate master of the English Free style, and turned towards an idiosyncratic and quasi-Baroque Classicism and servant of the British Empire – a return to the citadel. Sir James Stirling (1924-1992) attempted to reconcile Corb and some regional identity very loosely acknowledged – an exploitation of the labyrinth - eventually developing his own idiolect of fragments and inversions of programme and imagery - gaining the mystery of the citadel arising from methods above common understanding.22 These shifts in personal critical biography can be related to the political and cultural order, when Lutyens died just as the Empire he served was about to disappear, and Stirling died before the triumph of a narrow high-tech of Forster and Rogers. The certitudes of the International Style or orthodox modernism, backed up by officialdom since the fifties, gave way to the experiments of non-planning and foreign capitalistic signature building in the London Docklands – an affront to the solid British tradition of planning, and an affront to the historic role of the British profession of architecture in a most powerful way. Space does not permit the teasing out of all these events, e. g. the rise of ‘community architecture’ in the seventies under Rod Hackney and others as a riposte to local government urban destruction, and the almost continuous failure of urban regeneration since.23 Belatedly the profession has sought some redress to its woeful spectator status as its influence diminished and it scrabbled to retain professional recognition, succeeding in the establishment of the Architects Registration Board a few years ago. Eventually the profession emulated the Church of England’s Faith in the City,24 fourteen years later with the Urban Task Force headed by Lord Rogers, and the publication of the report Towards an Urban Renaissance, being its result. The government of Tony Blair may back this belated attempt at meliorism, but as the history of building in Britain since World War II has amply demonstrated, the iron grasp of Scrooge - the cost-paring that wrecked the reputation of Stirling who was not experienced to withstand it –may vitiate such intentions with predictable frustrations and erosive short-termism.

The profession’s fixation on ‘technology’ or some form of scientism, enthroned in education after the Oxford Conference in 1958, has only recently been publicly questioned, and the other failures such as the need for maintenance – the ‘daily care’ of William Morris, and the rejection of such inhumane notions as ‘defensible space’, all point to the failure to understand the real demands of architectural creativity, based on meaningful symbolism, imagery and refinements integrated to well-understood and studied situations – paradigmatic or not.25 Not that such demands are being answered in many other places today, but it seems that in a country such as Britain, given certain advantages in terms of education and economic status, such goals could become more producible or even normal, and that the role of the profession as social service has more chance of success here than almost anywhere else.

A clear indication of a change of heart is in the evaluation of buildings not solely as visual objects, but as social amenities produced by criteria of costs-in-use (‘Buildings must have good life-cycle costs’)26 and other in-use factors, but also as situations evaluated through acoustic and thermal performances, and other general criteria of physical comfort. This would place a proper emphasis on the overall social validity of the enterprise, instead of snap judgements used to promote ‘design’ and make publicity statements, the only justification of the many awards that appear with tiresome regularity.


Expansion of Title

Public life in Britain, beyond the failures catalogued above, has many disasters in the recent past to validate the adage that a politician’s life ‘will always end in tears’.27 The self-sufficiency of the English gentleman, the man of propriety as much as the man of property as John Locke had it, does not sit well in an age of democracy seeking to escape from the despotism of ‘ancient’ and deleterious constitutional tricks, such as crown prerogative in central government and official secrecy, found in the planning appeals administration. The RIBA and the profession should be a champion of stronger local government as a bulwark against the overweening power of central government and the multi-internationals, a programme too complex to discuss here, but conformable to the notion of subsidiarity. The profession should become more inclusive, a call often repeated but little resulting and a firmer grip should be taken of education, provided there are responsible roles provided for sincere protagonists to fulfil, and that there are meaningful improvements to be made. These two points will be expanded below.
As the complexity of modern life developed and new tasks were assayed, the profession lost that identity with the arts of the state that informed its creation in the High Renaissance, and new professions such as the planner became autonomous, as we have seen. However, the time has come to reclaim them, as no new profession has laid claim to the title ‘architect’, which despite all that has happened, still has a certain reclamé about it – that is why it is used by computer engineers and executives, e. g. Bill Gates on down. There is even a high degree of international support for what such a term means, approved by the UIA (cf. WWW, Recommended International Standards, June 1999), and I have no wish to change the legal provisions or definitions in the legislation. But once a person has gained the title, she could add to it with the approval of the Institute, e.g. ‘management architect’ could serve for those with extra qualifications in project management, in much demand apparently due to the alleged deficiency of the architect, ‘planner architect’ and ‘urban architect’ for those involved in public action, ‘academic architect’ for teachers, ‘community architect’ for action at the local level – it did have a certain pervasiveness – and ‘master architect’ for principals of practices. ‘Engineer architect’ and ‘restoration architect’ are already in use, and with recognition of particular courses in an age of indirect and continuing education, all these suggestions, coupled with the log-book system, could be put in place with great personal reward for the aspirants, and a more flexible and responsible image for the profession overall, in terms of an inclusive competence in expertise applied to governance.


Professionalism in the Academy

Parallel to a more inclusive image and spread of the profession, the Institute must assert itself more meaningfully in education, where the future of the profession is being partly forged. Following from above, the Office-based Examinations system, far from being a throw-back to the days of articled draughtsmen, could be a valuable alternative pathway to the profession at any level, and exploring the possibility of cross-over into the academic pathway. Much has been made of the creative freedom of the design studio in British schools, represented for many in the Architectural Association in London, but such fashionable pyrotechnics mask a shambles in terms of actual thinking and criticism in British schools of architecture overall. Back in the sixties architectural history and theory was banished from most schools of architecture, as it was seemingly not needed, architecture being considered an empirical science, after the Oxford Conference.28 While the damage of such a policy has been patched up, there is little consistency in the delivery and targets in history and theory set for schools recognised by the RIBA – some students have high goals, others little or none, reflected in the number and quality of appointments throughout the UK. Schools of architecture are generally poorly led, and most of the teachers, including some of the leaders, are not members of the profession, a state of affairs intolerable in any other professional scenario. There is a verifiable measure of misunderstanding between practitioners and academics,29 as the recent demand by the RIBA for the teaching of sustainability has demonstrated – a territory common for years in British schools of architecture - and similar deficiencies in education are voiced in the USA.30 It should be a simple matter to regularise such a state of affairs, and bring some consistency and quality to a system that has outgrown the amateurism of an earlier age.31 There is much scope for the intensification and deployment of the existing gifts of the profession, not at all evident when the RIBA Journal is handed over to commercial interests, and in the practices common in the recognised schools as just described. It also touches on a measure of self-respect or amour-propre in the profession overall, a product perhaps of increasing lack of esteem in an age of dumbing-down and loss of identity generally.


Interpreting End-Time

The epoch of artistic liberalism is over; the main battles have been won, or remain unwinable.(Fig. 6) However, the challenge of building is unique, whether it be defined as the ‘state as a work of art’, or as ‘social service’, or some other meaningful proposition beyond the projection of self-interest. This uniqueness of intention and action bestows special responsibilities on the profession, and only through a more meaningful, responsible and flexible examination of the architects’ role in a global context can the architect survive. Those living in the British Isles are in a luckier position than most, and have hopefully most to give in the future, whatever the challenges, between the citadel and the labyrinth, should reform occur according to the propositions I have presented here. The rest cannot be predicated in conformity to the limits of the human condition and the vistas of post modernism, unconquerable even by professionals. Indeed, ‘all the king’s horses and all the king’s men’ may not be able to ‘put Humpty back again’; and the need for the recovery of myth, with some correspondence to logoi, is perhaps the only answer, sought by many such as Northrope Frye. ‘The model world seems to us now, however, not like a past state to return to, but an inner or social vision to be recreated out of our "lower" world of experience, the real creative power . . . being something that comes from below’.32

Another proported source of order – telepresence and the notions of cyberspace - has been projected by William Mitchell and others but seems inadequate, as ‘virtual reality . . . follows the principles of artificial reality and to that extent,’ Dalibor Vesely points out, ‘shares its limits.’33 The representation of context is dependent on corporeal embodiment and bound ‘to a sequence of levels of reality that constituted a link between the universal concepts and the particularity of individual phenomena, creating thus an articulated, communicative space of culture.’34 To maintain communication in such terms demands reciprocity between creativity and contemplation, needing ‘two people, a poet and a reader, a creative action that produces and a creative action that possesses.’35 Such, then, are the challenges that the architectural profession faces today, challenges not addressed in the self-regarding world of efficiency and meliorism. The modern myth may have ended, so we now must re-interpret our experienced world for our clients, for our children and for ourselves.



RIBA: Royal Institute of British Architects.

AJ: Architects’ Journal (London).


1 Quoted by Martin Pawley, AJ, 23rd November, 2000, p. ??. But critics rarely discuss the actual performance of the great master’s works: ‘His buildings often cost five times more than the original budget. His roofs leak, his cantilevers sag, and his fireplaces seldom work. He designed one house without bedrooms, closets or screens. His famous Johnson Laboratory Tower used helio lighting, "overheating the building and threatening to parboil and blind its occupants". The company shut it down as unusable. Still, it received enough praise from critics to appeared (sic) on the list of the most cited buildings of the twentieth century.’ Jack L. Lasar, Design by Competition: Making Design Competition Work. (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999) pp. 143-144.

2 Layla Dawson, ‘Difference and Intensity’, AR, November, 2000, p. 32.

3 To call oneself an architect in the UK, registration is required with the Architects Registration Board, but not membership of any professional society.

4 ‘Impotep’, Greek IMOUTHES (fl. 27th century BC, Memphis, Egypt), vizier, sage, architect, astrologer, and chief minister to Djoser (reigned 2630-2611 BC), the second king of Egypt's third dynasty, who was later worshiped as the god of medicine in Egypt and in Greece, where he was identified with the Greek god of medicine Asclepius. Considered the designer of the first temple of Edfu, on the upper Nile, he is credited with initiating the Old Kingdom (c. 2575-c. 2130 BC) as the architect of the step pyramid built at the necropolis of Saqqarah in the city of Memphis. The oldest extant monument of hewn stone known to the world, the pyramid consists of six steps and attains a height of 200 feet (61 m).’ ‘Imhotep’, EB 1994-1999. Note the confluence of different professions – which have devolved or specialised for centuries. However many of them can be deputised in the office of architect, or are still present in their symbolic agency.

5 Techne denoted productive work and was generally separated from philosophy, though some, the Liberal Arts, were singled out for cultivation as preparation for moral elevation. In the Homeric world, the demiourgoi, who worked for the people rather than themselves, were ‘the men who all over the endless earth are invited’, David Roochnik, Toward a Platonic Conception of Logos. (New York and London, Routledge, 1990), p. 24. Roochnik’s thinking and criticism is a necessary corrective to the deformations of ancicne thought of many of our contemporaries.

6 The first academy was that of S. Luca in Rome, but architects did not emerge with any consistency until the end of the seventeenth century. Francois Blondel was the director of France’s academy in 1671, and an open academy was founded by Jacques-Fr. Blondel, no relation, in 1745.

7 Paul Hyett, ‘Education at the crossroads’, AJ, 23 September, 1999, p. 53.

8 Paul Hyett, ‘Asymmetry and professionalism: the case for protection’, AJ, 14 September, 2000, p. **. Hyett is currently Vice-president of the RIBA in charge of Education.

9 Conversation with Richard Rogers, 1987.

10 Lasar, Competitions, p. 113, quoting the American architect Gunner Birkerts.

11 Lasar, Competitions, passim.

12 Robert Brown, ‘Goldschmied hits back at Prince’, AJ, 14th September, 2000, p. 4.

13 The Guardian newspaper has just begun a campaign for a republic.

14 ‘LABYRINTH’, Collier’s Encyclopedia, (New York, 1993), in voce.

15 ‘Labyrinth and Maze’, The Dict. Of Art, (************), in voce.

16 For Ledoux, cf. Anthony Vidler’s monograph, especially p. x and passim: for Pugin, he has received the greatest general cultural recognition by Raymond Williams in Culture and Society, Coleridge to Orwell, [with a] New Foreword by the Author, (London, The Hogarth Press, 1987), p. 3, where he models his method on that of Pugin’s Contrasts.

17 Brian T. Trainor, ‘The Vol. 17, No. 1, 2000, ‘The Challenge of Postmodernism to the Human Service Professions’, Journal of Applied Philosophy, (pp. 81-92), p. 81.

18 ‘Vauban’, EB (1994-1999).

19 Trainor, ‘Challenge’, p. 81.

20 Ibid., p. 90.

21 Mark Girouard, Big Jim, The Life and Work of James Stirling. (London, Chatto and Windus, 1998), p. 84.

22 Girouard, Big Jim, pp. 242-254.

23 Such failures can be found in Northern and Midlands working-class areas subject to planning blight, as much as to conservation areas, which tend to end up as charters for gentrification. The era of the conservation area came about through weak planning control, and now surely they can be dispensed with, as many London boroughs wish.

24 The full title is Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Urban Priority Areas, Faith in the City: A Call for Action by Church and Nation, (Church House Publishing, London, 1985).

25 Technology in its philosophical and social aspect, as distinct from building science and research, is not well understood in the schools, few write about it, and for several decades students graduate with little competence in detailing, surely a measure of command of this central topic.

26 Stephen Porter, property manager of British Air, quoted in 1995 by Eric Loe, The Value of Architecture, (London, RIBA, 1999), p. 31.

27 These include the decline of the economy in the seventies, the failure to support industry in the eighties, the state of state primary and secondary education, the poll tax – Thatcher’s mistake, privatisation of the railways, the Millennial Dome as a financial venture – Blair’s mistake, and the Northern Ireland question – is it a civil war, and when will it end?

28 A rare open rejection of the Oxford policy was made by Allen Cunningham in the AJ, 23 September, 1999, p. 55.

29 This has been most strongly recorded by Paul Hyett, ‘Education at the Crossroads’, AJ, 23 September, 1999, p. 53.

30 Lasar, Competitions, pp. 168-169.

31 The Institute could well develop a single ‘virtual college’ to enhance its perceived needs and responses which the divided and apparently leaderless spread of the schools cannot supply. Such a college could amplify my propositions of inclusive titles by accreditation and certification.

32 Northrope Frye, The Secular Scripture, A Study of the Structure of Romance: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 1974-75. (Cambridge MA and London, Harvard University Press, 1976), p 184.

33 ‘The Architecture of Telepresence’, Scroope Twelve, (Cambridge, 2000), (pp. 66-72), p. 67.

34 Vesley, ‘Telepresence’, p. 72.

35 Frye, Scripture, p. 185.




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Fig. 1. The Good Architect, de l’Orme, 1567.

Fig. 2. The Bad Architect, de l’Orme, 1567.

Fig. 3. The Wexner Centre, University of Ohio, Eisenman/Robertson and Trott & Bean. Photograph by Jack L. Nasar. ‘Fragments of the armory’.

Fig. 4. . The Wexner Centre, University of Ohio, Eisenman/Robertson and Trott & Bean. Photograph by Jack L. Nasar. Grid-maze with concealed entrance.

Fig. 5. Cartoon by Mahood, in Barham, Anatomy of Change, p. 188. The legacy of modernity in urban Britain.

Fig. 6. Cartoon by Hellman, AJ, 16 November, 2000, p. 16. Forster and Partners’ Great Glasshouse shelters more biological exotics by British architects.