Rory Olcayto makes a good point in the AJ (25 Sept) about the state of the profession. Much of what many of us ever get to do is ‘fiddle round the edges’ and limit damage, hoping we can smuggle some architecture in when no one’s looking. Most of what I’ve done for 20 years or so is fiddling around the edges, because that’s the bread and butter of small practice – you take what comes and try to make the most of it. I suspect the AJ is pretty immune from what the reality of small practice is for many of us who need to earn a living from what we do.
There’s a curious snobbery in the profession, though, that we’re supposed to be having a certain type of conversation, with a certain type of people. People that get ‘architecture’. I’ve been part of this conversation, and there’s not much there. I’ve sniggered too, at those poor ordinary people, those poor people who don’t speak our language. I’ve sniggered too at Grand Designs and all those makeover shows in the past, worried that it’s dumbing down this great profession of ours. I’ve been horrified too at the commodification of our profession, where our divine wisdom can be bought and sold or, worse, bestowed on ordinary people. I’ve run appalled and tainted back to the comfort of my ivory tower. It’s a pretty scary world out there Rory, and I’m with you, up to a point. Much better to put our blinkers on and pretend that we’re doing something significant or worthwhile because, well, it’s architecture, innit?
But more recently, in the desire to escape from this rarified world, and bored of all the conversations I was having, I’ve been wondering if there was a different type of conversation to be had. One that moved away form the hallowed pages of the journals or the vainglorious academic institutions, into (whisper it) the mainstream. I’ve started a conversation that attempted to engage these ordinary, non design literate people. I was interested to know if I was able to have a conversation that could be had on their terms, not mine. This is the conversation we’ve been having in £100k house, and by god, I can tell you, it’s a shed load more interesting that most of the conversations that I’m supposed to be having.
I’ve seen first hand how making the most modest change to a poor piece of design can transform a building for the owners. I’ve seen the cynical shit that most of this country are fed by their draftspeople, and I’ve seen first hand the extraordinary transformation in the quality of these people’s lives that can be made by a few small changes. I’ve seen how people can become empowered through taking control over their environment and making their house moderately better. Yup, I’ve had to swallow my pride, but many of us forget that architecture is something that the significant majority of this country are allowed no access to. The only thing that stops them from exposure to architecture is us. If I can possibly help change that in any way – well, that feels pretty good.
Being firmly rooted in the realms of the ” ordinary” people I would love to have a meaningful conversation with an architect about what is possible. I was very inspired and encouraged by the £100,000k house programme tonight, helping a middle-aged lady feel empowered and over-joyed in her new house-on an extremely modest budget. Her situation is one I can readily identify with and it has given me heart to allow that my fledgling ideas might one day come to fruition and not to settle for second-best so thank-you!
It seems interesting how once you take the ego out of architecture it becomes exciting again. One of the reasons architectural films are too often completely static and cringeworthy is that the director tries to give life to the motionless form of a building. Showcasing the humans who breathe life into a building and connect to it – the point of architecture – is something that the £100k house really excels at. It’s wonderful to see that there are still architects out there with fire in their bellies and a healthy dose of sense.
I wish I convey my opinions as succinctly as Piers, but essentially I agree on all counts. The wall between our profession and the ‘ordinary person’ has done us and them a dreadful disservice and is a major reason why our populace has learnt to be satisfied which such dismal standards of architecture. Excellent design should be a human right, not just the realm of the enlightened or wealthy. If the 100k house lights a little fire then we somehow have to take the opportunity to fan the flames.
I only recently discovered the series and am pretty obsessed with finding every episode I can, now. We are in the industry, having renovated and built many homes in 3 countries, and have been using reclaimed materials increasingly frequently over the last decade. As creative, unconventional thinkers, this show not only speaks our language but I am so supportive of archtects like yourself. As you said, bringing architecture to ALL the people should be the goal; everyone deserves a home with great ventilation, light and space, regardless of their income. It’s challenging, for sure, on such tiny budgets but that is exactly what separates the ordinary from the great.
Now if only I can find a Piers Taylor in Bc, Canada!