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.