Stormin’ Norman? Yup, we architects love him.
In the same week that FAT have announced their split comes the terrifying news that the architect most respected by other architects is one Norman Foster.
I’d love to believe that FAT split because they felt that the “FAT project was complete’. When I heard their news, I let out a cheer – not because they were splitting, but because here was a practice so cock-sure, so bold, so brazen, so driven by creative restlessness that it felt it could call time when it had had enough, and not plan desperately for succession, which is the topic on the agenda for most practices that have been going twenty three years – how to transfer responsibility, and get your cash out.
I’d love to think this, but I can’t. I can’t, because the news that Foster is king has reminded me that, well, we killed FAT. Us architects, with our mealy mouthed conservatism and utter terror of a practice that won’t conform to type.
You see, we architects define the context by which our work is judged, and we invented a world where it was impossible for a practice such as FAT to thrive. The lexicon of power in architecture is pretty much the same as it’s always been: the beige, the bland, the corporate – or as we like to call it, the timeless and masterful play of light and space.
Architects love things just as they are, just as our great white hero Mies told us that there was truth in neatness, lining things up, and in shades of grey. It’s always been this way, and sure as eggs is eggs, it always will be. We get off on Coldplay, or the architectural equivalent – Foster’s. We dig the bland, the overproduced and the insipid aroma of the mainstream, just as much as we despise the witty, the clever, the original and the truly authentic. There’s a game to be played in architecture, and by God, you’ve got to plough that furrow.
Who’s the favourite architect of the current president of the RIBA? Foster. Not just ‘Foster’, but when probed, it is ‘Foster, of course’. His presumption that Foster has an ‘of course’ after it is utterly terrifying, but utterly predictable. Of course it’s Foster. Of course, because in the lexicon of power, there’s no place for the quirky, the interesting, the whimsical, the brazen, the eccentric. There’s not much place for any adjective other than bland, boring, tedious, inspid, tame and banal. It’s a wonder, really, that FAT had such a good innings.
It’s a year, too where a Stirling jury yet again eschewed the unexpected, hot on the heels of another 2012 where Stanton Williams’ business as usual, polite modernism-by-numbers Sainsbury’s Laboratory won. Was there ever a building that screamed ‘status quo’ as much as this Sainsbury’s Lab? This is our prize – one which we architects give to other architects, and by God, we know what we like.
Same old, same old, same old. What goes around just comes around again, and again and again. Could FAT thrive in a world where these non-values, this way of doing business is the currency of success? Of course not. I’ve seen the vitriol directed at FAT by other architects. If you haven’t, you only have to read the comments sections under the news stories in the mags – the delight the bland-mongers have in FAT’s demise is pretty eye watering, but pretty predictable. Predictable and sad.
But hey, the lid is back on guys. FAT have gone. The naysayers have got the vanilla world they wanted back again, and they’re safe for a little while. They can go back to their beloved truth, grace and timeless beauty, go back to the same old beige ideals, their good taste, their right angles and their delight in a world that has just got a little less interesting.