31 January 2011

Which Faculty?

If 'Architecture', as a quasi-vocational subject of some sort, is to be taught at academic institutions in the UK a key question must be "where in the academic structure is architecture placed?" (Teymur) and what are the consequences of this for the profession of architecture.

Whilst it is obviously an over simplification of the education process to assume that the academic department, in which architecture is placed, alone influences the nature of education the importance of the academic structure that architecture 'fits' into shouldn't be ignored. The academic structure will surely have some impact on the teaching of architecture at that institution, with the connections  present within that faculty between different departments (based on which subject areas that institution views as concurrent), exposing students to other academic interests. As such there is a link, either direct or indirect, between this 'fit' and the sort of architects students of that institution will become (if indeed they are to become 'architects' in the 'traditional' sense). Furthermore as Teymur, in his series of papers on architectural education in 1992, also observes "the desire to identify architecture as, say, technology and/or craft and/or science and/or art throughout the centuries betrays the very paradox of the idea of architecture both as a multi-disciplinary, multi-skilled, multi-dimensional and multi-media practice."

An analysis of the architecture courses offered in the UK, based on both RIBA validated courses (including candidate courses) and UCAS K100 'Architecture' courses (those courses 'sold' to potential undergraduates on completion of their A-Levels), reveals a wide range of different faculties and departments in which architecture is placed. The majority of UK institutions have an 'Architecture School/Department' with a number of these operating as 'independent' faculties in their own right. However, there are also a number of institutions with no 'sole' architecture department and instead it sits, as a subject, within a wider faculty, for example 'Art, Architecture and Design'.

Architectural Education in the United Kingdom
Department/Faculty analysis & RIBA validated courses per Institution

The analysis undertaken (see above for the graphic representation and full analysis) involved recording key terms used  in a faculty title and the first 'sub' department that architecture may or may not have been taught in within that faculty (no recording of third tier or 'sub-sub' departments was made). This revealed the following terminology used in faculty structure: Architecture, Landscape, Interior Design, Construction, Planning, Surveying, Science, Technology, Computing, Engineering, Civil Engineering, Art, Design, Media, Humanities, Social Sciences, History of Art, Culture, Development, Environment, Built Environment and Natural Environment. That such a wide range of terms are used in trying to find a 'home' for architecture within the current education system is a reflection of the wider issues surrounding the role of architecture in society today and the historical tensions regarding the multi-disciplinary nature of the profession.

Architectural Education in the United Kingdom
Differentiation of Degree Certificates award by RIBA validated courses

Further divergence between institutions can be found when examining the different degree certificates offered by UK institutions. Architecture is not unique it lacking a unified and sole degree classification however the range of degrees on offer to students (see above graphic) is another sign of the difficulties in defining architectural education academically in the UK. What impact does having a Bachelor of Arts as opposed to a Baceholar of Science have and does it represent a different method of architectural 'teaching'? Or is it simply irrelevant and all the degree really constitutes is a means to an end - exemption from RIBA Parts 1 and 2.

It seems highly unlikely that architectural education will return to Pre-20th Century model of articulated pupillage so the role of academic institutions within the education process must be more thoroughly understood and the consequences of this examined. This differentiation undoubtedly leads to a richer profession with students exposed to other individuals who do not necessarily see the world from an 'architectural' view point; preparing them (to a limited extent) for interacting with non-architects in their future lives. The contingency of architecture is thus influenced by the other academic departments it has to share resources and work with at UK institutions, further complicating the debate of architects and their place in the 21st Century. This contingency does not guarantee 'good education' nor for that matter does it imply 'bad education'; as Teymur similarly notes, "'good architecture'(?) does not guarantee 'good education' in the same way that good education, though necessary, may not be sufficient to secure good architecture."


Teymur, N. (1992), Architectural Education: Issues in educational practice and policy, 1st Edition, London: ?uestion Press
University & Colleges Admissions service [Online] Course search for 'Architecture' and 'K100' [first accessed 29th January 2011]
Royal Institute of British Architects [Online] List of UK Validated schools, November 2010 [first accessed 29th January 2011]

19 January 2011

Review: Architecture's Evil Empire?

Architecture's Evil Empire? The Triumph and Tragedy of Global Modernism is Miles Glendinning polemic book that passionately challenges the recent history of global architecture and its desire for iconic forms as a tool to regenerate post-industrial cities the world over. Glendinning seeks to find a solution to the problem's he perceives profligate an industry fuelled by both public and private bodies that has created a raft of projects across the globe "stridently disconnected from their visual and social context". However, as Glendinning accurately observes "contemporary architecture is like an iceberg. the excesses of signature icons are just that bit that sticks above the surface, whereas the really intractable part is the great mass that lurks beneath, invisible to public scrutiny". Clearly any 'solution' will have to have to reach down to the 'core' of society and be part of a wider readjustment away from the cult of the spectacular and celebrity that has defined the past 20 years - not just the architectural profession.

Architecture's Evil Empire? (Reaktion Books, 2010)

Miles Glendinning, a Reader in the School of Architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art and Director of the Scottish Centre for Conservation, opens the book by looking at the recent example of The Public, West Bromwich, part of a wave of large lottery-supported projects and has suffered "the same problems of grandiose initial scale and inadequate resources for running costs." It is here that Glendinning introduces the notion of an 'Empire' of 'New Modernism' which was (and perhaps still is) dependent "on the values of individualism and competition, and veneration for the symbols of capitalist commercialism" in direct contrast to the 'traditional' notion of international architectural movements that were also rooted in specific a specific country, city or place. However, in his view this Empire is not an 'evil' one but instead is 'tragic' one, mirroring the great tragedies of Greek story telling, because of "the good intentions, the idealism even, of all involved in building up a structure that would, by its own impersonal momentum turn so comprehensively rotten".

In four chapters Glendinning traces the history of this Empire, observing that "it is not use condemning without understanding", an important assertion that helps add weight to his argument. Moving quickly from Vitruvius, through the individuals of the Renaissance, he stops briefly to assess the impact of Beaux-Arts model in the later stages of the western world's industrialisation before moving into the beginnings of Modernism. This is a time, he suggests, that reflected a 'rejection of the individual' in the architectural profession but that this situation began to change in the later half of the 20th Century. A wealth of sources, texts, buildings and key figures in architecture and urbanism feature as Glendinning tracks "the drift of disintegration" from Modernism to Postmodernism and a "retreat to the city".

The idea of a New Modernism is framed first with the introduction of the 'High Tech' "showing that there were elements of the Modern movement style, or styles, that could be salvaged and adapted to help build a new, more market-orientated society." The importance of 'deconstruction' in architecture is highlighted as a key influence. Rem Koolhaas's seminal text 'S,M,L,XL' is held up as the "foundation stone" of the Empire which represents the 'new theory' and the "great deal of research [that] goes on, but no longer with any idea of contributing to some wider strategy of social salvation, or even of giving any real intellectual substance to an otherwise disorientated landscape". This is part of a wider trend in which research has been converted in to "a kind of spectacle". If 'S,M,L,XL' is the 'bible' of New Modernism then the "foundation monument" for Glendinning is the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, described as being "blatantly direct where S,M,L,XL was subtly oblique" and "startingly individualistic and (at the time) unprecedented". The role of the 'Bilbao Effect' has been much documented and these previous discussions are referred to in the book.

As the book progresses a growing image of despair is unravelled and a "discarding of order" in a world of "disconnected form and construction" is revealed - an interesting juxtaposition in a world where connections between individuals are becoming more frequent through the proliferation of various media and technological devices. The critique here moves beyond simple arguments about the relevance of iconic form and into the realm of urbanism and planning on a larger scale - "iconic intervention versus urban cohesion". The rhetoric of 'context' was often used as a method of combating the 'generic' however Glendinning highlights a number of examples where the metaphorical use of context has just created further disconnections.

It is in the final chapter that Glendinning offers some solutions to the disconnected landscape he has been describing. He recognises that "in stark contrast to the brash ebullience of much of the rhetroic of New Modernism, the last few years have witnessed a steady escalation of architectural attacks on the movement" whilst a 'pass the parcel blame game' began amongst architects, journalists and critic-apologists. Central to his proposals are ideas of 'genius loci' and "the resurgence of place", though he is quick though to distance himself from ideas of 'critical regionalism', with inspiration coming from the work of Patrick Geddes in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. Ultimately though what Glendinning is searching for is for a "fresh era of socially grounded modernity".

In the end then this book serves two useful purposes. First of all it offers an insightful and scholarly account of the previous 20 years in architecture. The 23 pages of references highlight the wealth of sources and case studies considered by the author with the right amount of information disseminated for each, neither do you feel overwhelmed by the information offered or under-informed. Secondly, the calls for "architecture to come back down to earth" are much needed within the profession and it begins to ask questions of what exactly we, as society, want from our buildings and the built environment.


Glendinning, M. (2010), Architecture's Evil Empire? The Triumph and Tragedy of Global Modernism, 1st Edition, London: Reaktion Books

16 January 2011

Codes and the Built Environment (MARC Research Symposium)

On Monday 11th of October 2010 the Manchester Architecture Research Centre (MARC) hosted a research symposium which sought to address "the influence of codes on the design, construction and habitation of cities." The speakers were drawn from a diverse range of scholars, with a number of academic interests that all touched upon the notion of 'Codes and the Built Environment': Steven Moore (University of Texas at Austin), Rob Imrie and Emma Street (King's College London), Matthew Carmona (UCL), Jeroen va der Heijden (Delft University of Technology), and Michael Guggenheim (University of Zurich). To further quote the advertising for the event:

"All elements of the city - from buildings to streets and from parks to transit networks - are influenced by a multitude of overlapping, reinforcing, and sometimes conflicting regulations that have accrued over decades or even centuries. Social scientists and designers have only recently begun to study the historical, political, and cultural aspects of code production and deployment as well as the particular material and social configurations they produce."

What will follow is a series of short summaries that describe the topics discussed during the five presentations given as part of the event by the various guest speakers.

The example of codes in the built environment used
on the flyer for the event hosted by MARC.

Steven Moore: "Taxonomy of Socio-technical Codes"
Starting with an assumption that "Building Codes are an index of changing social values and a strategy to enforce those values" Dr Steven A. Moore proceeded to give an insight into his current research interests. He touched briefly upon a number of areas, including current projects being undertaken in post-Katrina New Orleans, and cited other research projects by a number of other individuals, including a number of speakers present in the room. Highlighting the taxonomy of existing code types (labelled Tacit', Sumptuary, Economic and Socio-technical) Moore went on to question "How do you construct socio-technical codes?"

Rob Imrie & Emma Street: "Architectural Design and Regulation"
Imrie and Street's presentation attempted to give a condensed version of their forthcoming book 'Architectural Design and Regulation' (February 2011). Jointly they attempt to "put the social into architecture" within, what they perceive as, an "oppositional culture" of architecture and building. They postulate that "rules and regulations are constitutive of the process and practices of architecture" and are "not external to the creative processes and practices." The importance of the regulatory society is viewed as being a new key agent in their discussions and "regulatory controls are anathema to the delivery of a modern urban infrastructure and environment." Imrie and Street see the dualism within the architectural profession as a false distinction that stems from the discourse of "architect as art" which has been reinforced by further dis-juncture  between training and practice. An interesting observation was also made with regards to how the wider culture of risk and litigation in society has influenced the design process as well as the inter-relationship between Architects and other professionals (or as they put it "the relational networks or socio-institutional and political interdependencies.") The book (see below) would seem to deal with a range of interrelated topics and the short presentation by the pair gave only a flavour of each, leaving the audience feeling slightly frustrated. You often needed to know and understand, in more depth, the research behind certain statements which was only forthcoming on further questioning but would undoubtedly be far more accessible in the text or a longer presentation.

Architectural Design and Regulation
(Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)

Matthew Carmona: "Good Codes/Bade Codes: Coding for Creativity and Value"
Drawing upon his own research, publications and surveys Matthew Carmona, Head of Planning at the Bartlett, began by showing a number of examples of "the bits they [governments] don't show" when advertising cities, highlighting sprawl as "the inevitable consequence of our development process." He observed that it is an "interesting time for design because it's the law" referring to codes and standards that demand 'good design'. However he was highly critical of how these codes and standards don't quantify what constitutes 'good design' and as such outcomes remain poor - for instance a survey by CABE on new housing rated only 6% as 'good' and 24% as 'poor'. He said that today "we excel at making codes but fail at making places" and that the current condition is exacerbated by three professional cultures: creative tyranny, market tyranny, and regulatory tyranny. The challenge seems to be how the various professions involved in the built environment "mediate the tyrannies of participation" however codes, in Carmona's view, "do not deliver an outcome but do have a role to play in the process" - with the research from his publication 'Design Coding in Practice: An Evaluation' used as evidence to support this basis.

Jeroen van der Heijden: "Good Enforcement/Bad Enforcement: How Enforcement Matters in Achieving a Safe, Healthy and Sustainable Built Environment."
Central to Jeroen van der Heijden's presentation was the notion that whilst "it may be possible t design codes on paper [the] real enforcement issues must always be considered." He described how there are two types of code, prescriptive and performance-based, and the "grey area of compliance" which surrounds both before stating that prescriptive codes are the easier to measure and enforce. The various different enforcement strategies encountered by van der Heijden were characterised as being either: deterrence based (force of law); compliance based; incentive based; or risk based. Further differentiation is found in the enforcement style, either rigid and legalistic or facilitative and consulting, which is used by the various different actors present in the enforcement process - government agencies, market organizations, third sector/NGOs, the general public or some form of hybrid organisation. He surmised that the level of enforcement was possibly tied to the level of litigation and liability present in a system but that this required further research.

Michael Guggenheim: "What Legal Coding Can('t) Do: Of Prayers and Assisted Suicides"
Two case studies were used by Michael Guggenheim to highlight relationships between laws, building form and building use, with an approach that viewed both buildings and regulations as a quasi-technology. The first case study focused on Mosque's in Switzerland and whether or not the addition of a Minaret constituted a 'change of use' in planning terms. Dealing with issues raised from the right-wing movement in Switzerland to ban the building of Minarets, that became law in 2009, Guggenheim challenged the extent to which certain typologies and building forms can be codified. He raised the question as to whether or not a converted Church tower would be classed as a Minaret and therefore would it then have to be demolished. This served as an example of the limitations of such codes and the extent to which certain forms are interrelated to particular uses  - is a building (or building element) a certain typology through its form or what it is used for? The second case study looked at assisted suicides and how regulation in Switzerland had led to the growth in 'death tourism'. This case study focused on Dignitas and local oppositions to 'death tourism' and whether or not it's practices constituted 'allowed' activities within certain district zones. The dispute that arose as a result of conflicting and confused zoning laws was about coding for use, whereas the previous case study had looked at issues involving coding for form. Guggenheim concluded the assisted suicide case study by stating the a new 'suicide' typology within Swiss zoning law was needed.

Mosque of the Olten Turkish Cultural Association at
Wangen bei Olten, one of four Minarets in Switzerland and the
last built before legislation banning their construction was passed

Thesis: Initial Thoughts

The time has now come for me to begin to formulate my initial thesis proposal for the MA in Architecture and Urbanism I am currently studying for at the Manchester School of Architecture. When applying to the course I had to submit a brief outline of what I would like to study and it is from this that I am beginning to develop a proposition to engage with more thoroughly. My application material highlighted an interest in: the complexity of the contemporary construction process; the role of "design" versus "executive" architects; responsibility and the rejection of liability by architects; the banal versus the iconic; the role of architects in 'place making'; how procurement methods and legislation are used as opportunities, not restrictions, in the design process. These curiosities have come about due to a number of factors with the below image highlighting some of the key influences over the previous 18 months.

Initial primers for research - scattered on a coffee table -
the connections are often clearer in my head (September 2010)

Key amongst these influences is an interest in finding 'pragmatic solutions' as opposed to imaging unachievable utopian visions, working with existing urban frameworks (policy, regulation, economic conditions, social conditions). Examining and working with existing conditions is a trait often found in the work of architectural practice OMA, in particular the writings of Rem Koolhaas who's theoretical position has been more influential, in many cases, than his built works. The influence of OMA spreads to a number of other practices including BIG (Copenhagen), JDS (Brussels) and REX (New York) who have previously worked under Koolhaas. This is not to say that other architects don't take the same approach however it is the 'OMA School' that has been more extensively published. Examining this approach and the research surrounding it will undoubtedly provide a wealth of information to draw upon.

Observations about the division within the architecture profession, principally the split between executive and design Architects, is not a new idea or theme, they have been made for over a century. Recent additions to this discourse include comments made by Bjarke Ingels, in his practice's manifesto 'Yes Is More', that "historically the field of architecture has been dominated by two opposing extremes." Ingels defines his approach as "operating in the fertile overlap between the two opposites. A pragmatic utopian architecture that takes on the creation of socially, economically and environmentally perfect places as a practical objective." This has undoubtedly been informed by his associations with OMA.

The work of Jeremy Till was also key to formulating my application proposal and will undoubtedly provide key insights as I develop my proposition further. His recent publication 'Architecture Depends', provides an insightful account of the dependent forces within the architectural profession and the role of contingency within it. As Till puts it "we must bridge the gap by opening up to dependency not as a threat but as an opportunity" working with the "mess" of the everyday. Also of interest to me are the observations made by Till that "the contingent researcher welcomes each new book with a sense of curiosity" - this is an approach I intend to use in my own research, to work as a contingent researcher.

Since then a number of other texts/arguments/ways of thinking have come to my attention, principle among those has been the 'call to arms' led by Winy Maas and The Why Factory in Visionary Cities. In this brief discourse, born very much in the depths of a 'crisis', architects, urbanists, designers and society are challenged to meet the 12 urgencies or critical urban issues that they see as most relevant today - the solitary (dreams); the iconic; the fun; the miniature; the complex; the cautious; the faithful; the green; the poor; the old; the re; the future. As they eloquently put it "While Pritzker Prize-winning Architects are designing Vodka bottles and necklaces, unknown Developer-Architects are building entire cities from the ground up" whilst "the city is being held hostage by procedure." The challenge is thus to better understand the complex relationships that exist but also to tackle the design process itself - the design process itself can become the subject of design. This involves taking a similar approach to the "eco-effective" approach proposed by Michael Braungart and William McDonough in Cradle to Cradle. Designers should "expand their vision from the primary purpose of a product or system and consider the whole" and embrace "the challenge of being not only efficient but effective with respect to a rich mix of considerations and desires." Of course, part of this is understanding the current system and it's failings, there can be no point in blindly starting from scratch and coming up with an equally flawed system.

Traditionally the architectural profession is a slow one, slow to adapt and to change. Today it operates in a world where connections between places, cultures and economic markets are rapidly increasing. These external forces manipulate and affect a design process that was already a notoriously complex system, full of contradictions when you consider the dependent forces whom and that are at play. Architects seem to be struggling to adapt to these conditions and their is a feeling of disbelief amongst pockets of the profession as the role of the Architect is diluted - loosing out to other, more adaptive and responsive (or pro-active), professions leaving architects continuously lurching from crisis to crisis. Are architects at times their own worst enemies in propagating this situation? Have they refused to accept responsibility and rejected liability which has in turn affected their status with the industry and society? Does it even matter?

In brief summary then my thesis will be an investigation into the role of professionalism within the 'Architectural Profession' and how this impacts upon our cities and urban landscapes. Some of these investigations are already present on the blog - they are the things that I am interested in - others will appear over time, as will developments in my thesis proposition.


Till, J. (2009), Architecture Depends, 1st Edition, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
Maas, W., Sverdlov A. and Waugh, E. (Editors) (2009), Visionary Cities (The Why Factory), 1st Edition, Amsterdam: NAi Publishers
Braungart, M. and McDonough, W. (2002), Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, 1st Edition, North Point Press

14 January 2011

1946 'Self-measurement' Form

In the aftermath of the Second World War, with the architectural profession optimistic about it's future with the promise of rebuilding the UK's cities, Clough Williams-Ellis published 'The Adventure of Building.' Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978), an English-born Architect, is best known for his work designing and building, in an Italian-style, the village of Portemeirion in North Wales (1925-1975). Within the book Williams-Ellis sets about providing an introduction to the world of architecture and planning, with a focus on providing an insight for "intelligent boys and girls" so that they "may perhaps decide whether [his] much-loved profession is to welcome them."  To aide in helping children make their career decision the book includes a 'self-measurement form' which Williams-Ellis has crossed to mark the qualities he sees are most important for the Architect of 1946 and the future.

'A self-measurement form' Part 1 (Architectural Press, 1946)

The form, devised by Amabel Williams-Ellis, his wife, featured in a book on careers entitled 'What Shall I Be?' and was originally produced by the Hon. Nancy Samuel.

'A self-measurement form' Part 2 (Architectural Press, 1946)

The book doesn't just 'pitch' itself to young persons, as the sub-title suggests - "Being something about Architecture and Planning for intelligent young citizens and their backward elders." William-Ellis is also trying to educate the general public so that they are more informed when discussing architecture and building. In his view the only person who's opinion you should follow or take notice of, regarding architecture, is someone who is inclined "to spend quite a lot of time looking at buildings and thinking and reading about them, trying to sketch them or perhaps even to design others, and always ready to discuss them keenly." His view that it is only "then that person is worth listening to, and will probably talk sense" is rather telling - "He [the educated individual] knows - therefore he probably cares."


Williams-Ellis, C. (1946), The Adventure of Building, 1st Edition, London: Architectural Press

12 January 2011

AJ Career's Guide 2008

In 2008 The Architect's Journal published a 'Career Guide' at the back of the 27th March issue which included the piece "So You Want to be A Star?" Written by the appropriately named Norman Blogster, a figure who appeared in the online world of 2008 but has since been "frozen", the article takes a tongue-in-cheek look at how to be a "st.architect" (or 'starchitect'). Whilst the article is obviously intended to be humorous, questions have to be raised as to the extent to which the 'seven essential steps', required on this career path to stardom, are based in reality and the affects this has on the architectural profession as a whole. Furthermore, are these seven steps still relevant nearly three years on?

If this guide is still relevant then it implies that emphasis lies with artistic ability over technical knowledge. Equally important it would seem is who you know, how successfully market/self yourself promote and become 'indoctrinated' in the "cult" of st.architecture. The steps then are not to dissimilar to any other steps required to reach the 'top' of any profession (creative or otherwise) in a Postmodern capitalist society that worships at the font of celebrity. The argument of art versus technical ability must also boil down to the age-old predicament of what exactly an architect is - "an art practised by and for the sake of individuals or a commercial enterprise geared to the needs of the market or a communal undertaking dedicated to the service of society?" (Saint)

"Success at A-Level is no indicator of success at Archi-school,
because st.architecture is entirely based around the studio and
the all-pervasive myth of design."
(AJ 27.03.08. By the_moth)

The steps then, according to Norman Blogster/The Architect's Journal, are as follows:

Step 1: Choose your parents well

Step 2: Choose your A-levels well

Step 3: Choose your Archi-school well

Step 4: Choose your year-out employers well

Step 5: Choose your postgraduate diplomat school well

Step 6: Choose your Part 3 employers well

Step 7: Choose your partners well

"Use strong hair gel so that your hair won't fall out of place when
chairs are thrown. Even better, if you're a bloke, shave your head.
The Bond villain look is very in. Still.
" (AJ 27.03.08. By the_moth

To go with the wit-laced rhetoric the Guide does highlight some important issues that students still face, including that "On leaving archi-school, the average graduate will already owe a small mortgage" perhaps even more pertinent with the impeding higher fees. Also touched upon is the public misconception that all Architects are high-paid individuals when in fact starting salaries are the lowest of any of the 'professions.'

"So at this stage stick to VERY small projects such as inflatible,
collapsible multi-media bus sheltersthat you can control in minutiae
and publish to death and lecture on .
" (AJ 27.03.08. By the_moth)

In summary, if the guide is followed your career path should take the following trajectory: be born into a wealthy family with two parents of differing nationality; excel in your A-levels; study at a certain London University; intern (after Part 1) at a st.architect's office (in the UK or abroad, you just need the name on your CV apparently); study for your Part 2 at one of the two certain London institutions; get employment at a st.architects and fulfil your Part 3 obligations; start teaching; find the perfect partner (not romantic of course, you should have no time for that); establish your own practice; enter competitions but don't win any too early, allowing you to build up a healthy portfolio for your books; finally win a competition, start taking on multi-billion dollar projects for wealthy clients; die old.

And what follows this guide? A series of practice profiles aimed at enticing graduates to working for them, an interesting juxtaposition indeed given that, with no disrespect meant to the practices 'featured' they aren't the st.architects we have just been reading about.


The Architect's Journal (27.03.08), AJ Careers Guide, A Students Guide to St.architecture, P60-63
Saint, A. (1983), The Image of The Architect, 1st Edition, Yale University Press

"Architecture is 90% Business and 10% Art"

Albert Kahn (1869-1942) was a German-born American Architect, often referred to as 'The Architect of Detroit', who was responsible for bringing "industry to architecture" (Leatherbarrow and Mostafavi). Pragmatic in his design intentions, Kahn realised, from his experience working for industrialists such as Henry Ford, that businessmen were "profoundly suspicious of artists, [for] they wanted fast work, and no mistakes." Albert Kahn's practice was at the forefront of the growing discourse in the American Architectural Profession (along with the likes of Daniel Burnham) as to whether it constituted an Art or a Business. Despite not being 'new' even in the late nineteen or early twentieth century, indeed it is still relevant today, Kahn reorganised his practice to achieve efficiencies to such a scale that other practices, particularly those working in the industrial sector of factories as he was, had no option but to match his system or die.

Lady Esther  Factory, Exterior, Clearing, Illinois, 1936 (Surface Architecture, MIT Press)

"For Kahn, pragmatic simplicity was key; he argued for neither aesthetic functionalism nor the 'shaven architecture' of the European Modernists, who he strongly criticized for having taken functionalism to the nth degree. His disagreement was also political and economic; he ended a lecture on modern architecture by recognizing the need for architects to pursue the model of corporate management, integrating architecture with the business of building." (Leatherbarrow and Mostafavi)

Organisation of Albert Kahn, Inc. (George Nelson, Industrial Architecture of Albert Kahn, Inc. 1939)

George Nelson, seen now as Kahn's main apologist, reproduced the organizational diagram of Albert Kahn, Inc in his 1939 book - Industrial Architecture of Albert Kahn. It is clear to see that the Architect has been subordinated in the new system of practice organisation with the Chief Administrator in control. The results of this structure meant that "the department in the firm's technical division designed the whole building. The work in all of the departments started at the same time, which resulted in speeding up the process of preparing the drawings and the specifications for all the trades. This allowed the submissions of all drawings at one time. If necessary, this procedure could result in the preparation of a factory in less than ten days."

Kahn's practice was in the end devoted to the "reproduction of mass production", from his association with the Ford Motor Company. Interestingly, he also refused to hire any college graduates from American schools with an architectural degree worried that the Beaux-Arts schooling might "place self-expression over team co-operation" (Saint) and detract from the smooth workings of his machine-like operation that were aligned 90% towards 'Business' and 10% towards 'Art'.


Leatherbarrow, D. and Mostafavi, M. (2002), Surface Architecture, 1st Edition, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press
Saint, A. (1983), The Image of The Architect, 1st Edition, Yale University Press

11 January 2011

Review: Isolative Urbanism

Isolative Urbanism: An Ecology of Control is a collection of essays from tutors and students of the BArch [Re_Map] Unit at Manchester School of Architecture. The unit, as its name may suggest, concerns itself with the mapping of the contemporary city, through analysing existing data, networks and how space is demarcated. Each of the essays presented deals with the resulting relationship between existing “urban conditions and space, public and private.” Within this framework the editors, Richard Brook and Nick Dunn, have seen fit to divide the essays into three categories: Policy, Utopia and Globalisation.

Isolative Urbanism: An Ecology of Control (Bauprint, 2009)

The introductory text, written by Brook and Dunn, aims to set the scene for the proceeding essays with a series of short sections that take the reader from the “notion of fragmentation” between art and architecture in the 1920s and 1930s through to Venturi’s description of the “decorated shed” and on to Paul Virilio’s musings on modern warfare. From this starting point it is clear that the following essays will deal with a myriad of challenging and complex issues. Each text is further contextualised by the placing of these theoretical studies within a setting, Barrow-in-Furness, the second largest town in Cumbria and a place referred to as a ‘30-mile cul-de-sac.’

Each essay provides the backdrop to an architectural solution that in most cases seeks to re-imagine or renew Barrow-in-Furness but without using the expected or clichéd methods that have become the norm in UK (and global) architectural policy for urban environments. These fresh perspectives often challenge the convention of established systems that have been backed by traditional capitalist ideologies and range from Grant Erskine’s proposal to remove all automobile-based transport from the town (with a 25,000 space car-park on the town’s periphery) to Ben Paterson’s plans to transform Barrow-in-Furness into a leading world port town.

At first glance these proposals may appear whimsical and far fetched but on reading the essay’s the argument behind each becomes clear and lends to them a certain credibility, a credibility strengthened by the depth of research. The essays do not go on to describe in depth the proposals, that is left to a double-page spread of greyscale images that tease at the possibilities presented but perhaps ultimately leave you wanting more. Nevertheless the rationale behind each provides a springboard for further debate on how the UK can be re-imagined in the 21st Century after a decade which has seen the rapid technological growth of the late 20C continue. The architectural world has been slow to catch up with the rapid changes in the structure of 'modern' society. What makes this brand of innovation proposed by the [Re-map] students so original is that they are neither dreams of an apocalyptic future nor are they unbuildable utopias, instead they sit in the playful realm of 'that's buildable' - if only we are brave enough to do so.

7 January 2011

FT takes lunch with Koolhaas

The Financial Times recently published an article entitled 'Lunch with the FT: Koolhaas.' The article, written by Edwin Heathcote, recounts the critics meeting with Rem Koolhaas over lunch during last year's Architecture Biennale (2010) in Venice.

Rem Koolhaas (Copyright James Ferguson)

On the whole the article doesn't deal with the actual conversation, despite anecdotal evidence of what they ate (with associated 'receipt' at the end) but instead gives a rough history of 'key-moments' in the Koolhaas's career with one or two quotations from Koolhaas himself (responding to questions/observations during the meal). There was though one particular snippet that I thought was worth sharing. “When I started,” Koolhaas tells Heathcote, recounting an image used in his exhibition on preservation at the Biennale, “the suggestion was that the architect would work for the public good. That photo emanates those good intentions. But architecture has been taken over by the private sector, we now serve private interests. There is this irony that as we have become more famous we are also taken less seriously.”


Financial Times (No Date), 'Lunch with the FT: Koolhaas' [Online] [first accessed 7th January 2011]

4 January 2011

Review: A Guide to The New Ruins of Great Britain

Owen Hatherley's recently published book, 'A Guide to The New Ruins of Great Britain', has been much praised in the architectural and design literary circles, after all, as Hari Kunzru is quoted on the jacket sleeve, "Hatherley steps forward as the Pevsner of the PFI generation." I have to admit that I came at this book having already read a few of Hatherley's 'Urban Trawl' pieces for Building Design and had originally reacted rather negatively to reading his piece 'Manchester: Heaven knows it's miserable now' - I had seen it as an attack my adopted city but now realise that my initial anger/protectionist-stance had clouded my judgement (surely an easy mistake to make when sat in an office, working for one of the firms who get's a kicking in the piece). What the book (as are the original articles for the weekly 'paper') is in fact is a well considered pieces of architectural, political and cultural criticism. I may not have always agreed with what was being written but it is impossible to argue that Hatherley has failed to put together a thorough critique that leaves you asking - how could we have got it so wrong?

A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain (Verso, 2010)

Hatherley is the author of the blog nastybrutalistandshort which led to him being commissioned to write Urban Trawl however he (in an interview with the Architect's Journal) doesn't describe himself as an architecture writer. Instead the English Literature and History graduate comes from a similar direction as "theoretical writers on the city such as Mike Davis or Lewis Mumford" but as "they don't really mention architects, you get the sense that there are these forces and it's not really important who actualises them." Hatherley is right when he says that "people do make decisions, people are autonomous and this stuff is created in some conscious way."

The book begins with an interesting anecdote about a Flickr group set up by the Labour party to highlight 'The Change We See', new additions to the built landscape. A quick look at the images uploaded  from across the country and we quickly see that this book is tackling a landscape "produced in the chillingly blank private finance initiative (PFI) of clean lines, bright colours and wipe-clean surfaces." Equally important to the accounts that follow are the "baroque procurement methods" (design and build as just one example) which are implied as being the preferred system post 1997 and "an ingrained preference for the cheap and unpretentious" - only a few pages in to the Introduction and it is clear that Hatherley won't be pulling any punches. However, whilst the book has been acknowledged by its plaudits for tackling PFI Britain, Hatherley himself declares the book in fact examines two Britain's: (i) Post-War (ii) Post-1979 (Barratt Homes, Science Parks and the like). Post-1997 Britain then is just part of a far more complex history of failures.

Twelve cities are covered in the book, all with humours 'sub-titles' to accompany the city name, with colourful and amusing metaphors scattered through out it's pages. The majority of the photographs were taken by theatre photographer Joel Anderson who accompanied Hatherley on his journey around the country. The grey-scale images, with the grainy texture of the paper coming through, add to the miserable conditions that the text often elaborates on. 

In homage to J.B. Priestley's 'English Journey' the book opens at Southampton, coincidentally Hatherley's home town. There are two chapters on places that Hatherley has called home, Greenwich being the other, and it was these two that I found most difficult to read; perhaps by having lived in those places a degree of objectivity is lost (much the same as I found when reading Urban Trawl for the first time). Hatherley doesn't defend these places, on the contrary he puts the foot in just as cleanly as with other cities, but the tangents seem much looser here and harder for someone who hasn't visited these places to pull together.

As I have already hinted at the book is not solely a piece of architectural criticism but examines the consequences of various political decisions along the way. There is a strong feeling of this book being 'political' (the publisher labels it as Politics/Architecture), you can feel the disillusionment of socialist ideals particularly in the chapters on Sheffield ("The Former Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire") and Glasgow. Personally it made me question my own political ideals more thoroughly, questioning that relationship between politics and architecture. Whilst I would like to think I am not ignorant enough to consider architects/architecture as apolitical I haven't read a book that implicitly linked the two together before.

Architects and developers are all held to account for the part they have played in creating the landscape we see today - the usual suspects are, often deservingly in my opinion, 'named and shamed' - BDP, Urban Splash, Capita, Broadway Malyan, Carey Jones, Aedas are all part of an (unfortunately) extensive list. Hatherley does also give praise to firms when he feels it is warranted. Of note here is BDP who at times are chastised and at others applauded (although most of this falls on earlier work before they became a private company and Liverpool One), being the only practice to get an apology directly in the text. Politicians, of the modern era, are not criticised as directly as perhaps they should be instead the part they play is usually implied, not stated (Hazel Blears being one of the exceptions).

Of worthy note also is the disdain Hatherley reserves for two particular building typologies, hotels and student halls of residence. The latter resonated personally with me, having spent two years in a particularly drab block, dressed of course in the 'vernacular', Victoria Halls. The proliferation for housing "undergraduate inmates" in these examples of "reliably awful British architecture" (that can transform a city skyline as witnessed in Leeds) reflects the importance of the knowledge economy in the post-industrial city. As Hatherley observes it must be that developers are "unbelievably tight fisted" and faced with a captive audience that lets them get away with it.

Ultimately I think it is a little early to say that this book offers a definitive account on any sort of 'PFI generation', it is part of the story perhaps but I have a feeling that there is more (even worse?) to come. The book did leave me feelling pangs of guilt though, a guilt of not knowing enough about our cities or recent history that it has begun to address. Here I will fall back upon, a little cowardly I'll admit, the 'ignorance of youth' so please excuse me - my 'living memory' doesn't extend back far beyond 1997. I have grown up in PFI Britain and only ever really knew what it was like to live under the Blair/Brown government; I am always a little sceptical of nostalgic hankerings back to the utopian visions of the 1950s and 1960s (as the book often does), yes there were success stories but also catastrophic failures (or so I have been told). 

This is a book then about potentials left unfilled where the witty language (surely a 'Postmodern' trait), romantic prose and bitter over tonnes leave you questioning how well exactly do you know a place?


Hatherley, O. (2010), A Guide to The New Ruins of Great Britain, 1st Edition, London: Verso
Architects Journal (No Date), 'Pevsner for the PFI Generation' [Online] [first accessed 4th January 2011]

3 January 2011

Making A Parody of the 'Freeman'

With the new year come new advertising campaigns and in amongst the ubiquitous "We'll pay the VAT" (a lie of course because, as the small print reads, what is actually on offer is a discount equivalent to the looming VAT increase) is a range of adverts from the MORE TH>N brand of insurance company RSA. It seems that every other commercial at the moment on television features a 'character' or story in an attempt to entice the viewer into purchasing that product (more often than not a 'service' like insurance). Obviously in an attempt to replicate success of a certain Meerkat, RSA have launched a new character (it appears that Lucky the Dog's luck finally ran out) that parodies the deep, recognisable voice of Morgan Freeman, the originally named 'More Th>n Freeman.'

More Th>n Freeman, 'Rooftile' Advert

On first hearing the above advert I, as they intend all viewers to, assumed that it was actually Morgan Freeman however after 30 seconds or so I began to doubt the authenticity of the voice and my suspicions were confirmed with the end 'reveal' of it's true owner - Josh Robert Thompson, an American comedian and impressionist. The RSA group must be hoping that we hear the voice of an actor, well known for his authoritative voice, and begin to associate the two together before a 'classic' Postmodern twist when we find out we have been duped - "Silly old us, it's not him after all." Even the voice over itself is filled with tiny humorous inflections (" life there are many things that go over a man's head..." while the screen is filled with a view of roof tiles), not to mention powerful metaphors (roof tiles as a Red army marching back to Moscow). 

The advert itself is well put composed and the creative director has done an excellent job in stitching it all together. There are already four different adverts feature the character and I for one look forward to seeing where they go next. Although, for sure 'fun' it is still a long way off what must surely be one of the greatest advertisements of the past 10 years - the Barclay Card Water Slide.

Barclay Card, 'Water Slide Advert'

2 January 2011

Information Is Beautiful

'Information is Beautiful' is the wonderfully titled book that David McCandless that lives up to the blurb as a "stunning visual journey through the most revealing trends, fascinating facts and vital statistics of the modern world." Well, perhaps not always "vital" but the book is certainly "visually stunning" and on every page there is a graphic treat to explore. The book started out as an exploration of how to better understand information in a world where we are overwhelmed with both information and visual stimuli, with the material coming from the author's own "curiosity and ignorance" and avoiding "straightforward facts and dry statistics."

Information is Beautiful (Collins, 2009)

The book's pages are divided into 12 sections (pop, web, though, food, power, life, nature, science, health, film, media and music) with some visuals obviously fitting into more than one neat box. Interestingly the book is only loosely structured around these sections, so information appears to be arranged randomly at times - so as you flick from page to page you can move from 'What's Better Than Sex?' (Youtube apparently), 'Kyoto Targets', 'The Evolution of Marriage in the West' and 'The Great Firewall of China' - all equally attractive in print. The use of visuals even extends into the bibliography, with the covers of various books used as inspiration and source material, instead of a dull list of titles and publishers.

Instead of describing in much more detail the book here are a series of visuals that feature in it, taken from the website of the same name (available here) to give a flavour of the graphics on display.

When Sea Levels Attack!

The topic of global warming features heavily in the book, as can be seen by the above graphic which lays out predicted increases in sea level over time with the various relationships to cities around the world and the contributing factors that would cause that increase.

Left vs Right (World)

In the book the above diagram on the political spectrum of left vs right appears in shades of grey with the note "colour with your country's colour for left and right."

Timelines (Time travel in popular film and TV)

In print this complex timeline appears on a white background with more humorous instances of 'crossovers' in this fictional landscape of events.

Ultimately what this book is most successful at is not the ease with which it conveys specific ideas or facts but how it collectively shows that information or data can be transformed into a "landscape", through visualisations and diagrams, so that it becomes easier to digest, comprehend and make connections with.


McCandless, D. (2009), Information is Beautiful, 1st Edition, London: Collins
A TED talk by David McCandless can be found here