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A lost world - a case of baby and bathwater


You leave school at 16, going to work in the county architect's office and becoming an apprentice professional, doing courses on day- release at the local tech before moving to another county department, busy with the public works which constituted the bread and butter of the great post-war reconstruction programme. More public-sector work follows, along with part-time education and riba exams. Finally private practice beckons, much of it concerned with public work, and a career flourishes. The architect eventually becomes a professor and head of school, but is now concentrating on private practice again. The architect in question is David Thurlow, who celebrated his sixtieth birthday last week with a party to launch a small book recording the work along the way. The world it describes is lost, probably for ever.

The story raises some interesting questions. It is nothing to do with cause and effect, but is it not curious that the increased rigour and academic pre-entry requirements of architectural education should have coincided with the decimation of public offices; that while the social and professional status of architects at the top end (Lord Rogers, Lord Foster etc) should have risen to unprecedented heights, at a more general level architects are no longer considered suitable guarantors for passport applications? And how depressing that we have moved from a society which assumed architects to be professionals interested in the public good to one in which the state regulatory apparatus assumes them to be little short of a public menace.

Happily there are compensations, not least the quality of student work at the end-of-year shows. I have only been able to visit the Bartlett and the aa, both showing excellent and, in some cases, truly brilliant work, particularly the latter. And once again it has been a pleasure in recent weeks to be a judge for the British Construction Industry Awards, seeing marvellous work where architects, engineers and contractors have worked as true teams. Today's world is different, but there is no reason to think it will last too long.

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