Architecture is an art - but remember it is also a science
'The sublime is a matter of subjective experience not a quality of the objects that induce it. Beauty, on the other hand, is found in the form of objects, defined in terms of their limits, and definable as such, and conducive to a feeling of the furtherance of life, and is thus compatible with charms and a playful imagination' - Burke.
We know what is beautiful, we know what touches us. Burke was reminding us that Kant's analysis of the sublime was merely a subjective vision of the black ink of life, observed from the comfort of the normal or secure. Kant was an eternal pessimist. Burke's idea is optimistic. It contains the extraordinary concept of 'the furtherance of life'. This is a beautiful concept in itself, but when he adds that it is compatible with 'charms and a playful imagination', it becomes recognisable as the mission for an architect.
Sadly, this is not the mission statement of the majority of the UK's qualified architects.
Their mission is to endure without fuss. The agencies that exist to promote architects do exactly that without promoting architecture.
Much of this problem begins with education.
Someone in the 1960s decided that young, aspiring architects should be required to hold two out of three A-levels in science subjects. As a result, architecture came to be viewed as a science, as opposed to an art. In reality, architecture is architecture and, as such, it straddles both camps.
At present, there is a debate in Europe about the standardisation of architectural education.
Alongside this is the idea of a super league of schools. For some time this worried me, as it appeared to include an acceptance that there would always be a recognition of the mediocre.
This would become the short cut to a qualification that would allow the mundane to erect the mundane.
In one of my rare practical insights, I realised that maybe this could be a good thing. This is partly due to the fact that architecture has become a term encompassing all building activities. In former times, architecture was restricted to the idea of public buildings and private homes. I am not advocating that we should return to such elitist times, but given the fact that the term 'architect'has become contaminated with responsibilities which do not suit it, perhaps it is better now to accept that some architects will always be content to do work that is not truly architecture. I therefore want to promote the idea of a twotier education.
At present, good students at second-rate architecture schools know, at the end of their third year or BA, that they would like to study somewhere else for the final part of their course. They wish to move somewhere that will nurture and test their ambitions.
Currently, students have limited choices.
They can choose between the AA, which they probably cannot afford, the Bartlett, which is too crowded, or the RCA, which is excellent but small. Some people would add Cambridge, a place I find academically snobbish.
It is clear that new courses are required. I have proposed postgraduate ones for Central St Martins College of Art and Design, the Royal Academy School and the Slade. All three institutions can mix their students with artists and designers with appropriate technical support. The 'artist environment'within their walls gives these aspiring architects a handle on proper people that work in a direct way to shape our environment.
In these places are people that explore the black side. This helps the young architect to understand Burke's phrase, 'the furtherance of life'.