'Nothing is lost, 'says Mel Gooding, the writer and critic. By this he means that everything you do seems to have value at the time of doing it. I subscribe to the view that most people have developed their main ideas and concepts by the age of 25, and that thereafter they spend their time trying to understand them.
With age comes a certain sophistication, which allows us to reprocess and reconsider the apparent discontinuity of our early exposure to the world and our attempts to understand it. The 25-55 period gives the opportunity to gain experience but, to return to Gooding's point, the architect or artist should not be afraid to pursue directions that are unfamiliar. This keeps them young and on edge but, of course, it also allows them to question their acquired knowledge and lessons of moderation.
This testing of the self in a 'not-knowing' mode is important, because it makes the distinction between those who become obsessed with the idea of taste and those who allow themselves to become absorbed in wonderment. Our cultural landscape is littered with taste-makers. Often they have the power to decide whose work will succeed and be recognised, and whose will be discarded on the heap of anonymity. The architects who become patronised by the style cognoscenti tend to focus on a refinement of detail or a reduction in vocabulary which denies the full breadth of their pre-25-year-old development.
I find this process disappointing because the success of these authors of self-denial contributes to a predomination of a style that prevents a true evolution of architecture.
How many times have we almost escaped Modernism to be firmly thrown back to the past? I find it criminal because the public is denied the fruits of what the architect could do for it. Style policing creates a measure by which the public views itself, even though, in my experience, the person in the street is capable of dreaming beyond the realms of good taste. Tastelessness is the fuel of the new, but our love of those who decide what is worthwhile is forever dowsing the flames. It is easy for me to hide behind the pen, and I hear some of you willing me to name names. Of course, I cannot do this because these policemen can make my life difficult, so I have to remain a coward in the interests of self-preservation.
However, the great thing about ageing is that at some point you get older than 55, and by 65 the people I have in mind are either dead or of little consequence, and then we can name names. I don't want to be so presumptuous as to assume that any of them read my articles, but if they do perhaps I could ask them to write in to the AJ and explain their dubious actions. The majority of these people are not architects, even though they decide on what is considered to be of value.
Nothing is lost. We are allowed to make mistakes; in fact, it is important to work towards a cultural climate of great risk-taking in the name of vitality.
Try things. Later you might discover that they were the most important things you have ever done. I am writing this in a space that has five different ceiling textures which anyone with taste would not have allowed themselves to do, and yet here it is and it works. It is beyond taste, it might even be tasteless, but it works in spite of any consideration of its formal value. Our environment is formed by ideas and thoughts beyond design, and the best comes from risk-taking, which is the essence of life itself.
WA, from the lobby of the Hotel Danieli in Venice