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Biodiversity pays the price as the practice of pupillage goes to pot

Once upon a time there were hundreds of different ways of doing things, every one of them mapped out with initiation and graduation ceremonies, rules and regulations, proven competence and high professional standards. There were institutional guilds in the Middle Ages that still survive in the City of London today, and regimental hierarchies for the army that are still being torn to pieces after 50 years. In those days, the law was administered according to precedent and not, as it increasingly is, by formula; teachers learned by copying other teachers, and nursing was taught by copying other nurses. Even architecture was learned by pupillage, by working for practicing architects and paying for the privilege. And this entire pyramid of devolved expertise was kept in place by standards of personal responsibility that are inconceivable today.

Seen from above, this interlocking network of systems was clearly based on the two oldest organisational models known to man - the church and the army - in both of which rank is attained incrementally and the authority of seniority cannot be questioned.

But seen from below, the network looks different. Each of the disciplines enumerated above, and others too numerous to mention, had, over the course of time, developed a unique organisational structure of its own. A separate personality as distinct as if it were a different species in the natural world. This was the true diversity of the human genome, that nurses should not be the same as doctors, that architects should be trained differently to policemen, and so on. Most of all, that training should be based upon perceived practice and not upon theory.

Early in the last century, mainly as a result of mobilisation to fight the Great War, this grand arrangement began to come apart.The training of soldiers came first, the diverse practices of the past unceremoniously junked in favour of grand academies for officers and vast training camps for men.

This process of centralisation continued, gathering pace as the century advanced. Medicine, surgery, dentistry, teaching, law, education, engineering and nursing followed the same route. One-thousand grammar schools became 100 comprehensive schools. Another 100 trainee doctors left the wards in favour of the groves of academe, heading the rush into colleges. Artists (of all people) took up residence in studios designed by local authority architects departments.

Engineers (who knew no better) learned their lessons in grandly named 'Colleges of Technology, Art and Commerce' and architectural students, following the resolution passed by the RIBA Oxford conference of 1956, left behind the grand history of pupillage that had produced such masters as Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, and were herded into half-a-hundred architecture departments, there to be taught by experts in name-dropping and magazine skimming.

And what has been the result? In an age that prides itself on a new respect for the natural world, where marshes drained over centuries by our forefathers are now restored to their ancient state of inutility for the benefit of the great variety of wildlife they support, biodiversity is the watchword. The unnumbered denizens of woodland and hedgerow are being counted and taxonomised on the basis that the more species there are identified, the richer the genetic soup for science to study.This is all very well and, indeed, may one day prove to be crucially important. But what of the 'biodiversity'of human organisational structures? Surely there must be some penalty to pay for the wholesale demolition of the tradition of pupillage that corresponded so well to the realities of architectural practice. Is this not a crime against survival just as the extinction of a natural species is?

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