Campaigning needs to jettison jargon and improve debate
A contractually difficult week ended at the RIBA, with honorary fellowships awarded to critics, curators, consultants and clients:
a cheerful occasion with institution recognising individual. The profession should never own architecture, so it is right to recognise those who are not architects, but who support architecture (rather than simply the profession). The sooner we forget protection of title, and promote the RIBA as an independent, multi-headed, critically intelligent gathering of experts, the better.
The pejorative 'trade union' tag leaves me confused: surely like-minded people standing up for something they believe in is democracy in action - maybe that's the problem. In our era of rights promulgated by a government obsessed with regulating happiness through statistics, the RIBA stands out for its inability to be 'on message'. But, if an institution is only ever on message, it is likely to lose its core value to society. We need more members and honorary fellows to give credence to our model of the professional institution as an anarchic but articulate think tank, espousing related, but sometimes contradictory, views.
I would rather pursue this potential, hard though it will sometimes be, than compromise by taking the lowest possible common denominator on issues, such as the irrelevancies that are being discussed in the general election. The turgid debate suggests there is cross-party agreement that European constitutionalism, the NHS and concomitant implications for taxation are best ignored.
That way, politicians can debate the irrelevant issues that swing marginal seats and then, once in power, get on with the real business of ensuring they retain control for as long as possible. The successful party machines offer a good model of what is to be avoided.
The level of debate was highlighted when Newsnight came down my way for a 30-second slot on housing. The debate was not on the infamous 4.4 million homes and the flood plains, oversimplified as 'brownfield good, greenfield bad'. Housing, for that night's TV, was a question of who might cut stamp duty and whether this tax cut would reduce prices or further inflate the market.
The £60,000 home was also mentioned.
This is another distraction, the real issues being land cost and availability, planning, building regulations, construction and the need for deregulation and long-term thinking on describing cost, and therefore 'sustainability' (whatever that is). The familiar architectural offerings of flat-pack or volumetric units, all drawn in case-studystyle isometric (with updated graphics), are an irrelevance and a demonstration of our profession's willingness to churn out images and ideas for nothing, without dirtying our hands by engaging with politics. This is what a freethinking collection of different individuals is all about. So to hell with the hope for 'joined-up thinking'; the more it's mentioned, the more I cringe, and the less likely it is to happen. Indeed, the more alliterative and catchy the phrase, the less it means. No wonder so few architects become embroiled in party politics, preferring to leave it to barristers, whose professional codes enshrine the philosophy that the medium is the message.
Slogans have moved on and difficult messages are now concealed. 'Brownfield bad, greenfield good' is alliterative and catchy, and reflects current government thinking, but is electorally unpalatable.
So, instead, we have the suspiciously titled 'Sustainable Community Plan' (for new towns somewhere else): a short-term solution that will create long-term problems disguised as a new moral model. It is frightening stuff:
enough to make you vote, but for what?