Conformists who kill the appetite for architecture
I was struck by a letter in the AJ responding to my frequent references to food. The correspondent seemed to think that my culinary interest has nothing to do with architecture. I do not understand this form of ignorance, as food has everything to do with architecture. Architecture is about behaviour - good behaviour - and anyone who feels that they can maintain integrity of architectural purpose while (not) enjoying a Big Mac must be seriously underqualified to practise.
The early Modernists realised that there was a link between ideas, the occasional built form and experience (which includes food). If you do not care about the quality of food, it is not possible to even begin to understand what a building might or could be.
I was struck recently by people writing in to Radio 4's Today programme lambasting drivers who exceed the speed limit. I was appalled that they should take a moral stance about 'breaking the law'. I took this as a signal that these were the very people who might also not appreciate that food matters.
If food does not matter then neither does much else, and all you are left with is the time to worry about others breaking the law.
This was compounded by some parents who marched to their daughter's school and took the headmistress hostage. They did this because the head teacher sent their 12year-old daughter home for wearing a ring in her nose. I personally have nothing against noses bedecked with rings, but I do have some sympathy with the teacher who is in charge of a domain and, as such, can create her own standards and rules. Her personal opinions are defensible on the grounds that it is an expression of her individuality, and that MATTERS. I do not understand why any school should prostrate itself before the idea of centralised standards. Our schools, like our diet, should celebrate individuality, allowing society to maintain an idea of choice and variety.
Architecture is no different. If the norm is some low-level takeaway, we should see it as an indication of sickness. We need protection from those who conform.
As I write this, I have accepted the role of chairman of the Architecture Foundation.
This role obviously begs the question as to what I think is important about the organisation and where could it go. It has a highly qualified, committed and irreverent set of officers. It is important that it does not succumb to the temptation of becoming an institution that, by its nature, has to assume a particular manifesto.
Under the chairmanship of Lord Rogers, the Foundation has developed a reputation for being a useful irritant as it raises questions about the nature of how we go about things. This activity has ranged from wide-ranging issues regarding our ecological responsibilities, to the role of the pigeons and our attitude to them.
What can I add?
I hope many things - collective creativity;
the demise of the idea of 'presentation'; the idea that architects are expected to have a personalised set of rules (which always means style); new materials; 'city architects';
ideas of risk; standardised behaviour and architecture as play - will be but a few of the issues we might explore.
It worries me when I read letters from people who clearly think that architecture can divorce itself from everything else, including food. Everything is connected and what architects do can never stand in splendid isolation.