Creative interrogation should flourish in the AF's next decade
Ten years ago, when the Architecture Foundation was set up, the context was rather different. The UK was ensconced in a deep economic recession, and the architecture scene was weighed down with notions of how we should behave as it tried to drag itself out of the quagmire of High-Tech. Roger Scruton and Prince Charles were still obstructing invention and Norman Foster seemed to be everywhere - he still is everywhere and we still find boring young farts trying to nail down architecture to suit their own narrow-mindedness.
People still worry about style, we are still short of good critics, and life seems as hard as ever as management-speak has added to the plethora of jargon of which architects are so fond.
Within this picture of gloom, the Architecture Foundation acted as a centre of debate and tried to ask questions that were different from the usual ones. Initially, it offered a venue for exhibitions (not always to my taste) and associated debates. As it matured, it focused on the social issues which are the very meat of architecture. The London Evening Standard debates - organised by Ricky Burdett - put important issues, which will not go away, on the agenda. And today, those questions are still relevant.
The foundation has a lot to do in the next 10 years. It must try to demonstrate that there is a relationship between new, innovative and creative design, and socially responsible action. In the past, the idea of public participation has not sat well with cutting-edge architecture. Public consultation was watered down to a series of questionnaires that only confirmed past prejudices, as opposed to positing new possibilities.Heritage has become a fashion - and as with all fashions, it might wain - which underpins the idea that the public wants historically referential new work. We need our best architects to participate in a more open and creative working process - one that addresses the possibilities of design, urbanism and architecture. At present, these 'good architects' are either not working or they are overseas. There is a belief that the UK has the world's best architects, and yet I see no evidence of this at present. We should not be complacent, nor delude ourselves into any sense of security.
One of the foundation's jobs is to promote opportunities for architects to show how good they can be.Life is better than Neomodernism of the old kind.
In effect, the Architecture Foundation is the London Architecture Centre, and one of the challenges for the future is to define what an architecture centre is. It is not a place for architectural exhibitions - such exhibitions are difficult and often prove impenetrable to the layperson.But an AF cinema to promote the use of new technology as a means of exploration and communication might be very relevant. The foundation must bridge gaps between politics and public desire, act as an interpreter of alternative futures to the people of London, and assist all in the appreciation and enjoyment of all aspects of architecture. There is no dominant school of thought; as such, I believe this is a great chance for the architect, the public and the funders to explore the subject across a wide front. Never before in history has architecture potentially freed itself from its own agenda. In other words, in the past architecture has been bad for architecture. The AF will rise to this challenge and absorb itself with questioning - with those from other disciplines, including artists - the whole nature of our environment and a variety of delivery mechanisms.
OUR MISSION IS TO MAKE LIFE BETTER!
WA, from my table at Parkgate Studio, London