Don't let our education go the way of mainstream mediocrity
Inhabiting a world of detailed constraints, architects are sometimes blind to the fact that we win skirmishes but continuously retreat. In the process, we endlessly invent new ways to surmount challenges; subversion of rules has become our stock in trade. We have to deploy considerable resources to combat statutory nonsense, hence the increasing number of experts on audit and litigation. Think also of the exponential rise in advisers on planning, health and safety, building regulation, conservation and community consultation.
The 'human resources business', whatever its creative rebranding, was similarly spawned by the management of employment law. There are now more individuals working in HR than there ever were mining coal; we are becoming a knowledge-based culture with all the problems this brings - all gown and no town.
What a delight it is occasionally to work with someone who actually makes something.
The increase in the empty activity of responding to new statutes came to mind when I received a pamphlet called Respect for People - Diversity Workbook. 'Diversity' is political correctness reincarnate. What is particularly sinister is that this propaganda for the programming of corporate and individual morality (backed by Herman Ouseley, former chair of the Commission for Racial Equality and City & Guilds) presents speculation as fact.
Example: 'Q: The more diverse the staff in an organisation, the better that organisation will be able to meet the needs of its customers.
A: True - it will help. Ensuring that people's differences are respected and valued is also key.' The implication is that those who study the handbook are following the true path. Am I overreacting? Ask yourself how much fuss was made when the home secretary supported a programme for the security tagging of convicted criminals. Extraordinarily, little to none; we have come to accept control.
Education is subject to similar levels of manipulation - think centralised funding and the pressure on the delivery of satisfactory figures. Look at the excellence suggested by A-level results, which rise year-on-year, despite the escalation in adolescent pregnancies, violence, obesity, drinking and drugging.
This management of statistics highlights the dangers of a nationally consistent curriculum in any subject - including architecture.
We should, of course, debate the merits of three or five years; the links between practice and academia, and acceptable levels of drawing, writing and thinking. But we should never countenance the centralisation and standardisation of ideas. In architectural education we are introduced to tolerance as both detail and idea. We can then enjoy the passion of manifestos and be wary of their totalitarian style; learn to construct our own ideas; and recognise the distinction between ideology and outcome. We can enjoy the contradictions evident in the history of ideas.
The current system of architectural education, for all its problems, accommodates different trends in different schools at different times. The potential downside of this difficultto-compare variety is balanced by the potential for outstanding enquiry. We must not mistake enforcing mediocrity with raising standards. If we are interested in an architecture that reflects this tolerance, we must resist the idea that the statistically obsessed mandarins of centralised government should model education. Look at how the ODPM's guidelines have only further bastardised development and planning control; performance statistics are met at the expense of the discussion of a scheme's merits.
Education must not be allowed to descend any further into the same jargonised world of inputs and outcomes. Sadly, where diversity is concerned, we need to search the thesaurus, as another useful word has been corrupted.