Architects are preparing to open their doors to the public for Architecture Week's 'open practice'. Open practice encompasses all the buzzwords of the moment - openness, accessibility, participation - but it is also an invaluable marketing tool. Architects'offices tend to be more interesting than most. For small practices, the office fit-out may constitute a favourite part of the body of completed work, but for large, established practices the office is just as vital as a marketing tool. Those visiting Foster's offices during Architecture Week will be following in the footsteps of the FIFA delegates, who on a recent visit to assess England's eligibility to host the World Cup, were taken not only to Wembley, but to Battersea for a tour of Foster's offices so that they might more fully realise the quality of the operation behind the design for the proposed new Wembley stadium.
Architects, like wild animals, tend to be shown to best advantage in their natural habitats. The office is not simply a showcase for a practice's work, but also for the way architects work. While the media is fond of soliciting architects'comments, it is, on the whole, interested in brief, out-of-context soundbites - which architects enjoy, but do not necessarily excel at, especially when pitted against politicians and media pundits who do that sort of thing for a living.
What architects do for a living remains shrouded in mystery. While a few may devote the odd moment to debating the socio-cultural issues of the day, the vast majority are more or less permanently embroiled in the long hard slog of getting their designs commissioned, approved, funded and built. It is a process requiring not only highly complex artistic, spatial and technical skills, but an element of showmanship, salesmanship and administrative flair. Getting people inside architects offices may be a means of counter-acting the popular misconception that architects' fees are a weighty reward for a swiftly executed concept sketch. The apparatus of the workplace is the clearest proof we can offer that the scribble on the back of a beer mat can only transform itself into a building with the backing of a functioning office, and some tough business decisions.