Ever the twain shall meet
The sometimes thorny relationship between the worlds of architectural education and practice can disguise the reality - that most qualifying architects do indeed become practitioners - as a publication from the Bartlett School makes clear. Paul Finch reports
We are all familiar with architecture school end-of-year shows: the frantic rush to get the pin-ups looking as good as can be before opening night; the often fraught attempts to attract the supposedly glamorous and influential to the show; the more-or-less lavishly produced record of the school's achievements that year. To the untrained eye, the professionalism of the visualisation and drawings these days is matched only by the determination to make every idea, every line and every portfolio look fashionably obscure. You need explanation from the tutors or unit masters to make sense of it all - which is part of the appeal: it is a long way from what can be the grim reality of professional life where conflict resolution, planning battles and non-committed clients can come to dominate.
The worlds of education and practice, however, are separated much less than the scenario above might suggest. For one thing, the idea that naive, idealistic and totally unworldly students are foisted on to unwilling architectural employers is a nonsense. Most students do a year out;
if they are innocent about the ways of practice before they go into this process, they are scarcely so by the time they come out. Second, there is Part 3.Having lectured recently to this category of half-student/half-professional at the Bartlett, it was encouraging to see, as usual, a full house of committed young people, still listening and taking notes at 8.30pm, after a long day. And pretty much all working in practice.
The are many practitioners who teach part-time, perhaps fewer as a proportion than there used to be, but still a vital link between the two 'worlds'; there are practitioners as external examiners; and there is a rooted idea of life-long learning that keeps links between the schools and individual professionals potentially throughout their working life. Even so, interaction between education and practice is relatively uncharted territory. It tends to be anecdotal rather than systematically recorded; the contribution that teachers have made to practitioners has only recently, via the Annie Spinks Award, begun to be acknowledged formally (and about time too). The Bartlett School has decided to do something to record and celebrate the relationship between itself, its alumni and the offices in which they work (or have created), its teachers, examiners and contributors; the result, Bartlett Works, is a veritable Who's Who of architectural practices, lavishly illustrated, but for once a publication in which individual contributors to the design effort are named, rather than simply the principals.
A creative context At one level, and certainly for Bartlett graduates, it is a catalogue to dip into, reminding the reader of people they knew or knew of and where they have travelled in their careers. This includes those (such as the film-maker Patrick Keiller) who have not pursued architecture, but taken up different but connected activities.
But at a deeper level, this book/catalogue is a proposition about the fundamental and essential commingling of teaching, history, theory, and the designing and making of buildings. You might say it is a visual riposte to the dim-witted question about what architectural education is for - that is to say, it is not about producing (vile phrase) ovenready fodder for the practice machine, but encouraging creative people in a context of real-time delivery of the environment in which we live and work.
By and large, the work shown in this publication is completed buildings, though there is a share of projects too. This is the reverse side of the summer-show coin, this is the 'stuff ', as co-editor Peter Cook might say, which at least in part derives from direct and indirect connections with the Bartlett School.
The idea for a publication of this type came from Peter Gibbs-Kennet, the former director of education at the RIBA, and someone conscious of the pressure to prove credentials under which schools now operate, with their perpetual cycle of investigation and validation by the RIBA, the ARB, and the university's own panels.
One thing about architecture schools these days is that they experience the same degree of regulation and control their graduates encounter in the world of building-making.
As co-editor Iain Borden notes in an introduction, the world of ideas was the subject of an interesting compendium published in 2000 as The Bartlett Book of Ideas, the essence of all those end-of-year exhibitions.
This follow-up, despite its title, lays much less emphasis on authorship and indeed Borden notes that there is no claim as to the particular influence of Bartlett alumni in relation to individual projects. And, of course, it would be perfectly possible for many, if not all, schools of architecture to produce a similar work, just changing the names of the personnel involved. It would be fairly interchangeable with the AA, for example.
However, it is the Bartlett that has done it and which should take the credit. This publication is a reminder, even if it makes no attempt to list the countless professionals and others involved in the making of a building, that architecture is a collective business.
As for those who are named, this acts as a reminder that within the collective that makes buildings, the individuals concerned are extremely important.
It is nearly 30 years since the Salaried Architects Group tried to promote the importance of, in particular, project architects who too often were omitted from the story of a building, which always had to be presented as the work of a practice.
Consultants who worked on the buildings shown in this book might ask why they are not credited; the response might be that their own schools of engineering, surveying, etc should consider doing something along the lines of Bartlett Works. This is a publication with a generic, if simple, idea. It happens to be a terrific record of architectural and other forms of work, by a huge variety of people, and an interesting thing to dip into whether or not you have any connection with the Bartlett. Other similar publications from other schools will surely follow; they will need to be very good indeed to better this one.
Edited by Laura Allen, Iain Borden, Peter Cook and Rachel Stevenson, Bartlett Works:
Architecture, Building Projects is published by August Projects with the Bartlett School of Architecture. 2004. 208pp. £26