The bold-as-brass initials of Countess Elizabeth, Bess of Hardwick, stamped in black against the sky over Hardwick Hall, make one of the most memorable sights in British architecture. Few clients have so successfully laid claim to their commission, and with such panache, literally covering it with their own signature. Even now Hardwick Hall's attribution to the architect Robert Smythson is not 100 per cent certain. Bess has been the unchallenged leader in client chutzpah for the past 400-odd years. Until, this is, the Daily Telegraph published the sinners of this year's Individual Homes competition last Saturday.
The two-page spread covering 'Best Contemporary House', 'Best Timber- frame House', 'Best Small House', 'Best Family Home', 'Best Conversion' and 'Best Traditional House' contains not one single reference to an architect's involvement in any of these impressive projects. Oh yes, one. The best family home and 'Home of the Year' was designed by 'Nigel', an advertising sales manager, and 'Sue', an NHS manager and 'an architect friend who was able to translate their ideas into practical realities'. So that's alright then. We are inevitably led to believe that 'the contemporary house', with its striking inhabited roof and glass panelling, was designed, supervised and managed by a naval lieutenant-commander and his gp wife, and that the single-storey white house outside Cambridge, named De Stijl, was 'built' by a fashion journalist. Only where the architect is also the owner does he get a mention.
The casual and wholesale erasure of professional expertise in favour of 'committed do-it-yourself' that the Telegraph article peddles is pernicious to our profession. Incidentally it reveals the dangerous illusions of the word 'self-build', now habitually used by the broadsheets for any owner-commissioned housing. Is anyone out there? Which of our illustrious professional bodies is going to defend our professional pride and competence when it really matters?