New conservative hypocrisy elevates style over substance
I did not submit any information for this year's AJ100 list. When the forms for submission arrived I was going through an intense period of redefining my practice and the questions on the form looked superfluous.
Last year I was equal third on the 'most admired' list as I recall - this year I did not even make the list. I might well have fallen out of favour but I find the descent rather abrupt.
Anyway, I find it rather interesting to look through the list as an outsider as I can be dispassionate about it. The list obviously is no more useful than school league tables and simply panders to an idea that lists create competition, which is good.
This, in my experience, is no more applicable to architecture than it is to schools.
The main list is ordered in terms of size. If I were in it I would be somewhere around the low 40s. Most of my neighbours are firms that do not produce architecture at all - they produce buildings - and who are only interested in increasing in size. This is not a tool by which to assess architecture, it is a blunt instrument that tells us how large an organisation is. It does not tell us about its aspirations, morals or commitment.
Since 1979, the world has become more conservative, a world that equates success by wealth, and wealth is measured by size.
Through innate conservatism the English failed to embrace the likes of Archigram and Cedric Price. The large commercial firms were seen as 'safe' and therefore less risky. They built the buildings that we are knocking down today. There was no investment in the intellectual and imaginative stock of the UK.
Those architects who had worked hard to continue in the twentieth century tradition of redefining the limits of architecture were abandoned by an increasingly conservative set of younger journalists who, by and large, were children of a less heroic age. They became the grandchildren of Pevsner, hellbent on restricting architecture to principles which, over 25 years, have produced practices intent on an indulgent and stylistic regeneration of the past.
They are not remotely interested in the idea of how we might adapt our built and (unbuilt) environment to serve the present and anticipate the future. In spite of their lack of interest, it is all performed with serious intent and often makes fun of the more interesting architects - architects who are trying to achieve something both more interesting and intangible, and who possess an honesty and straightforwardness that cuts through the hypocrisy of the new young conservatives.
The reality is that the architectural debate has not developed any consensus. For the first time in the history of architecture the architect is allowed to do what they want.
From this situation new questions of morality and social concern will emerge, and it will be a different conversation to the political blindness that accompanied much of the architectural theory of the twentieth century.
This openness is challenged by a body of architects intent on reiterating past dictums, within a political and social climate that has changed. This work has become a strippeddown version of a past age and has become mere style. Style is more pernicious than fashion in that it tends to last longer, and so makes people conform rather than rebel.
Most of the culprits appear in the AJ 100 list.
These practices are proud to appear in this list and use it to convince clients that they are significant.Beware of the AJ 100, and please submit your effort, whatever size you are, to my list of the AJ 50 most inventive and relevant - a short essay will be required.