Real architectural value reduced to sound bites
Massaged by the media, we live in a world of myths and fears.
Tabloids and TV pander to our obsession with the 100 best/worst/ escape/reality moments indulging both the myth of celebrity and the fear of catastrophe. But at least you can choose what you read and push the off button.
More insidious in an increasingly paranoid society is that our wider range of choices is being curtailed in a most pernicious way, by playing on those same emotions of myth and fear.Serious matters, such as the government's challenge to habeas corpus, have set a new model for the justification and presentation of constraints. It is for the greater good, will only infringe on the lives of those who are probably no good, someone must be responsible/punished, are the all-toocommon excuses. In all this, presentation is key: think of Bush/Blair and the official language of obfuscation used in their references to evidence of 'mass destruction programmerelated activities'.
This duplicitous language of sound bites is everywhere, not least in the presentation and discussion of architecture. We talk of the environmental agenda, the manufacture of buildings and driving down cost targets - but not about building delightful architecture, the making of great places or how to ensure their long term value.
We glibly refer to the environmental aspects of projects with talk of audits and efficiencies, when we know construction struggles to achieve questionable targets.
We speak of 'zero energy building'and repeat other nonsense catchphrases as we buy off the environmental alarmists with the proliferation of inefficient technical gizmos. In reaction to the numbing propaganda of environmental righteousness, I am increasingly drawn to the counter orthodoxies offered by critics like Lomborg, 'The Skeptical Environmentalist'and Okonski, 'Adapt or Die'. Their contention, that the environmental gloom and doom merchants are failing to recognise the possibility of the progress of technology and the evolutionary history of adaptation, is attractive if only because it asks questions. We need intelligent debate on the relevance and accuracy of the vague (but always astonishing) figures offered in the setting of seemingly impossible targets, not censure for failing to toe the line.
The presentation of mythical costs and targets of projects completed 'on time/on budget' is easily done.When did you last see published figures of a project's cost that presented anything more than a skilfully edited version of the final account - or indeed the tender estimate? And anyway, the greatest delay is in planning; if you want to finish early, change the bureaucracy or start without permission. I'm not sure which of these two notions is the more fanciful.
The relevance of the manufacturing of cars to the construction of architecture is another myth promoted for fear of government censure. In fact, bespoke construction knocks spots off the automotive industry; and mass-produced cars are far more expensive per cubic metre than buildings leaving aside their appalling lifecycle costs.When you consider that they are often also subsidised, you can only wonder why we have fallen for all this dross.
The danger of accepting these new orthodoxies is that, despite appearances, nothing actually moves forward.We must question both the ideas and the presentation; otherwise we will be constrained into constructing buildings that are merely paper propaganda for untested myths that play on unproven fears.