Should entry into our profession be limited?
Unable to wait any longer, I dashed from the Playbill Theatre, where I had been watching 'Forbidden Broadway', and made for Manhattan's most famous loo.
Cruising southwards, through Greenwich Village, I wondered what kind of mind could transform the mundane and secretive ritual of excretory functions into a lavatorial icon that warrants the updating and reissue of Lucinda Lambton's classic book Temples of Convenience. Gough's Portobello Road wcs might delight, but Janis Leonard's Bar '89 installation challenges the very concept of taboo.
Hamburger and beer ordered, I settled in the 'eatery' section, enjoying the contrasts of transparent and translucent that characterise this restaurant's minimalist architecture.
Then, up the granite and steel staircase, across the mezzanine, and there they were - the unisex loos. Unlike its London counterpart's daring, perhaps more subtle, installation of translucent partitions, Bar '89's five cubicles are enclosed by clear glass, their freestanding washbasins and pans immaculately detailed and displayed within a grid of ceramic tiles.
Knowing customers of course arrive unfazed, confident in the knowledge that the cubicle enclosures magically transform from transparent to opaque some ten seconds after entering. But newcomers are shocked into prolonged discomfort at the perceived threat of 'performing' in public . . . Oh the power of pop-architecture!
But of all New York's wonderful sites, for me the most powerful impact is that of the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration. Next to the Statue of Liberty, this French Renaissance structure originally accommodated the processing or rejection of new arrivals. Its renovation now provides a wonderful insight into the ambitions and traumas offered by the New World . . .
Millions successfully entered this gateway to freedom and opportunity but it was the plight of those rejected, and the undoubted agony of the 'rejectors', that most stirs the heart, for how could those who had successfully escaped the worst tyrannies of Europe refuse others the same favour?
Yet what poignancy the arguments for restriction carried, in terms of the destructive impact of uncontrolled entry upon America's labour markets. Unions, desperate to protect wages and conditions, pointed to the damage that would be incurred if the balance between labour supply and demand was lost.
All this reminded me of the problem faced by our profession where restricting entry remains a taboo - for who dares to challenge the right of students to choose architecture as a career, or of vice-chancellors to satisfy their universities insatiable appetite for course expansion?
But, forbidden as this subject is, we fail if we fear to address it, for without the protection of mandatory fee scales, vast oversupply into the profession will inevitably continue to drive wages ever lower, ultimately producing conditions whereby practices cannot deliver an adequate service. This serves nobody's interest.
However, I strongly reject restrictions on numbers for numbers' sake and move instinctively towards Helen Mallinson's proposition that we should instead continue to expand the scope of influence and work for architects - degw and Fletcher Priest are among innovative offices which have successfully explored such territories. But this requires shifts in thinking and policy: our schools must provide a wider spectrum of courses that prepare graduates for new careers outside mainstream architectural activity; our students and those who sponsor their education must accept alternative paths as worthy marks of success; and the course validation process run by the riba and arb must recognise variations in programmes to suit different branches of architectural career.
But most important of all, the Registration Act needs revisiting so that the arb can be released from the narrow interpretation of the word 'architect' which so fetters its imagination, and our profession's progress towards expansion and diversification.