Three years of talent, fear and sadness: time to bid farewell
It was three years ago that my editor asked me if I would like to take over this weekly column from my old chum Paul Hyett.
I initially said no, as I thought it might be too much like writing a school essay each week.
A simple lunch with Isabel reversed my decision, although I set the condition that I would only do it for three years. This is my last written piece - in the next issue will be my pictorial Christmas card - and despite a touch of regret, I am pleased it is over. Not because I have not enjoyed it but because I have done it long enough.
I did not enjoy the fact that, within a brief period, people I cherished have died. When you are required to write, these events take on a new dimension. Frank Newby, Jaques Hondelatte, Cedric Price - it is as though the pen is forced to respond to the passing of major components of your life, which brings you closer to your own inevitable demise. This sadness should remain private and not be displayed on the pages of a journal.
I did not enjoy the increased appetite for the acceptable face of architectural boredom, receiving so much reward in new commissions. Even worse was seeing critics try to make a case for an architecture of quiet, unremarkable taste. To me, this flies in the face of what I see as a taste in the general public for the extraordinary, the individual and the unique. This is clearly a sin perpetuated on society by architects who wish to invent rules by which they can abide, at the very time when rules would appear to be relaxed and the general architectural horizon refreshingly open.
I have not enjoyed some of the letters I have received in response to my articles. I had not expected my architectural colleagues to be so bigoted and arrogant. This truly saddened me, as surely we are all engaged in an optimistic occupation that ought to be about the business of 'yes', and not 'no'.
During the three years I have become even more disillusioned by competitions. They are seen as the salvation for the younger architect, who rapidly becomes a slave to the system. In society's struggle to be fair, the net result is thousands of wasted hours of human effort, spent on often ill-conceived briefs, by often unscrupulous clients, who recognise that competition is an inexpensive form of advertising. This effort could be redirected into the exploration of ideas which society has not even dreamed of yet. Surely our job is to raise the debate by offering speculation for discussion.
I have not enjoyed the fact that aversion to risk has risen to the point where no one wants to take decisions. This results in a flatness that ultimately detracts from diversity and difference, which both feed the imagination.
I am appalled at the hours people are expected to work and the fact that people do not have time to take their holidays.
I have travelled a lot in the past three years and observed that the UK has some real architectural talent in comparison with other countries.Sadly, we tend not to exploit this at home, as a result of the connivance between the non-risk takers and the architectural taste makers, who still prefer American corporate banality or minimal Swiss cuckoo clocks.
I have enjoyed being part of the AJ team and I wish my successor, whoever it is, the best of the luck. It will be fantastic, but for three years only - the same time it takes to get a BA in architecture.
WA, not from a BA flight but a table for one at the Lowry Hotel, Manchester