My editor threw down the gauntlet to me in her editorial (AJ 21.3.02) as, yet again, we had to endure the AJ100 in all its full analysis. Of course, I think we all understand that the firms on the list are not ranked by quality or imagination which leads me to my question: why do it?
The answer is that it does make compulsive voyeuristic reading. It is impossible not to observe that some of the largest have the worst male to female ratio and that some practices' turnover seems disproportionate to the number of staff. In idle moments, I find myself pondering these matters and being revolted by my own fascination. The list falls into the same category as the 'Rich List'and league tables and now, most recently I notice, the 100 best employers in the UK.
My self-disgust is based in the fact that society has grown into an organism that feels everything can be measured by publishing lists, and that a blind compulsion to indulge in competition is good.
The reality is that the lists tell us very little, and are indeed not accurate. I know this because my studio did not participate in this ugly parade and yet if we had, we would have appeared comfortably in the top 20. How many others, like me, refuse to play the game?
How many offices lie in the return of their information sheets? And who, if anyone, is checking? Even if it were accurate, I would not approve of publishing it. I am amazed that some practices that I respect participate.
Last year I made a call for practices to submit credentials based on other criteria and I did get a few responses. But I did nothing about it because in the final analysis I thought there should be no lists at all, and by indulging in a similar practice, I would be no better than the rest.
Society and the architectural fraternity have the intelligence and wit to make up their own mind about who is good, bad, big, extraordinary, incompetent or lazy.
The pages of this magazine contain a wide variety of work by a whole range of architects which allows us to make our own judgements if we have to.
The AJ100 surreptitiously encourages firms to be big, which is not in itself any great objective. I believe that architects should be focusing on making sure they secure projects over a wide range of functions in both the public and private sector. For some, a wide geographical spread could also be added as well as a wide spread of project value.
Diversity is a quality that could well be applauded. Why is it that many of our so-called 'better and bigger' firms stop using their talents on small projects? The answer is that they find them uneconomical, but this is surely just a lack of management expertise or even possibly 'over management'.
Why does the list ask only for numbers of qualified architects? The nature of practice today is a much broader amalgam of skills. In my own office, we have artists, graphic designers, film makers, an actress and a writer, to name but a few. Our job is much wider and more interesting than the list would suggest; we should be encouraging diversity of skills to allow us to respond to the possible challenges of the world today. We do not have to lock ourselves away in this filing cabinet called architecture. Everything is architecture. There are other architects who spend time thinking and speculating on possibilities. These people will never be big, but they can be great.
Please save us from the list, as lists tend to only encourage a flattened, dull society which propagates an unimaginative view of our environment that ultimately leads to vandalism, crime and suicide.
WA, from the BA lounge, Heathrow