Youth and experience can keep the practice alive
I am returning from Ontario with Isabel Brebbia from Alsop Architects. She is a bright, fresh and talented young architect, who originally came to me from the Bartlett on the recommendation of architect and teacher Colin Fournier, whose judgement is impeccable. We presented our first ideas for a new college of art and design. After two-anda-half days of intensive workshops, meetings, planning regulations and drinking I observed Isabel's enormous appetite for challenge. She has been a wonderful ally. For the first time in 21 years of practice I see the necessity of the challenge of the architect who is 20 or so years younger than you. Their eyes are a new filter.
Isabel is not alone. She has been working with Tim Thornton and with Lily Pschill, one of my students from Vienna. Lily is usefully reticent, so that almost every move becomes a major decision. I first noticed her talent when she made an extremely exacting, accurate and perceptive analysis of Las Vegas based on a one-day trip.
Tim is an artist from the Slade. He came on the recommendation of Bruce McLean, professor at the school. Tim is making things all the time. A fold of a cigarette paper, an arrangement of torn scraps, a curious stapling engineering solution etc. No task is without art. Every moment of the day is a potential joy laced with a sense of discovery.
These people nurture my ideas, meanderings and realisations with fresh eyes, protest and vigour. They deserve - and get - attention. They serve the same function as one's children. The young open a conduit to one's own youth which, after being rekindled, can be moderated with experience. I love them all.
I look at the evolution of some other architects and wonder why they have often been trapped by the architecture of their original success, or apparently lose their abilities. Of course, good architects never lose their ability. They get stronger and continue to develop.
The problem lies with their practices.
As the founder gets older, the former young directors get older, too. Their ability to adapt and develop tends to wane a little as the fortunes of the practice rise, and their influence on the work may stagnate.
The practice that Walter Gropius was allied with in his later years undermined his reputation. Le Corbusier, whose later work, (much of it unrealised) became extraordinary, kept a healthy distance through contemplation and painting. The founding architect of a practice should never allow an office to accept new work under their name after their death, though there seems to be a notion that keeping the name will act as a memorial and grant immortality.
Death is the extreme case but old age has similar pitfalls, which, in my view, can be avoided by encouraging and working with the young. Architects tend not to retire, and continue to reflect and cogitate through to the end. Many have tremendous knowledge, which should be shared with the emerging architects of tomorrow.
The recommendations above are for good architects only. They are not for the jumped-up commercial architect who has the audacity to justify their work with psuedointellectualisation laced with fashionable philosophers'quotes (or for Kollhoff and Kleihues, who almost destroyed Berlin).
We do not want these people to train and encourage another generation such as themselves. My message is for the good ones only. . . you know who you are!