Next year's President's Medals should reward real life briefs
[THIS WEEK] The President’s Medal winners ‘seem to think ordinary life processes of contemporary society are too boring to merit attention’.
That was Patrik Schumacher writing in the Architectural Review. His piece on the ‘Waste of Young Talent’ bemoaned entries’ reliance on ‘improbable narratives with intended symbolic message’. The prize is characterised not by ‘designs of spaces intended to frame social life’ but ‘narratives [and] evocative imagery’.
I couldn’t agree more. The Gold Medal crit presentations failed to convince that a giant ‘acoustic lyrical mechanism’ would be much use to Indian quarry workers turned deaf by brutal working conditions, or that the now-notorious Brixton Robots video – in which riot scenes are reprised – had much to say about urbanism in south London. It’s unhealthy to let talented students believe they can pursue an illogical premise or intangible proposition.
These briefs may develop skills, but what do they offer architectural practice – apart from yet more disillusioned melancholics brought down to earth by the reality of practice? More importantly, how can they improve the lives of the public or of our cities? An old-fashioned conceit perhaps, but for a discipline held in such low regard, it may be an expedient one to think about.
‘They’ve got to have their fun’ is a familiar but defeatist refrain. It widens the gap between research and practice, to the detriment of both. Like magistrates tolerating carousing sailors on shore leave, Part 1s and 2s can be indulged in outlandish briefs. They’ll get all that unbridled creativity out of their systems, before settling into a lifetime of drudgery.
Perhaps we should take up Hertzberger’s advice to ‘stop making new monsters’ and turn towards more practical briefs. The transition from architecture school to practice would be less traumatic and, once there, students would have a lot more to offer clients, employers and the public.