[THIS WEEK] Robert Adam’s new book affectionately takes architecture to task, writes James Pallister
You might surmise, from a particularly gloomy reading of Robert Adam’s latest pamphlet, that architecture is a decadent profession, deserving of an inevitable and inexorable decline.
Don’t let that put you off. In The 7 Sins of Architects, a series of seven short essays illustrated by the familiar hand of AJ cartoonist Louis Hellman, scathing criticism of the worst aspects of the profession is delivered with affection and wit. Adam’s criticism is damning, his delivery silver-tongued.
As he acknowledges in his introduction, he’s an oddity. He’s held senior positions at the RIBA, yet his style of architecture is universally mocked by the community. He’s a proponent of classical architecture, yet in his spare time is a keen scholar of contemporary sociological theory, particularly globalisation and what’s dubbed ‘late modernity’.
One recent theory in this body of work is the notion of reflexive modernity – people’s ability to be aware of their social positioning, to reflect on it and act accordingly. Adam has this in spades, making him a very perceptive observer of the scene.
In this little book, Adam swaps the septuple of envy, pride (no strangers to architects’ offices) and their poison pals for a new set. ‘Elitism’ lampoons architects’ ‘wacky get up’ and the measures they take to ‘keep out the riff-raff’. Conceit, egotism, dogmatism, ignorance and profligacy follow. The most damning warning comes in incompetence; Adam describes how the last century saw architects cede territory to quantity surveyors, architectural technicians, and project managers.
Though readers may be wary of a traditionalist axe to grind, they shouldn’t be frightened off. His is the concern of an anxious parent, worried about his errant child’s harmful ways. And if you don’t like it, chances are a non-architect spouse or friend can have a giggle at it.
The 7 Sins of Architects by Robert Adam and Louis Hellman is available for £6 at www.ribabookshops.com