When we relaunched the AJ, we resolved to run a series of crits as a means to engage with very different architectural practices and look at the way they address the process of design. We felt it would move the focus of architectural debate away from the finished object in favour of the design process itself. By inviting architects to present their own work we hope to encourage healthy debate while giving practitioners a right to reply. It is also a means of recognising that architects are always working within different parameters and constraints and that this should inform any intelligent critique.
Capita Percy Thomas, the subject of our second crit, is busy in several different sectors.
We have focused on its education work, with emphasis on the Oasis Academy in Enfield.
One of the many advantages of engaging with the project at this early stage is that, rather than assessing a building as a stand-alone object, you inevitably start to question the brief. A clear theme to emerge from the discussion is the paradox that lies at the heart of the government's schools building programme. On the one hand, architects are charged with the task of creating buildings that will be the heart of emerging communities; on the other, child safety is always the primary concern, so security becomes crucial.
It is a problem that compromises the work of many architects. As Richard Weston observes on p32, Hampshire Architects' vision of a school traversed by a public street was never realised.
My abiding memory of Foster's acclaimed (and Stirling-shortlisted) Bexley Academy is of youths skulking outside the entrance like office workers enjoying a sneaky cigarette. A featureless landscape discourages bullying but it is also virtually impossible to inhabit.
Architects face a far more important task than the creation of flagship buildings. The challenge is to develop an architectural language which is protective without being defensive.