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There is a huge variety of materials in this issue, ranging from the sheer indulgent delight of the surface materials sourced from SCIN (pages 28-29) to the serious technical content of Nick BernabÚ's exposition on developments in fire engineering (pages 41-48). The first is about finding materials that ensure you achieve the exact effect that you are after; the second about ways that fire engineers can help prevent the important and necessary regulations from hampering the original design intent.

What they have in common is the employment of expertise from outside the core of architectural practice, either in sourcing fabulous materials or in applying specialist training to interpreting the regulatory framework.

At the AJ's recent conference on Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), some delegates were lamenting the loss of control that leads to architects working with so many experts, rather than containing all knowledge themselves. With the concomitant fear that prefabrication (which, we all agreed, is what MMC really means) would simply make the architect the slave to the manufacturer. That is the pessimists' view. Optimists say that architects can carve a more vital role for themselves at the centre of a growing web of expertise.

Ownership of knowledge is something we all have to cede as the sum total of information grows. American academic Steven B Sample has described the concept of Renaissance Man as being replaced by 'the Great Straddlers' - and architects are great straddlers par excellence. The ability to draw together knowledge from a range of areas and use it in the service of your own ideas; to use information from all over the place and make something that is much more than the sum of its parts, is both rare and admirable. Is it time to add to the holy trinity of commodity, firmness and delight, a mantra for today of inspiration, synthesis and outsourcing?

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