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KATHERINE SHONFIELD

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Is spin-doctoring so called because it makes your head spin so much that everything seems deja vu? We seem to have heard Tony Blair's latest declaration that we live in a meritocracy, and that we are all middle-class now, somewhere before. From time to time commentators dig this one out, and present it in the manner of an eager puppy depositing a well-chewed sock, ever optimistic that society will pick it up and take it to its heart. In the past, though, no one has had the cheek to coincide this claim with a nascent recession and 18 years of systematic efforts at increasing the gap in social advantage between the classes.

What likelihood is there that the mass of architecture in the early twenty- first century will be designed by men and women who have made it up through the ranks? Despite the 'merits' of the old polytechnics, consistent success in our field has, regrettably, been increasingly confined to graduates from the old universities, Oxbridge, or in our case, just plain Bridge. Entry depends both upon academic success in written examination, and upon unlocking the club-like mysteries of esoteric interviews. These 'abilities', the almost exclusive property of those born and brought up middle-class, are irrelevant to potential for architecture. At this stage such potential is not measurable. The only approximate gauge is a portfolio.

Before it had its mandatory grant status removed, the Architectural Association School was the one great route to success that circumvented exam-based entry. It is no coincidence that recently an anonymous donor endowed the aa with a scholarship in memory of the murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence. Stephen wanted to become an architect. What real chance would he have had of success in the profession had he lived?

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