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KATHERINE SHONFIELD

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While society demonstrates a wild cult of the appearance of youth, as in Brazil's massive consumption of plastic surgery, the prevailing assumption is that the reality of youth must inevitably be subject to age and experience, which are unequivocally a good thing. An example is in the Stansfield Smith consultation document on architectural education.

This proposes 'staging the development of professional expertise over a more realistic timeframe, distinguishing between 'just qualified', and 'experienced', 'specialised' and 'generalist' qualified professionals'. There is, as the report points out, 'no higher grade of architect for those who are senior, experienced or highly specialised with the profession'.

The best experience a young architect can get is the chance to build before the sap has run out. The worry is that the new proposal, for example, for yet another hurdle in the form of a Part 4 qualification, will make that impossible before the age of 30. But the architects whose work is inspiring, valued and treasured, nearly all had designs built by this age. Indeed what they have in common is the way, from a very young age, they took hold of and managed the 'experience' that was being offered them: Palladio broke his apprenticeship in his teens; Mies dumped the great Peter Behrens in his twenties.

Take a look. Is the cynical mediocrity and half-hearted blandness of our hospitals and office blocks really down to the inexperience, lack of specialisation, and absence of teamwork and youth of the practices that have built them? Is the mature Powell and Moya's Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre opposite Parliament better than the student Powell and Moya's Skylon?

It is one of the unfair things about getting old that age does not actually have any recognisable compensations. Currently we are trying to make ourselves feel better about this by pretending to provide a guiding hand that in reality threatens to throttle youth to death. Instead, we should fight for as many opportunities for building experience as possible for the young, untrammelled by the need to doff their hats to clapped-out Pecksniffs like ourselves.

And guess what that means - a universal, open, competitions policy.

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