The European directive on work time will restrict the working week to 48 hours. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming view of architectural practices appears to be that our profession is exempt from this requirement. This attitude has been deplored as exploitative; the standard retort is that long hours are part of the 'culture' of architecture. This easy response deserves closer examination.
The word 'culture' has become the sacred cow of the 1990s. It is deeply ironic that 'culture', with its connotations of cultivation and civilisation, is now used as the excuse for turning a blind eye to supremely uncivilised practices, from clitoridectomies to the racism of the football terraces. But the complacent acceptance of barbaric working habits has a particular significance for our profession, beyond the individual suffering of employees, bullied and cajoled by the 'culture' into declaring that they are all in favour of wholesale curtailment of their personal and social lives.
Architects agree that the daily life we claim to orchestrate should consist of more than just work - ie, home and public life. Indeed, in the past half-century, the best architectural projects have been post-war housing, and the museums, bars and leisure facilities of the past 15 years. Our 'culture' of work has meant nothing more than this: we have been designing an everyday world for everyone else of which we have only occasional direct experience. It is probable that the public will finally cotton on to a relationship, real or perceived, between our detachment from everyday life and their dissatisfaction with our products. Let's hope our 'culture' will have an answer for them.