Debate and speculation are important. They bring the possibility of seeing the world in a new way. Yet often we find that it is the unexpected moment or odd mistake that provides the clue to a particular project.
Debate and speculation are both extremely enjoyable and there is, I believe, a link between pleasing oneself and the production of architecture. Never do anything you do not delight in. We live in an age where we no longer believe that all good work requires a degree of pain. This type of thinking was born out of a Victorian attitude towards religion, which set about self-denial in search of God.
Today, Sheila and I drove from North Norfolk to Clapham in Yorkshire. We went via Boston in Lincolnshire, over the Humber Bridge and along Wharfedale to our destination. It was striking that 99 per cent of the new buildings en route were lousy. They did not display any sense of joy or enquiry. They did not even manage to elevate themselves to the status of an honest hovel. At best, they were simple; at worst, they were pretentious. There was no comparison with the historic and older properties. The centres of some towns were littered with buildings that were considered and cherished. They give the same sense of intrigue and enjoyment today as they did when they were originally built. A language of urbanism evolved that had nothing to do with the normal vocabulary of cities or towns.
Boston, in its centre, barely allowed a street to exist, and yet the spaces between the buildings are used and enjoyed by many.
These spaces have been adapted and inhabited in many unforeseen ways, but always successfully. The centre has become the world of the cheap developer, the traffic planner and the town planner, who have no interest in theory and debate.
Their ignorance, combined with an absence of manners, creates a place none of us likes. At the very least, we could produce a dignity which loosely allows subversion; and at the very best, an intelligence can be applied that both challenges and surprises.
A few weeks ago Sara Selwood delivered her 550-page report on accountability in the arts.
She was appalled that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport should not know the effectiveness of its investments. She questioned whether too much is spent by the department, as well as citing a general decline in public interest in the arts, particularly in dance. She called for checks on all spending on the arts, presumably with a view to redistributing a smaller budget to those areas of greater accountability (another word for popularity). I assume that if this daft idea were to be taken seriously (and it possibly will be) a larger proportion of the reduced sum would be spent on more management and external consultants. Is this what we really want?
We have already managed to increase stress levels among all teachers, pupils and parents involved in education. If we want to eradicate all modern dance from the native artistic vocabulary, this type of thinking is perfect. It deems all debate about beauty, practice and cultural interaction to be unproductive and unpopular. University courses that exist to explore these issues would find themselves without financial support. Architecture itself becomes unnecessary, as mere building is seen to be enough.
Perhaps we should commission Ms Selwood to write another report, which doubtless nobody would read, on how she would assess the real value of our activities, beyond a pure measurement in terms of cash and popularity. I doubt if she would know.
WA, from the bar of the Goat Gap Inn, near Settle, Yorkshire