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Star-gazing robs us of design talent

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Hellman's cartoon of an unfinished caryatid porch to the riba (which might better be an acronym for the Royal Institute of Bizarre Appointments) and your editorial suggest a parting of the ways between architecture as practice and architecture as a virtuality. I well remember the last director of education giving a homily on the virtues of design and build, along the lines that any architect so blessed has absolutely no responsibility for the quality of outcome. I remember too Frank Duffy's false start to his presidency when he tried to sell 'the magic of design' - as if making us magicians would improve our status.

If we are a 'knowledge-based' profession, the ticket on which we were sold the Duffy navel-gazing, then why is the practical knowledge needed to make the actual environment so shunned at Portland Place, and why are we being encouraged to subsume architecture into the advertising industry? It seems that even Colin Stansfield Smith has caught the bug and proposes a one-stop (plus virtual ma bolt-ons) path to registration. No wonder the arb can get away with saying it can't define 'serious' and it can't define 'incompetence' because the High Court hasn't told it what they mean. If the riba had its eye on the ball it would fill the vacuum and not play Alice Through the Looking Glass.

In my dreams I form the aaa (Association of Actual Architects) and clear away the detritus of the riba and its cafe-culture meanderings and go on to expose the tough-talking inanities of the arb. But really, what's the point? We know from Ruskin that sacrifice is the first lamp of architecture and who better could we find to torture us than our own selves? Perhaps it is sad that we lay waste to so much talent and social commitment in our efforts to be stars for a day, but so long as we stare firmly at magazines and imbibe the subliminal messages of the advertisers who pay for them, then we'll be in business - as suckers at least.


Wyatt MacLaren

London E9

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