The first of the Architecture Foundation's four scheduled discussions on the conditions facing emerging architectural practices marshalled views on 'globalisation' - dismissed by chair Claire Fox (Institute of Ideas) as a 'lazy word' but, like the equally maligned term 'sustainability', useful, serving to give shape to a debate that could not otherwise take place.
Fox took a provocative, liberal pro-globalisation position, suggesting that 'everyone's developed an anti-corporate rhetoric now' - hardly true of the larger world stage - and that 'some of the anti-globalisation arguments are a retreat from the big projects of humanity', which, ultimately, allow the materially better-off societies to leave the Third World to rot. Architect Richard Woolf of McDaniel Woolf eagerly added his voice to the trivialisation of anti-globalisation as, in Fox's words, 'self-loathing and guilt', with a glib condemnation of the architectural profession as 'the hammer that knocked in the nail'. 'We love to travel. . . trip along the supermarket of life, ' he suggested. 'Architects are hooked on globalism.'
But for a great many architects, it seems likely that sociologist Angela McRobbie's description of the cultural/creative labour market - founded in a globalised, speeded-up, and 'totally-capitalised' economy, as a government-sponsored trap for unsuspecting victims - might be nearer the truth.
The image of 'creatives having a great time', enjoying all the benefits of a globalised lifestyle, 'is a myth', she stated. Many are underpaid, forced to sustain four jobs rather than one and, ultimately, deprived of any 'thinking, reflecting time' - to the extent that the concept of creativity is under threat.
McRobbie's research on the British fashion industry suggests that, for these reasons, 'we'll have no British fashion designers' in a few years. It is, from the government's point of view, 'a most interesting employment strategy' (no sick pay, no benefits, no paid time off, no paid parental leave) - but 'in reality, it is unsustainable in terms of specialism'.
This view was challenged by Deborah Saunt of architect DSDHA, clearly enjoying herself as a director of her own practice, with a teaching job at Cambridge, and 'work in south London with Nike, on playgrounds'. For her, globalisation means new clients, new types of work, and scepticism about the validity of consultation as 'the absolute buzzword in terms of the production of architecture', which it has become. For Rob Smith of Davis Langdon and Everest it means surfing the web for new jobs and winning a hospital contract in Manila - but at the same time a threat to the balance of urban life, with residential zones being pushed to peripheral areas, and incessant business mergers.
Without any definition of terms, substantive detail or researched evidence, such a discussion can never lead very far. On the other hand, occasions of this sort can only help the profession to develop a stronger, more politicised voice.
Globalisation at the Architecture Foundation, is followed by Expansion, Access, and Greening, on Wednesday 10, 17 and 24 October, at 6.30 pm.