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The party's over for an architectural contribution

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I have just returned from a 60th birthday lunch. It is now 6pm and I am sitting at my garden table contemplating the day. The birthday party was for Mel Gooding, 60 (the new 50), the art observer, critic and friend.

The party was attended by family, friends and their siblings, resulting in a group of people ranging from one year old to 80-plus - who knows and who cares?

The occasion confirmed to me what I have always known: that multi-generational events are always successful, whereas the mono-age ones are not. It is good to see people of 20-something who are telling you what the future holds, alongside younger revellers who have no cares about the future.

Those who might be described as being in mid-flight are, at best, lacking in confidence about their achievements and, at worst, pretending to know everything.

At this beautiful party we see all strands of age and success reduced to a common level of relaxation, enjoyment and celebration. This point of joy and reverence elevates (not reduces) everyone to the same level. Here we find an absence of politics mixed with genuine mutual support and good wine.

Political parties, unlike this party, are focused on election-winning, and identifying specific groups which are likely to deliver the vote.

Most people, of course, are off-target and among them are architects. WHY? Four years ago we were part of the group of arts people invited to Downing Street for drinks, among the ranks of cool Britannia and seemingly the heart of the regeneration of Britain's economy.

Today we are quietly forgotten, as the battle is fought over the more directly emotive issues of education and health, occasionally working into the even more passionate subjects of immigration and Europe. It is as though not one of us artists, architects or designers has anything to offer.

We have become a part of the Treasury's view of culture as an expense to be avoided. The economy as a whole is risk-averse, and we are a risk.

In actual fact, the real risk is relegating the talent of this country to some dung heap of convenience. Schools need our skills. It has been recognised for years that the high Victorian window-sill in the classroom was detrimental to education, and yet, even though the desire exists to build better schools, the moribund vision of local authority reigns.

The provision of a school is often seen as the provision of space and weather resistance; the idea of feeding the imagination of the young is rejected. The good architect is as concerned about the forum of the educational experience as the form of the building. Why are architects not engaged from the very beginning? Why does the competitive process allow architects to be used as though disenfranchised from the very skills they possess - imagination, challenge, change and joy. Architecture is reduced to an off-the-shelf product.

In the field of health we know that ambience is an important part of the curing process. Why do we build deep-plan hospitals when we know lack of daylight makes people depressed and stay in their beds longer? It is floor-to-wall cost ratios that dictate cash constraints, passed on by a risk-averse treasury to PFI bidders who, very often, have higher ideals.

Good parties are wonderful events for discovering what is important. Bad political parties make mileage out of downgrading the true skills of the nation. The knowledge might undermine their power.

WA - from the garden table - London

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