I have just said goodbye to my friend, the artist Gareth Jones, in Rhode Island. Gareth and I used to teach sculpture together at Central St Martins School of Art in 1973. In 1987 he moved to the US, where he has been teaching at Rhode Island School of Design ever since.
Three years ago he took a sabbatical. At lunch today, we were discussing his art practice, as we looked out over the bay towards Newport.
On his year off, Gareth gave up all art and decided to use the period to examine his own response to the world, as opposed to the received views held by the art cognoscenti. As we all know, much art activity is generated by testing the boundaries of what Gareth referred to as those within the 'box'- the artists and critics who determine what is 'in'. He wished to escape these views and sat down to read and write for a year. He is still reading and writing four years later, even though he has reached a number of conclusions, and is almost ready to communicate them to a broader audience - who he wants to reach.
I thought the concept of the 'box'was interesting. It is certainly true that architects tend to develop an innate belief in their own practice, and are very quick to criticise the works of others who do things differently.
We are living in a period when there is no overriding predominance of any architectural style or theory.
Up until 1975 or thereabouts, there was at least one architectural manifesto published for every year of the 20th century. Each assumed that others would accept the persuasive power of their arguments, and create the possibility of a movement. Each programme contained within it an evaluation of the world and, if only people adopted the author's methodology, there was the promise of eternal paradise.
Most of these meanderings were architects talking to architects, ie other people in the 'box', and the idea of broadening the audience was not really considered. Recognition by your peers usually takes priority over common sense.
Architecture is one of the most public of arts and yet it prefers to speak to itself, and does not recognise that the broader audience, residing on the outside of the 'box'can, if included collectively, contribute to an architecture of openness and joy.
In the world of increasing globalisation, I have discovered that people are more and more interested in the particular. They wish for their places of living, working, and learning not to be standardised. There is a creativity that allows architecture to be discovered, not pre-formed according to a formula - an architecture of shared ownership that transcends the cultural baggage that we all carry.
None of the people I have been working with on the Stonebridge Estate or at West Bromwich have shied away from encouraging an extraordinary ambition - one that, in my opinion, lies outside Gareth's 'box'.
WA from a table at Logan Airport, Boston