It is a sad day when the Architects Journal chooses to pass off bar-room bullying as journalism, but this is just what happens in Paul Finch’s unnecessary evisceration of Rowan Moore. I went back to read Moore’s piece and wondered if it was the same version as Finch had read. It is probably not Moore’s most lucid piece, and in hindsight the sideswipe at the NLA is unfortunate, but the general thrust of the article is hardly worthy of the bile that Finch dishes out. This suggests that a few sharp words from Moore lanced a boil of resentment that had been festering for some time.
So what motivated such a personal attack? I suspect the answer is political. What Moore and his fellow journalist Oliver Wainwright (doubtless another of Finch’s miserabilists) have so brilliantly done in the last few years is to take architecture out of its self-preening closet and exposed it to its wider social and political context. Within the closet it has been all too easy for journalists to cheerfully and uncritically celebrate the latest fashions of form and technique. Outside of the closet, the analysis is sometimes uncomfortable, and if it is of the political left, then this is a necessary antidote to the dominance of the unfettered market forces that are ripping the heart out of London. The ultimate symbol of the way capital has been spatialised in this city is the Walkie Talkie - and it was Finch who presided over CABE’s highly questionable support for it.
While the Architects Journal reports on MIPIM-UK (which included a panel session called “From Social Housing to Super Prime”, featuring the billionaires’ developer Nick Candy), other journalists, critics, curators and activists are analysing the effects of such corporate machines on the social and spatial production of our cities. This is what critics do, not out of miserabilism but out of a will to understand the forces at play, and to point out the power and inequalities at stake in those forces. For Finch to parody such critics as “moaners” is trite populism, as is his putdown of the opposition to the Garden Bridge as some kind of Observer readers’ conspiracy – a putdown that trivialises some of the serious and well-founded concerns about that contested scheme.
My main concern is that Finch is using his position of power in the establishment to mock and thereby stifle critical debate, with Moore as a convenient whipping-boy. His attack on Moore reads as an attack on journalism that does not accord with the corporate ideologies of multinationals such as EMAP, and coming from an influential and once generous editor, this is a sad sign of the times. But my reading is that such attacks come too late. The younger generation of architects and critics, as with the younger generation in general, are aghast at the self-satisfaction of the architectural and political elite, and in their own decidedly non-miserable ways are getting on with the crucial business of proposing alternative models.
How strange that this year's list leaves out most of the women that appeared on last year's list (Alison Brookes, Denorah Saunt, Amanda Levete, Sarah Wigglesworth, Eva Jiricna, Vicky Richardson et al). This suggests that the whole thing has to be taken with a pinch of salt as merely a thing of individual taste.
Neil Baxter's response shows a quite shocking disdain and ignorance of what the issues are. To suggest that inviting even one woman is a form of positive discrimination is blatant sexism, and for that alone he should offer his resignation.
But the real nastiness, and betrayal of the exclusionary agenda that the RIAS appear to support, is in the final sentence, in which he implies that the inviting of women, as a form of 'positive discrimination' (a term that is a canard of the unreconstructed right and Daily Mail - join the club Mr Baxter) is also a form of discrimination against men. To think that is, I suppose, his personal right, but to say it in public as the secretary of a representative body is an indication of quite how far male attitudes are entrenched in architectural culture, and shows quite how important initiatives such as the AJ's Women in Architecture are.
I guess that somewhere in a gilded parlour in Edinburgh, my response will be dismissed as 'politically correct'. Welcome to that Victorian club too, Mr Baxter.