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Amin Taha frustrated by resurgence of ‘style wars’

Amin Taha expressed his frustration with the possible return of the ‘style wars’ in a wide-ranging talk about his architecture last night

Speaking at the AJ’s first ‘in conversation with’ event, supported by Roca at the Roca London Gallery, Taha said both architects and wider society had a problem with categorising architecture by style, something that is not inevitable but has applied for the past few hundred years.

While he did not mention it directly, his comments coincide with the announcement of the government’s highly controversial Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, viewed by many as a vehicle to promote Neoclassicism.

‘As soon as you get into architecture school, you’re told “this is the predominant style, this is what you will be educated in”,’ he said.

‘That goes back through the generations whether it be Modernism, Gothic Revival, Beaux-Arts, Neoclassicism etc, and that is because art history, opinion-makers, critics, journalists have the motivation to categorise, to give meaning to things and that tends towards [categorisation].’

Pointing to practices such as cladding buildings in non-loadbearing brick ‘skins’, Taha suggested that there was a widespread ‘misunderstanding of the etymology of architecture’, resulting in ‘illiterate’ buildings which confused the public, planning officers and politicians.

‘It’s inevitable that people don’t understand the gobbledegook we are speaking,’ he said.

He suggested there was much to learn from Giorgio Vasari, the 16th-century artist, architect and historian, in terms of individual architectural ‘styles’ being generated from particular materials, structural solutions and other contexts.

‘This is all about individuals mastering what they are working with, understanding their particular style and their own personal biography –  and it might be to do with materials and particular innovations in the materials you’re working with or it might be an idea that is entirely theoretical,’ he said.

Taha said his practice had been asked to contribute to a lecture series several years ago about ‘style wars’.

‘These debates I had thought were gone and long-dead … specifically about architectural style and people promoting different periods like Classicism, High Tech, Japanese Metabolism.

‘We were asked to contribute [to the lecture series] and our proposal was entitled “No Style”.’

Prior to taking questions, Taha delivered a wide-ranging lecture about the work of his practice Groupwork + Amin Taha, including the historic influences on three of its key projects and the latest quarrying techniques which have substantially reduced the price of stone.

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