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Shuttleworth attacks 'arrogant' and 'egotistical' architects


A controversial speech given by Ken Shuttleworth to an audience of engineers has been criticised by FCBS boss Keith Bradley

Make Architects founder Ken Shuttleworth has publicly accused architects of taking credit for engineers’ work, describing his fellow professionals as ‘arrogant, egotistical, prima donnas, pain in the arses, and absolute bastards’.

In a speech at the recent CIBSE Building Performance Awards in front of an audience of more than 700, Shuttleworth said of architects that they had been ‘king of the castle for far too long’ adding: ‘Architects take all the credit for all [engineers’] hard work…‘You [engineers] need to tell the architects, when they try to call the shots, to sod off.’

The head of the 2014 AJ100 practice of the year, who said he had been campaigning for the ‘death of the glass box’ for many years, added: ‘I’m a bit of a rebel architect because I know that you do all the work. You make the architects look good. It’s so unfair but it’s time to change.’

The audience at the event - which was held earlier this month - included just a handful of architects and Shuttleworth’s speech was met by cheers.

But Keith Bradley of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBS), who was in the audience, said: ‘It’s a pity that Ken used the opportunity to caricature the architect as arrogant (apart from himself), rather than using the opportunity to encourage real collaboration and respect between engineers and architects.

‘The UK has a fantastic reputation for integrated architecture and engineering projects. This could have been celebrated rather than a tabloid like rant that divides rather than unites those of us who are trying to work together to promote a common attitude to the built environment.’

‘In Ken’s attempt to light-heartedly provoke he has just reinforce certain prejudices , and in doing so turned the clock back a few annoying minutes on years of collaborative progress.’ 

Later in his talk at the event, held at London’s Grosvenor House, Shuttleworth singled out the behaviour of starchitects for particular criticism.

He said: ‘Celebrity architects - or as they are known in the business starchitects – have taken over with their dazzling shirts, their big watches, and their big pointy shiny erections.

‘This has to stop. You should stand up to them and tell them what they don’t want to hear’, he told the audience of more than 700.

He went on: ‘I have a dream of a world without starchitects. A world where engineers lead the charge. A world where buildings no longer need their own personal power plant to keep them going. A world where buildings work in harmony with nature. This is the new age of the engineer. This is your time – your moment in the limelight. Never has there been a moment where people are so aware of how fragile the planet is. Never has there been a more exciting time to be an engineer.’


Hywel Davies, CIBSE technical director
‘Ken’s speech played on some well worn caricatures for laughs – but to make an important point: collaboration between engineers and architects has come a long way, and is more important than ever to deliver buildings that really work. The CIBSE Building Performance Awards celebrate demonstrated excellence in actual, measured performance; this can only be achieved by collaboration and teamwork. And not just between architects and engineers, but right through the supply chain and then over the full life cycle of the building. Buildings that perform are not solos, but sustained team efforts embracing many players.’

Rob Pannell, managing director of Zero Carbon Hub
‘An enjoyable and inspirational speech highlighting the challenge architects face understanding the engineers needs.’

Julia Evans, BSRIA
‘Ken gave an enlightened and humorous view into the relationship between engineers and architects, he himself having been described as an ‘engineer in architects’ clothing. His speech was thought provoking and wry which is a great combination for encouraging people to see the world from a different angle. His key message however was about communication and partnering surely a continuing theme in this world of BIM and Soft Landings and one that we would all do well to ponder.’  

Paul Tymkow, director of learning and knowledge, Hoare Lea
‘It was refreshing to hear a venerable architect admit something that we have known for some time: the traditional roles and relationships have not caught up with the need to deliver sustainable building performance; and to do this we need to empower engineers. This requires a big cultural shift for engineers, and it will be difficult, but it has already started. We need Ken and others to continue championing in the right places; and we must support our engineers in responding to the challenge.’


Readers' comments (15)

  • Thanks Ken for another knife in the back of the profession, when we need to be working together to avoid being totally marginalised.

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  • Well - that certainly stirred things - good !

    It is an exciting time to be an engineer - after a long time (decades ?) talking about the ideal building it's time it became the norm and buildings that work with their environment physically as well as aesthetically would seem the ideal.

    I think we are all aware that many teams have been trying - and headline creation is just part of the interaction and ambition - but we have better tools now that ever before and a determined attempt to push through what barriers remain would seem due.

    If a playful push at the less co-operative members of the team will help - so be it - if it also alerts clients to a better option than the cheapest lump of cladding - good on you Ken.

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  • We have to work together to provide the service required by those commissioning buildings. I have been in too many meetings where the architect cannot give an estimate of cost, tell the client that they need a planning consultant because they have little understanding of planning law and in recent years allowed other disciplines to take over so many areas of our work because they provide a service understood by the public. You also have to look at the design of some buildings e.g. the the latest building by Frank Gehry-designed Chau Chak Wing building in Sydney - does this really enhance the environment or the case for architecture with the public?

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  • Ken's comments are naive and confused to say the least. The emergence of the "Starchitect" is a symptom of wider economic and social factors, such as globalization. It has nothing to do with the alleged arrogance or humility of certain individuals and the overcoming of "starchitecture" will take a little more than preaching to the converted. Whatever their faults I simply don't believe that top architects act in a disrespectful way to the extremely high calibre (and often equally well known) engineers they choose to work with.

    And as for arrogance........its irrelavent if you're good. I'm sure none of Wren, Schinkel, Lutyens, Corb or Mies were wilting flowers.

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  • Had he had a few too many glasses of wine? Is his whole career (and practice) not based on the fact that he worked for the world's leading starchitect. Had he started his practice from scratch, as a nobody, then he might have a point. Pot, kettle, black springs to mind.

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  • Pot... Kettle and black i think. is he trying to be the UK Frank Gehry with this outburst? if he wants to be judged by his work then he should do better than the terrible box in broadgate - very offensive, maybe in the past he could blame the engineers??

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  • 'Starchitect arrogantly attacks other starchitects for being too arrogant!!'

    This quote made me laugh though:

    'and their big pointy shiny erections'

    bu dum tsss

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  • I had to agree with some of his comments, I don't believe in many cases that building services is taken into consideration when the design of buildings goes on the drawing board, and I have experienced a certain amount of arrogance from architects when the point is made. If this has made some people in practice sit up and think it is not a bad thing, collaboration across all disciplines of construction is paramount to success.

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  • Nothing new this stuff. I was at a dinner of the Westminster Society of Architects in the 70s when guest speaker and sociologist Conrad Jameson lambasted architects. Most of them started shouting at him and the evening deteriorated into a slanging match. By the time he finished his speech the room was virtually empty but the bar was not. He described architects as war criminals. He also appeared on BBC television as reported by BD at the time:

    Date: 1979

    Location: BBC Television studios

    In 1979, the BBC’s Where We Live Now series ended with insults flying. Pictured is the studio audience invited to discuss the series, including architects Hugh Casson, Frederick Gibberd, Owen Luder, Philip Powell and Alison Smithson; architectural historian Gavin Stamp; journalists and critics Colin Boyne, Peter Davey and Peter Murray; then RIBA president Gordon Graham; and sociologist Conrad Jameson.

    The panel of talking heads out of shot includes architect Patrick Nuttgens, whose programme Architecture for Everyone was discussed, journalist Christopher Booker, and writer Michael Frayn.

    Nuttgens, enraged by interruptions from Jameson, dubbed the latter a “laughing hyena”, while Jameson accused Nuttgens of “sour grapes”, and branded modern architects “war criminals”. Meanwhile, Alison Smithson was the most inventive, nicknaming Nuttgens “Squirrel Nutkin”.

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  • how does he know they are pointy or shiny?????oh what fun!

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