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Viñoly at WAF: We must retool our shrinking profession

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Rafael Viñoly has told architects they need to ‘retool’ if the marginalisation of the profession is to be reversed

In his talk at the World Architecture Festival (WAF) in Berlin – called ‘Performance as space, time and architecture’ – Viñoly said that the ‘shrinking’ of the architectural profession, which he claimed accounts for just two per cent of the global construction output, must be addressed.

The renowned architect, who designed the controversial ‘Walkie Talkie’ tower in Fenchurch Street, told the festival: ‘The place in which the discipline is today is the decline of the scope of the discipline, our crisis in education, the bastardisation of architectural criticism, and, above all, the absolutely amazing imbalance between supply and demand when you look at this thing from structural point of view.’

He later added: ‘We are supposed to be the people that actually interject culture…we used to have a say in political redistribution of the population…all of these things [have] completely disappeared. I don’t think it is the fault of industry, it is the fault of discipline.’

‘What comes next is some kind of recognition for this process of shrinking….how do we re-tool ourselves to be prepared for the next 30 years?’

Viñoly said that the declining role of architecture within the wider construction industry was the result of several factors, including the ‘invention of the corporate office’ and the ‘sectorisation of practice, in other words the immigration of the consultancies’.

He showed the audience two ‘very depressing’ images, one which showed the number of architects in different countries across the world, and another showing the output of the economy in construction in 2016.

In the second image Viñoly highlighted that – out of an overall output of nearly $9 trillion ($8.8 trillion) – the field of architecture only contributed to $264 billion of this amount.

‘That accounts for literally less than 2 per cent of what constitutes the reality of the built environment,’ Viñoly said.

The architect described his talk as a ‘moment of reflection for how we actually face what is about to happen’.

He added: ‘That is, if we are short of work, we are going to be much shorter of work in the next ten or fifteen years if we don’t do something with it.’

The Uruguayan architect, whose other projects in the UK include the masterplan for the major redevelopment of Battersea Power Station, went on to discuss how to remedy the current state of the profession.

‘The only solution is for us to redefine the notion of the discipline as something with extraordinary responsibility, with a reach that goes well beyond two per cent of this [construction] output.’

He continued: ‘Fundamentally we need to start from the beginning. Every social practice every industry every country loaded activity has always had three legs of the tripod,’ he explained.

‘The three things are basically education, practice and criticism. I think the three aspects of our tripod are in very shaky grounds. I don’t think we teach well, I don’t think we practice well and certainly I think we don’t criticise.

‘The only way is to start from education…re-shaping of the education process in ways through which we become a fundamental part of the construction process.’

Two projects designed by Viñoly’s practice have been shortlisted at WAF –  The New Stanford Hospital, USA, for the ’Health’ category, and The Hills at Vallco, also in America, in the ‘Masterplanning’ category. 

Vinoly the new stanford hospital

Vinoly the new stanford hospital

Source: Viñoly Architects

The New Stanford Hospital, USA, by Viñoly Architects

After his speech, Viñoly told the AJ that declining role of the profession in the UK specifically was uplifting when compared countries across the world.

‘The starting point of this crisis in your country is a hell of a lot better than in many others. There is still a certain level of respect for the function – not only just the people in the function – but the function,’ he said.

‘I see that very clearly in my limited amount of work there. That’s super refreshing. It’s sort of similar to what happens in this place, in Germany. But I think that this problem is by far more complicated than people want to see – the marginalisation is not the architect, it’s the scope. Whatever is perceived as being design has been fragmented – almost like if you were exploding an atom.’

WAF runs from 15-17 November in Arena Berlin. Other speakers include Alison Brooks, Francis Kéré, Will Alsop, Peter Cook and Terry Farrell.

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