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Build bridges, not trumpet worn-out stereotypes

Hattie Hartman
  • 1 Comment

Shuttleworth is right to celebrate building services engineers, but why trash architects? asks Hattie Hartman

‘Architects – arrogant, egotistical prima donnas; pain in the ass, absolute bastards. They have been king of the castle for far too long. They take all the credit for all your hard work.’ That is how Make founder Ken Shuttleworth began his keynote address to 700 guests at the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) Awards dinner at London’s Grosvenor House earlier this month. Fortunately there were not many architects in the room that night. I counted about 20 on the delegate list. This poor attendance is a tacit acknowledgement of Shuttleworth’s accurate assessment that services engineers are under-recognised by the profession.

Almost 50 years have elapsed since Reyner Banham highlighted the dismissive attitude of architectural historians – and the profession itself – towards buildings’ environmental systems. In The Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment (1969), Banham wrote: ‘A vast range of historical topics extremely relevant to the development of architecture is neither taught nor mentioned in many schools of architecture … Mechanical environmental controls are the most obviously and spectacularly important … yet they are the least studied.’

But surely the way forward is to build bridges, rather than to promulgate worn-out stereotypes. We must break down professional silos and promote collaborative working. Shuttleworth is right that services engineers deserve more of the limelight – there is much more to services than ducts and pipes.

Keith Bradley of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, who was present on the night, commented: ‘It’s a pity that Ken used the opportunity to caricature the architect as arrogant (apart from himself), rather than encouraging collaboration and respect between engineers and architects. The UK has a fantastic reputation for integrated design. Rather than a tabloid-like rant that divides rather than unites, this could have been celebrated.’

Some of Shuttleworth’s comments were spot on: ‘We all have a common goal to tackle climate change head on. We all have a duty to design low-carbon, even zero-carbon solutions.’ Yet he continued: ‘You need to tell the architects when they try to call the shots to sod off. Sod off!’

The point is, surely, that we are all in this together. It is not an adversarial or competitive relationship, but a collaborative one based on trust and iterative teamwork from the earliest stage of a project, often before a single line is drawn. Forward-thinking architects already understand this. Shuttleworth’s former employer Foster + Partners has a 35-strong in-house team of services engineers responsible for concept design on approximately 90 per cent of the practice’s work. Marks Barfield has weekly design reviews with a services engineer. Many practices now work with services engineers from a project’s outset.

Another aspect of the CIBSE awards is noteworthy: the submission criteria require a year of performance data. This busts the oft-stated myth that it is impossible to gather it. And some significant projects by leading architects were among the winners: Hawkins\Brown’s Premier House refurbishment in Twickenham with Flatt Consulting (Refurbishment Project of the Year over £5 million); Cotterell + Vermeulen’s multi-phased work at primary school Westborough Academy in Westcliff-on-Sea with OR Consulting (Refurbishment Project of the Year up to £5 million); and Hopkins Architects’ Stratford Library with AECOM at the University of East London (New Build Project of the Year up to £10 million).

Plaudits to CIBSE for inviting an architect to deliver the keynote address at their gala evening. Shame that Shuttleworth, even if in jest, got the message so wrong.

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Paul McGrath

    On the day the AJ's editorial staff were sipping champagne in a hotel built for Toffs with blue blood, handing out self-serving awards to budding starchitects, it is not surprising the AJ chooses to publish an implicit defence of the status quo rather than discuss the egalitarian principles behind Ken Shuttleworth's comments.

    In the staid world of architecture and the sniffy politics of publishing, we need people to speak their mind without fear of the consequences. Top marks to Ken for doing so and shaking things up a bit.

    We will no doubt see the awards culture being given wide publicity in the AJ this week. By way of contrast, it would seem the only way the CIBSE Building Performance Awards would get any coverage in the AJ is when a prominent architect makes some observations on the 'arrogant' and 'egotistical' world of some architects. Which of course are immediately condemned by the same self-serving cognoscenti that hands out awards as being "sterotypical" and a "caricature" of architects today.

    Make are a practice that have on the face of it, determinately tried to break the mould of architects calling themselves a variant of My Ego and Associates in an effort to more accurately represent modern practice based on collaboration between disciplines.

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