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The Death and Life of the Architect

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How can a profession established in the 19th century survive in the light of the political, economic, technical and social change of the 21st? asks FAT

Welcome to the FAT takover of the AJ website. No doubt many of you will be delighted at our, albeit fleeting, resurrection, while to others this will seem like an unwelcome haunting from beyond the grave.

Yes, the theme of the issue is The Death and Life of the Architect. While there is an obvious connection to our own architectural suicide, the title also references Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of the Great American Cities – an influential book for us but which is also about the death of a certain incarnation of the architect and which showed how the life of the city can go on quite happily without us.

FAT’s relationship with the profession was always ambivalent and the original idea was very much to create a different kind of practice that was not constrained by existing definitions of the profession nor of the discipline. In this we only partially succeeded. Indeed our unexpected success as architects – actually doing buildings – might well have undermined that original ambition and perhaps that is why we decided to stop.

However, if anything, questions about the future of architects and architecture are now even more urgent. Can a profession whose current incarnation was established in the 19th century survive in the light of the political, economic, social and technological change of the 21st? In the age of the internet of things, virtual spaces and 3D printing, is the existing set-up of the profession still relevant?

On the other hand, do the new possibilities offered by these technologies offer new creative opportunities to those who have enjoyed the broad learning experience of an architectural education? Must we be restricted to being developers’ lap dogs?

Or should we make art, design components, make movies, invent planning policies and make  T-shirts as well? A three-way conversation between us discussing the death and life of the architect can be found in the Culture section.

The Buildings feature, inspired by Adolf Loos’s dictum that the only parts of architecture that belong to art are the tomb and the monument, is a short history of architecture looked at through the study of artefacts of death.

The highlight is the AJ’s building study of FAT’s A House for Essex, designed in collaboration with the artist Grayson Perry. The building is both a tomb and a monument masquerading as a holiday home. It is a mausoleum to a fictional character and a perfect venue for a dirty weekend and, as such, accommodates both death and life. The nature of this collaboration and the massive publicity surrounding it also point towards a different kind of practice and to the current position of architects in the wider world.

It is therefore an entirely appropriate centrepiece for this takeover of the AJ and the perfect send-off for FAT.

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Readers' comments (5)

  • "Must we be restricted to being developers’ lap dogs?

    Or should we make art, design components, make movies, invent planning policies and make ?T-shirts as well?"

    No. Architects should learn skills such as sales techniques, pricing strategy, consumer and business psychology. Try selling something your clients need rather than what architects think they should want.
    The profession thinks they can make movies, create brands, do any creative excercise. But the reality is that these niches are filled by their own specialists. Before architects think they can do these things - maybe they should figure how to do better what they are 'mostly' trained for in the first place. The answer is to face the unpalatable facts - not become a profession of Walter Mitty's

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  • . . . of Walter Mitty's what? Trousers, mother in law jokes, collection of miniature jugs? Yes, dear readers, this is a tetchy point about grammar. Saying something considered about the nature of the profession would require a little more thought. . .

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  • Yes I was waiting for some tedious grammar nazi to spot my error. Ye gods....talk about fiddling whilst Rome burns.
    Perhaps you could add something to the debate except quoting 'O'-level English Language...
    Walter Mitty, to my knowledge, never made Mother-in -Law jokes. Maybe you are thinking of Les Dawson?

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  • Perhaps, up there in Paradise, there's an EDIT button - and it'd be nice if it wasn't just for fixing comments to the AJ, if it could be used to edit buildings too.

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  • Yes indeed - AJ - an edit function please?.....seriously.....

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