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The Architect: What Now 2011

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[THIS WEEK] Soul-searching about the architects role within society is nothing new, as a quick dip into the RIBA archive attests, writes James Pallister

In the November 1972 issue of the New Zealand Institute of Architects Journal, John Carter asked Has the architect a future? In the AJ of August 18 1993 Raymond Cecil reassured his readers that the profession is bound to survive, though the following week he was less certain: in ‘The plight of the small practice’ (AJ 16.03.94), he made it clear that the role of the small practice needs to be examined if they were to prosper or indeed, survive.

Plus ca change: so far 2011 has been a bumper year for documents that dwell on the changing roles of architects.And rightly so. The AJ’s own ‘Profession is Dead/Long live the profession’ issue kicked things off, followed by The Building Futures report in March, which speculated that medium-sized practices were if not doomed, at least in trouble.

At her Royal Academy speech last month Deborah Saunt reappropriated the title of sociologist George Ritzer’s 1993 book The McDonaldisation of Society to rail against the ‘Tesco-ification’ of construction. In book publishing Eric J Cesal’s Down Detour Road drew on his MBA training and time at architecture school to provide an acerbic eye on some of the more absurd cultural and financial arrangements of architecture.

Online, US blogger Guy Horton used ideas taken from a book by Robert B. Reich, former labour secretary under Bill Clinton to reflect upon architecture’s lamentable state: the unhealthy culture of sacrifice, acceptance of exploitation and gross inequality between the highest paid and the lowest, something Charles Holland also covered with vigour on various posts on fantasticjournal.blogspot.com.

And now graduates Alison Coutinho, Dan Slavinsky and Wai Shin Li have organised an exhibition whose remit is to ‘explore the momentous identity change facing the architectural profession’, namely by canvassing opinions on how ‘architect’ is defined in 2011 and how it will be in 2051. A debate will open the exhibition, with Austin Williams chairing, joined by panellists Maxwell Hutchinson, John Assael, Dr Rachel Armstrong, Tyeth Gundry and Alison Coutinho.

Email questions to whatnow2011@live.co.uk by Friday 5 August;event at 6.30pm on 9 August

[Correction -
Down Detour Road was published in 2010. JP]

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