Ruminations on architecture, from Ken Allinson
Off yer bums …
May 20, 2012Posted by on
I want someone out there to tell me something: is it true that the Brits are truly dreary when it comes to actually looking at architecture, at experiencing the thing in itself?
I don’t know that anyone has properly researched this topic, but many European offices are keen to take their offices out and about. The reasons are obvious and, of course, include team-bonding and the like. But simply experiencing architecture elsewhere and learning from other works and other architects in other countries is fundamental.
I know this. I’ve met with hundreds of them.
However, if you asked my opinion I’d have to say that the Brits are truly mean when it comes to such things. They don’t do it. Yes, sure some do, sometimes, but most don’t for most of the time. (By the way, I am English!)
They’ll give you plenty of excuses, but there was a period in the UK between about 1994/5 and 2008/9 when the profession and its members had never had it so good. Work came in through the door and architects were well-rewarded. The profession had never known such a prosperous period. But offices still didn’t cultivate a habit of regularly heading off with their staff to somewhere else out there … Or perhaps I just didn’t hear about it. (They didn’t produce a surfeit of good works in London, either!)
There are exceptions. I’ve heard of them. Rumours get around. I even experienced dRMM in Porto. They were most embarrassed to find other Londoners on the same beach as them, looking at an old Siza building. We sized one another up, exchanged grunts and moved on … There was even an occasion when we met with a couple (rather than the whole office) in Zumthor’s swimming baths at Vals … Can I think of a third example outside of Venice during the Biennale or at the Milan furniture Fair or at Mipim at Cannes … ? Not really. Mind, I did once take a large group from a London office around … yes, London! Or perhaps I have a poor memory; who knows …
Certainly, schools of architecture have developed a tradition of doing it over the last few decades, but when the UK student has such hefty fees, Mum and Dad aren’t likely to keep forking out money to pay their son or daughter’s tutors to get a freebie abroad. And, somehow, the habit doesn’t stick.
My wife, Victoria Thornton, used to regularly take British architects abroad, but she started because, after working at the RIBA, she had learned that they simply don’t do it. So she set up regular tours all over the world … Hell, I even got to Cairo as a birthday present, except there had to be 25 other people with me (and most of them were the same ones that had come to Vienna a few months earlier)! Her first guide was Bob Allies (Allies & Morrison) and a later regular was Mark Burry (at RMIT), both taking architects to see the works of someone no on had heard of: Gaudi. And it could be fun (e.g., with Monica Pidgeon, former notable editor of Architectural Design, knocking on office doors in California and Switzerland, to then find the red carpet rolled out for her (and us) …
So you tell me: is it true that the Brits prefer a mediated experience, i.e., photos in magazines and books? And what about offices in other countries– what’s your experience?