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Bigger isn’t always best

Progress on a human scale gets the popular vote

There’s something of a back-to-basics feel about architecture at the moment. Here’s a test: which are you more interested in, Rogers Stirk Harbour’s just-completed, sleekly mechanistic Leadenhall Building in the City of London, costing £340m, or the £50,000 ‘WikiHouse’, an exercise in open-source design by Architecture 00 and Arup? It was no contest, so far as our Twitter followers were concerned, whose retweets were at least three times as high for the WikiHouse and its downloadable componentry. Interesting too that Arup was instrumental in both projects. The Leadenhall building is in the October issue on page 22; the WikiHouse, appropriately enough, appears only on where you’ll find a treasurehouse of extra material (see links below). 

Then there are back-to-basics schools.  In the October issue I’m delighted to welcome a new member of our expanding roster of columnists:  Oliver Wainwright, architecture critic of the Guardian, who will take monthly turns with architecturally-savvy novelist Will Wiles. In his first column, Ollie tackles the ever-relevant issue of how to achieve good new schools on much-reduced budgets and space standards post-Gove – and emphasises the point that most of the politically-perceived extravagance of the Building Schools for the Future programme lay not in architecture but in the procurement process – something made very clear at the time by Sunand Prasad when RIBA president.

The more knowledge you give away, the more people come back asking for more

Let’s hear it for our columnists, by the way, in print, online, or both: what with Maria Smith of Studio Weave – hers was the most-visited page in last month – Wainwright and Wiles, Elly Ward and Charles Holland of Ordinary Architecture celebrating the everyday, and Rome Scholar Adam Nathaniel Furman’s wittily perceptive ‘Magnificent Seven’ architectural tropes, we have a company of commentators second to none.  Furman also reviews with elegance and insight an exceptional new book on working drawings this month. The RIBA Journal wants to provide a forum for the widest variety of voices in architecture: add yours by writing to us at

‘The more knowledge you give away, the more people come back asking for more,’ says Alastair Parvin of Architecture 00, apropos of the WikiHouse. ‘It gives everyone the opportunity to hire an architect for a few hours or a few days.’ This may seem counter-intuitive: aren’t architects always beating themselves up about how much work they do for free, about how profligate they are with ideas which others then profit from? Shouldn’t every little bit of work be accounted for? Well yes, when there is a client and a contract and the need to turn a profit. But there is a world of ideas out there looking for clients. I’m not in the least surprised that the WikiHouse – a basic house armature aimed at creating a very different one-off house market, so leading to a new strand of commissions for architects – is fascinating our followers.