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A wider quest for talent

Hugh Pearman

Positively discriminating AF course for architectural writers is welcome activism

Who gets to write about architecture and how? It appeals mainly to those with arts degrees, of course. In my case English Literature served, though I can reassure you that my three editorial colleagues studied architecture. But however they get into it, those of us who do tend to be mostly white and middle class.

So let’s get a new generation of writers going who are a bit more diverse and can bring new perspectives. I’m very happy to announce our support for New Architecture Writers, a course established by Phin Harper of the Architecture Foundation with Tom Wilkinson, history editor of the Architectural Review. Its board includes architects and academics Farshid Moussavi, Lesley Lokko, Adrian Lahoud (architecture dean at the RCA), David Ogunmuyiwa and Shumi Bose.

Here’s the thing: the course is squarely aimed at ‘black and minority ethnic emerging writers who are under-represented across design journalism and curation.’ Yes, this is positive discrimination. As such it has already attracted some criticism on the grounds that those who do not fit this description are excluded. To which the best answer came from architect Piers Taylor on Facebook: ‘For the same reason there isn’t a White History Month or a Straight Pride Week: because minorities are disproportionately affected by such issues with much more limited resources to aid themselves, whereas non-minorities are free to pursue the bajillion other avenues that are available to them.’

Minorities are disproportionately affected by such issues with much more limited resources to aid themselves, while non-minorities are free to pursue the bajillion other avenues available to them

When I first heard about it, I had no hesitation in immediately offering the RIBAJ’s services. Any editor is constantly looking for new and different voices and viewpoints, even with all our usual constraints of limited space and money. All publications, in print and online, need that refreshment. Here is a potentially rich new seam of talent. Who would not jump at that?

The course will be free, consisting of a series of evening workshops, talks and writing briefs spread out over 12 months. There will be one-to-one mentoring from experienced design critics and editors throughout, at both professional and consumer-press level. The idea is that the participants will work towards a piece of original writing being published by the Architectural Review. We’ll play our part by also offering an outlet for their writing, and the mentoring that goes with that. Both the Architecture Foundation itself and the Royal College of Art are supporters, and other media outlets are welcomed.

There’s a lot of goodwill for this project. While it’s true that the world of architectural/design writing and curation is relatively small, there’s no reason why those of us who happen to be here should keep it to ourselves. Besides, as I know very well, writing skills, once learned, can be applied right across the media. I’ll be fascinated to see who applies, what new approaches will emerge from the course, and in due course how this will affect the tight little world of the architectural media. For the better, I’m convinced.