Time to ­reflect

Questions of value and conscience met with lively debate at RIBAJ120 events.

· Credit: S Duncan Smith

It is not often that the profession has a chance to reflect. Questions such as ‘When does conscience kick in?’ and ‘How do you make architecture count?’ might sound like just a dinner table conversation but thinkers, doers, clients and architects at the first two of the RIBAJ120 Series with Gerflor showed how critical they are to everyday practice – and, as Deborah Saunt said, at the heart of being an architect. 

Contributions from the floor
Contributions from the floor · Credit: S Duncan Smith

Values, including money, were considered in the first thought-provoking discussion ‘Counting the Difference’. Indy Johar of 00:/ argued for an understanding of the performance value of architecture – what it adds to an organisation, its people, services and its perception. Stirling Prize winner Alison Brooks, now Stirling shortlisted for her New Hall housing, railed against over simplistic surveyor measures of value and the values they exclude – quality of space and of life. For architect-turned-client Roger Zogolovitch it is the lack of commercial engagement that lets architects – and their fees – down. ‘Why are they not taught how to do a development appraisal?’ he asked. From the audience Paul Hinkin of Black Architecture suggested post occupancy evaluations might capture some of a design’s human value. But architects must engage intelligently with value, whatever it is.

Questions of conscience: Debate from the panel (top right, from right to left: Matthew Taylor, Sarah Wigglesworth and Maxwell Hutchinson)
Questions of conscience: Debate from the panel (top right, from right to left: Matthew Taylor, Sarah Wigglesworth and Maxwell Hutchinson) · Credit: S Duncan Smith

It is the lack of commercial engagement that lets architects, and their fees, down — Roger Zogolovitch

Grappling with Collective Conscience was the theme of the stimulating second ­debate. There was no consensus on whether con­science should be personal (Ted ­Cullinan, architect and Royal Gold Medallist) or pan-­professional (architect and educator Sarah ­Wiggles­­worth). Tension between the ever disputatious Maxwell Hutchinson, who has acted contrary at least since being RIBA Pres­­ident in the 1980s, and the sharp thinking Royal Society of Arts’ Matthew Taylor, one time political advisor to Tony Blair, led to pointed interchanges. The audience’s varied contributions showed what a live issue this is, whether sustainability (Justin Bere), fee setting or public service guides your actions. 

The debate continues on Twitter (#RIBAJ­120). The series will look at working internationally in Home & Away on 30 ­September with Aecom’s Jason Prior and Francine ­Houben of Mecanoo Architecten. Blurring the Boundaries on 9 October brings together Clive Dutton, London School of Economics’ expert in cities and government, Tony Travers and RIBA president Stephen Hodder to discuss housing, cities, continuity and change.