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Why tackling the boring tasks can pay dividends for your practice

Eleanor Young

Don't underestimate the power of applying yourself to tedious things to unlock the potential of a project

High on a house a roofer swiftly lifts and slides down the tiles to his mate. A couple of hours later I pass by again, returning from my daily exercise. They are still at it. What looked fun at first now looks a little boring, though still a party compared with many lockdown experiences.

I am surprised the word boring has not risen to greater prominence after nearly a year of Covid. Where are the newspaper lifestyle articles with 10 things to do when you are bored? Where is the trending hashtag on Twitter, the moans on WhatsApp groups, the grey horizons on Instagram? Perhaps the security of four walls, a refuge from a world turned upside down, have trumped boring.

But it would be good to think that is because we have learnt the upside of boring, the ability of a spreadsheet to unlock the real value of a project (not in the door handles, in most cases) or to interrogate an area schedule. Here can be the chance to turn school circulation into informal learning space, or to push it outside the envelope and claim the space back for classrooms. It is hard to get away with calling boring things creative without a snigger, but let’s at least call them powerful.

Chicago-based Paul Preissner talks about the humble two-by-four timber as the ‘dumbest’ of building technologies. But this boring, basic slice of tree covers the United States in the form of timber-framed halls, churches and especially timber-framed houses from East Coast to West – precisely because it makes few demands from its builders; it can be joined with screw or nail and cut with a simple saw. Timber-frame and clapboard is how we see the archetypal American dream and it has spawned a formula for architecture. It is accepted as the norm. 


Indy Johar talks of a "boring revolution" where the underpinnings of architecture are tackled

Co-founder of Architecture 00 Indy Johar is a rethinker of workspace and open source design and an advocate for architects who can take on finance, tech and management in their own language. He talks of a ‘boring revolution’ where the underpinnings of architecture are tackled, from warranties to property rights and contracts. These are the big issues, this is the movement that dug into land holdings and gave us community land trusts, community asset transfer in the early 2000s and the designation of community assets that has allowed neighbourhoods to take on local pubs even where developers might have snapped them up for housing. There is no such thing as form follows function when you take a critical look, in Johar’s view. ‘Form follows the code of capital,’ he insists. And tackling the boring is how to change that code.

Even if you are not a fully fledged revolutionary, you can arm yourself by becoming an expert in the boring tools that govern projects, interrogating your own contracts and what you are committing to. Small practices find checking contractors out not just with Companies House but with your local contacts can pay off. Going beyond building regulations and getting to grips with Passivhaus principles was one of the things that won Mikhail Riches the Stirling Prize for Goldsmith Street in 2019. These are tools of control but can be turned around. They can be used by architects just as much dry supplementary planning guidance and local plans can be used as ammunition to allow plots and unloved buildings to be developed into good architecture.

OK, there is still repetition, as any roofer could tell you. Even with the advent of artificial intelligence or robots there will still be boring. So choose when to use boring to your advantage, and go with its comfortable, if rather dull, flow.