Restoration comedy

Wild thing... Maria Smith has some creative questions

What is the future of architecture? What is the future role of the architect? Are you bored of hearing about architects losing power to project managers? Are you a proponent of said power loss? Are you a design manager? Do you fundamentally disagree with this notion? Do you nevertheless sympathise with the allure of the question? Do you believe that we should be concerned with the next big thing? Do you feel shortchanged by the received wisdom that architecture is late to every party? Is this why we’re fascinated with young architects? Do you feel young enough to be young? Do you feel old enough to be an architect? Are you a design manager?

Have you heard this quote about major building projects necessarily representing the ethos of the time in which they were conceived better than that of the time at which they are completed? Is this necessarily true? Is this unsatisfactory? Is it this – and not the design managers (like you?) – that strips architects of our power to shape the environment? Did you get into architecture because you wanted to build history? Did your role as an accomplice to outgoing fashions and moralities, rather than the designer of a better future, cause you to leave architecture? 

Have you seen that cool video called How Wolves Change Rivers? Do you feel uncomfortable about how re-introducing wolves into Yellowstone National Park reduced and cowed the deer population, resulting in trees quintupling in height, bird populations diversifying and rivers being reinforced in their courses? Did you cry at Bambi? Do you know what rewilding is? Did you just look it up on Wikipedia and learn that it’s ‘large-scale conservation aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes and core wilderness areas, providing connectivity between such areas, and protecting or reintroducing apex predators and keystone species’? Does rewilding represent a shift from conservation of nature to restoration of nature? Does this represent a shift from not ruining the world to creating a better world? Are you sentimental about breaking eggs to make an omelette?

Does this represent a shift from not ruining the world to creating a better world? Are you sentimental about breaking eggs to make an omelette?

Do you feel uncomfortable going round historic houses? Should historic houses be conserved? If a historic house (or important art school) burns down, should it be restored to its former glory or conserved as a charred relic? Is restoration too propositional for comfort? If a forest burns down should it be restored to its former glory or conserved as a charred relic? If a historic house could be regrown rather than rebuilt, would we be more comfortable restoring it? If architects could see themselves as initiators of growing mechanisms rather than makers of a finished product, would cities be able to represent the ethos of their time? If we stopped associating growing architecture with living willow pavilions designed by young architects would we adapt better to each ethos as it emerged? 

Could we rewild our cities? Should we reintroduce apex predators into our cities? Do you yearn to be that apex predator? Is that why you became a design manager? Are design managers, disguised as back seat drivers, actually poised lynx-like to pounce and propose? Are design managers the apex predators of the built environment? Will they reduce and browbeat the architect population, creating a glorious knock-on effect? Are architects capable of setting aside their egos long enough to realise that ‘restoration’ offers more capacity for agency than maybe all other processes? If the architect sets aside their ego, can they still be called an architect? Are design managers the architects of the restoration? 

Does all this chat about rewilding signify that we are approaching a tipping point in our relationship to nature? Will a Malcolm Gladwell of the future write about us one day? Do you want to live in an era worthy of inclusion in the future Malcolm Gladwell’s popular history of humanity? What will our new relationship to nature be? Will it be a restoration of a previous relationship in which we don’t feel the need to see ourselves in opposition to nature? Will it be a knowing, sarcastic version of that previous relationship where we justify our engineering of nature with prehistory? Will we call creation restoration so that we feel better about it? Will we call restoration creation so that architects feel better about it?  

This autumn, Maria Smith will be working with The Cass, London Metropolitan University and the RIBA Journal on unusual short courses teaching practice in architecture and design