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Season’s weepings

Maria Smith

The new year offers a depressing lack of change

Only weeks in to 2018 and it is clear there are at least eight things that will be exactly the same as they were in 2017.

We will continue to moan about low fees. We will continue to complain that the commercial mechanisms that we disdain and in our more astute moments work to destabilise, do not reward us highly enough. Established practices will continue to whinge on about how small start-ups, with low overheads, a thirst for success and nothing to lose, undercut those of us that have toiled for decades with no reward. Young, emerging practices will continue to whinge on about how big practices can afford to rob Peter to pay Paul, or expediently take a server-full of old designs and hit Save As, or make money not from consultancy services but through development, or investment, or currency exchange or by selling their grandmothers’ heirlooms and buying a five bedroom house in Chelsea in 1981. Despite this we will continue to buy the ‘nice’ jobs, not least through expending weeks of non-fee-earning time jumping through procurement hoops more pointlessly onerous than The World’s Strongest Man contest.

We will continue to be beholden to an economic and moral framework that we’re deeply uncomfortable with but ill equipped to challenge. We will seek out and reward each other for our publicly funded, locally initiated, more palatable projects. We will herald charity and community projects above all else. Meanwhile we will continue to be reliant on and thereby perpetuate that stalwart of capitalism that is the property industry, comforting ourselves that these carbon guzzling, inequality bolstering, innovation blocking, safe deposit boxes for living in, are somehow medium ok because they bite the curb, I mean touch the ground nicely.

We will continue to hamper genuine diversity by politely asking each other to leave our difference at home

We will continue to propagate gender inequality by using gender equality as a banner under which to campaign for better working conditions, by conflating women’s issues with parents’ issues so reinforcing that caring for the next generation is chiefly a woman’s role, by offering mentoring and leadership training for women so that they might better make it in this ‘man’s world’, by insisting on dress codes that fortify archaic gender distinctions, by asking leading questions that come from presupposed prejudices, and by assuming consensus.

We will continue to hamper genuine diversity by politely asking each other to leave our difference at home. We will continue to misuse that sentiment that what people do or are in their own time should have no bearing on their ability to do a job, as justification to ask that what people do or are in their own time must under no circumstances be evident in their professional work personas. We will continue to herald a work-life balance as the epitome of civilisation, and ignore the segregation it enforces between work and life, and the pernicious ability it has to strip meaning from our work and work products.

We will continue to devise and promote minimum standards. We will continue to favour complicated guidance and regulation that allow the smart and sneaky to find loopholes in and ignore the purpose of them. We will continue to avoid the nasty, messy business of empathy or understanding by nurturing this permissive environment that enables a get-away-with-it culture that exacerbates and permits inequality.

We will continue to pander to a hugely wasteful planning process that agonisingly uses up excruciatingly precious resources and achieves nothing good. Submitting a planning application will continue to resemble attending a party you don’t want to go to, and that nobody else wants to be at either, at which we all drink copious amounts of bathtub gin precipitating the entirely pointless and avoidable throwing up of inexplicable chunks. 

We will continue to waste countless hours designing new buildings. At the behest of planners, clients, culture and our own egos, we will continue to reinvent the wheel at every opportunity rather than reuse perfectly functional existing designs. What could at best be a honed performance from a rolling start, and at worst a copy and paste, is thwarted by a bizarre notion that every site, every design team, every context is so different as to throw out soapy babies left, right and centre in favour of another mediocre, eye-wateringly expensive prototype.

We will continue to fail our students. We will go on hiding behind this jumped up ­notion that architectural education is the unicorn of learning experiences that unlike any other can actually teach nimble mindedness, divergent thinking, pan-dimensional sensitivities and other cult-like superpowers all for the tidy sum of a zillion magic coins. We will thereby shirk our responsibility to equip our young colleagues with the knowledge or skills to operate within our Jurassic industry, leaving them bound and gagged; fifty shades of under-qualified.

Maria Smith is a director of architecture and engineering at Interrobang



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