In a rare interview, Architecture talks about its big bad wolf reputation to the RIBAJ’s Maria Smith
Maria: Good morning Architecture, thank you so much for taking this interview. I’d like to ask a few questions about why you get a bit of a bad rap for treating architects badly, often… consuming them.
Architecture: You know, I’m often portrayed as this nasty wolf or something, and I want to address that.
M: Wonderful. The first question, then, is something that comes up time and time again: work-life balance. Why is this something architects so often struggle with?
Well, what about your role in this, eh? You place your dumb trust in a thing you know nothing about and you expect it to change, for you?
Architecture: You know, I’m glad you asked me that because I think I, Architecture, get a lot of unjust blame for this. You know, all the time you hear these stories about a young innocent wandering along and then big bad Architecture crosses their path and somehow they’re, like, ‘hoodwinked’ into this ambition to shape our world – to design everything from the world’s tallest tower to a picturesque cabin in the woods for their grandma... But, oh, you’ll arrive at that perfect cabin in the woods and there Architecture will be, seemingly harmless, and then you’ll notice: ‘Oh, what big eyes you have, Architecture!’ ‘Well, all the better to scrutinise your designs with,’ I’d say, or ‘Oh what but big hands you have!’ ‘All the better to squeeze your fees down with,’ and ‘What big teeth you have!’ ‘All the better to consume you whole…’ Well, what about your role in this, eh? You place your dumb trust in a thing you know nothing about and you expect it to change, for you? I mean, it’s a sad story, and you could blame low fees and lack of resources or demanding clients, but actually, I think it’s more to do with the sorts of characters that get into architecture, with their fairy tale expectations… you know?
M: Um, ok, so is there something within education that could improve this? We talk about the way crits breed these protagonists…?
Architecture: The crit is a great format but, yeah, it’s harsh. I mean, you have these students, like little piglets, that present some design that’s undeveloped – you know, basically a straw house – easy to just blow down with a few words; but in a crit they’ll really huff and puff to destroy the thing. Then say this next little guy comes up and he’s designed something slightly better – maybe it’s using some sideways vernacular like sticks – but it’s still essentially weak and the critics’ll go in for the kill. To be honest, even when someone brings a decent design, you know, something really robust... like there was once this student I saw that had designed this incredible brick building [laughs]. That was a great one actually, because the design just stood up, and you couldn’t blow that one down – well, that’s rare!
M: Err, right; so you seem to be suggesting that the format of the crit and all it represents is some sort of filter that we need, to find these robust people that can stick it out?
Architecture: Well, yeah… I mean… there are too many architects, yes? There are more graduating than we really need, but on the plus side, for me as Architecture, this means we can filter out the rubbish at architecture school as well as letting it happen later on. It’s really funny, we all know that architects are young until they’re 40 but you still get the ones that’re always asking: ‘When is it my time to catch a break here?’ ‘When am I going to get that career defining commission?’ ‘What’s the time Mr…’ and I turn around and tell them: you wait, in three, four, five years… and they count the years out and you know, best case they hit a wall, but more often than not, they tire of asking ‘What’s the time, what’s the time’ and they just get eaten up by it. So this leaves us with the strongest. Is that so bad?
M: Well, okay then; so if the current setup is this long drawn out process of filtering out the weak, is the length of architectural education essential to that process? If this were to change – to shorten – would you worry about your quality, Architecture?
Architecture: You know, architectural education is so long that I hear students and recent graduates describing feelings of being locked up, away from the real world, as if architectural education is some misguided father figure trying to protect these young people from the scary beasts out there. And as Architecture – as something that oversees so many and so much – I can relate to that, but I can also relate to these students – like, what’s that guy’s name? Peter something? – that just say: ‘No! I’m going to climb out of the window and over the fence and into the woods and I’m going to tie that Architecture up with a noose and parade him to the zoo where everyone can see what he really is…’ [laughs]. I’d walk in that parade, I really would.
With thanks to Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, What’s the Time Mr Wolf?, and Peter and the Wolf.
Maria Smith is a director at Studio Weave