Saturday, 3 August 2013

Who is an architect?

Some time ago, there was a flurry of excitement over the fact that one of the world's most acclaimed architects, Daniel Liebeskind was described as just that, an architect, in a jurisdiction where he was not registered with the local regulatory body.  It was kind of amusing.  Soon after, it became apparent that the British Architects Registration Board (ARB) in particular had for some reason become especially aggressive in the same fruitless endeavour, from memory challenging the great Italian architect Renzo Piano.  And now I read in Dezeen, that they have been given notice for referring to John Pawson as an architect, in the context of an article on his beautiful St Moritz church in in Augsburg, Germany.

Pawson not only consistently produces masterful buildings, but could be described as genuinely influential in the evolution of international architecture through the medium of his so called 'minimalist' work.  But he didn't ever finish his studies at the Architectural Association school in London, and he isn't registered with the ARB.

So the Dezeen article, or more precisely the follow-up article describing their dealings with the ARB over the issue, has elicited many comments.  The poor correspondent who first commented in support of the ARB's adherence to their charter (to police the protection of the title 'architect') got an awful lot of 'dislikes', and ended up actually apologizing for giving offense.

In my view he really didn't need to apologize. I think his comment could have been made more unambiguously in the context of an aggressive critique of Architecture.  Namely, that it is not enough to afford legal protection to the term 'Architect' and then assume that 'Architecture' is that which is produced by 'Architects'. 

To the contrary, Architecture should be able to be distinguished by its quality (something like the Quality discussed by Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), and only someone who produces Architecture should be afforded the honorific "Architect'. 

But of course, that doesn't work in any simple credentialing system where what you are trying to do, really, is to afford some crude protections to badly informed consumers, while distorting the market for a particular service.  Which is all that the various architects' registration acts in Commonwealth countries seem to achieve.

This is a long running discussion with no satisfactory resolution in sight.  The article in Dezeen is not exactly a profound exposition on the subject, but it does make lively reading.  Read it here, then look at the original piece on Pawson's church.  Then work out where you stand.

1 comment:

Mona said...

greek αρχιτέκτων [architékton] - αρχι- [archi-], „first-“ and τέκτων [tékton], „builder“. Obviously something has changed.

This question in your article’s headline crosses my mind every now and then. It did first when my grandfather explained to me about the German Architects Registration Board and the fact that he won’t be able to be remembered as an architect having that engraved in his gravestone once he stopped paying the annual fee (he laughs when he says that).
Reading the article makes me think about all the great architects of history. Many of them were in fact autodidacts. It makes the definition that apparently exists by regulations and by law seem ridiculous. Le Courbusier, Mies Van der Rohe, Eileen Gray, Peter Behrens… just to mention a few… Nobody would dare doubting them to be brilliant architects at their time even if they did not finish their degrees for whatever reason.
The same thing with John Pawson and his St Moritz church in in Augsburg. I haven’t seen it in reality but I must say that I truly desire his minimalistic work he has done there and in many other projects. There are many “real architects” who would not be able to show this kind of sense for aesthetics and minimalism.
Finding an answer to the question “Who is an architect?” we might ask ourselves first “What is architecture?” – is it simply something men built or something that serves a function and is being combined with aesthetic and beauty or is it more?
Anyway, I also have to admit that there is a part of me that is relieved about the fact that there is regulations that do not allow just everybody to call themselves “architects”. I am looking for that day which will come in maybe five or six years when I will be able to do that. The title is not just a pretty accessory but it actually means a lot to me. It will give me sort of an evidence in black and white that all the hard work has led to something.

I guess John Pawson is a good that shows that we are not admired for our names or our title but for what we actually do, achieve and give to the world. And I also gives me hope that there is the opportunity for talent and sense of beauty to exist and to grow.