New Generation of Architects with Different Perspective

Long Kesh

In the pages of RIBA Journal, the official magazine of the Royal Institute of British Architects, recent graduate Zoe Berman reflects on her education and on an attitude that is growing among her contemporaries.

Something seems to be going on among these young students of architecture similar to the fervor that captured students worldwide in what we call the Sixties, prompting them to demand relevance from their institutions and from themselves. Regarding their own particular field, Berman says,

‘Architecture lite’ TV shows and magazine articles presenting glossy projects risk creating a public perception of an industry defined by image and fad…

The architect as superstar has become a suspect figure. Electronic and print media have elevated architects and architecture that some see as what a Texan might define as all hat and no cattle. While there’s nothing wrong with style, substance must be present too, and a meaningful amount of it. There is a backlash, possibly even a revolt, against the shiny, the showy, and the superficial. These young folk are talking about things like ideals.

Berman observes that students are backing away from the superstar paradigm, and looking to small-scale, personal projects for satisfaction. Grassroots might be an over-utilized word, but it expresses perfectly what she sees as the spiritual home increasingly sought by the current generation of students. Community looks like a better deal than individual stardom. They see an opportunity to work on a home for the aged, for instance, as an enticing invitation to discover the true meaning of their chosen profession.

Architecture students are taking a good hard look at what sustainability really comprises. Another matter under scrutiny is the tendency for credit to be unevenly distributed. Every project involves a team, and recognition of that fact is not as widespread as they would like to see. Berman credits her school with fostering the ascendancy of the group over the individual in this respect:

The course at Sheffield University is rare in encouraging projects that forced us, often reluctantly, to work together in groups rather than allowing us to cruise through the course producing self-referential, self-satisfying projects.

Apparently, whoever makes policy at this university feels it’s better that young architects discover sooner, rather than later, that the magic word is collaboration.

The students of this generation also focus on ethics. Of course, the conventional attitude, so ingrained that it is not often questioned, is that a professional does the job she or he is paid to do, to the best of her or his ability. But what if the job is creating a laboratory where animals will be used in ways that many people take strong exception to? What if the job is building yet another prison, in the face of very convincing indications that the good of society will be much better served by the realization that there are better ways to deal with social problems? Then there is another position, one that asks: Given that prisons will undoubtedly continue to be built, isn’t it preferable to have them designed and built by conscientious, caring individuals than by uncaring bureaucrats?

SOURCE: “”No Stars in Our Eyes” May 2008
photo courtesy of kitestramrt , used under this Creative Commons license

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