Over the past year and a half as the world rolled languidly through a long recession, and continues to do so we witnessed the practise of architecture at its innovative best, right from a sudden surge in design offices wanting to satisfy their social obligations by 'hiring/taking on board' unpaid interns to ideas competitions with the entry fee being almost the same as the winning prize.
(Description from whitehouse.gov - " President George W. Bush comments to the media as he tours the Masdar Exhibition Monday, January 14, 2008, at the Emirates Palace Hotel. Said the President, "I hope that my visit shines a spotlight on the Middle East, the opportunities to work constructively with our friends and allies, and shows people the truth about what life is like here in the United Arab Emirates. This is a remarkable place. Its architecture is beautiful. But the can-do spirit is amazing." White House photo by Eric Draper" January 14 2008)
To me George Bush visiting Masdar exhibition, Fred Goodwin being hired as the advisor to the RMJM group and finally Zaha Hadid's Petroleum Research Centre (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) aiming for a LEEDS exemplify the very crème de la crème of hypocrisy that got brewed to perfection during this recession.
(Architecture giant RMJM has hired disgraced former Royal Bank of Scotland boss Fred Goodwin to work as senior advisor on international business. Image sourced from: Architects Journal)
Unlike the last Slump this time there were no alternatives churned out through the crisis, there was no mass unrest, there were no social movements that could change the course of architecture. Instead the processes of outsourcing and back officing just got more finely tuned to exploit the difference in labour cost through technological innovations like Revit, turning third world cheap labour into cad-monkeys.
While many out there eagerly crusade for architecture to be understood as a more diverse field than just the business of built environment, the production of built environment is still controlled by a certain nature of practice and all diversity sits on its fringes throwing paper balls of criticism/influences that hits its double glazed curtain walls and fall into the bin. These diverse alternatives are not really alternatives within the practice but just alternatives of personal choices, as we negotiate around our everyday needs and ethics.
The field that once had the modernists is now a collaborative of bunch of technical experts, consultants, speculators, agents and most importantly managers putting together a historically, socially and culturally acontextual box that is not a building but has been reduced to being just another consumer product like an ipod, car or toothbrush.
Update to the above post:
came across a blog post by a student from The Bartlett, Chris Hildrey on the Archinects School blog Project. The post summarizes the contradictions within the academic and professional spaces ..."The source of my nervousness is that the move from uni to practice is, in my case at least, one from a world where it is possible to get away with useless beauty, to one where is it possible to get away with ugly utility. And neither world will tolerate the others’ vice well."
continue reading here.