# ARCHITECTURAL THEORIES /// Open-Letter to Mr. Patrik Schumacher: Yes, Architects are Legitimized and Competent to address the Political Debate

Truth, Power and Knowledge by Daniel Lauand

Dear Mr. Schumacher,

Today, I read the article that you wrote two days ago for The Architectural Review and I felt the urge, the necessity to send you a response as such rebuttal would almost constitute a manifesto since your discourse seems the exact opposite of the one I am defending on this platform. I won’t insist too much on your heavy undelicateness as a professor to attack on a very specific level a certain amount of students’ project, students who, I hope, are careless enough not to feel personally affected by your attacks. Orienting your discourse on your pairs, other professors would have been more diplomatic, but, once again that does not constitute the main reason of my reaction.

I will not take too much time either to underline the irony of having you complaining that the students’ work is not oriented enough on the ordinary life, I think that everybody did not miss to smile when reading you while considering the work that you have been developing along the years in the various schools that you have been teaching for.

Before going truly to the argument that is important to me in my reaction to your article, I would like to say that, despite some  problematic attitudes (nowhere is a perfect place), I believe that what breaks the  ambition of  many young architects in the United Kingdom is not their exploration and production of fictions but rather the hyper-reality of professional exploitation that the Behemoths firms practice on many of them when they leave the Academic world.

That leads me to the main argument of this letter, which goes far beyond from the architecture education. In fact, in your article you claim for a – self declared – subtle realism and write:

” I also doubt that architecture could be a site of radical political activism. I believe that architecture is a sui generis discipline (discourse and practice) with its own, unique societal responsibility and competency. As such it should be sharply demarcated against other competencies like art, science/engineering and politics. Architects are called upon to develop urban and architectural forms that are congenial to contemporary economic and political life. They are neither legitimised, nor competent to argue for a different politics or to ‘disagree with the consensus of global politics’ (as David Gloster suggests).”

By affirming that architects are not legitimized, nor competent to argue for a different politics, you are, in fact, calling yourself for a different regime, an aristocratic one, in which experts owning a sacred knowledge have the exclusive legitimacy to debate and rule cities and nations. Architects, to the very same extent of bakers, workers, bankers (sic), waiters, lawyers, unemployed people etc. are absolutely competent and legitimized to  argue for a different politics for the good reason that they are concerned by it as citizens and share with other the res-publica (the public thing). Politics etymologically comes from the Greek  word Polis (πόλις) which translate by city. Of course, city, here, signifies the immaterial society constituted by humans living together and sharing a somehow restraint territory, but I am not convinced that you would actually argue against the fact that the physical dimension of this city has an influence on the immaterial one.

As a matter of fact, I have been claiming often on this blog that architecture needs to be thought as being much more part of the problem of this polis than the solution. Architecture directs, oppress, hurts our bodies whether it has been conceived as such or not. You believe that architecture cannot be a site of radical political activism; I would argue, on the contrary, that each architecture is actually a site of radical political activism. Most of them are indeed a radical embodiment and a violent implementation of the dominant power. However, some of them manage to transgress the rules of this same power, not by liberating themselves from the system, but rather,  by operating and creating in the folds of matter of this very same system. Architecture is indeed a political weapon and it is never as effective as such -in favor for the established relationships of power- as when it is not thought as such.

My conclusion would therefore be that I agree with you about the fact that Architectural education has to be questioned and re-questioned; however, your realism that declares architects as non legitimized nor competent to address the political debate is a direct invitation to inhibit any critical attitude towards the relationships of power and of production that structure our society. I would therefore argue for the perfect negative of your project, whether you call it irrealism, idealism, utopianism or any other ‘isms’ that we thought we got rid of in the past.

Sincerely (!),

Léopold Lambert

[following Patrik Schumacher's responses, this letter has a sequel that can be read by following this link]

58 Comments on “# ARCHITECTURAL THEORIES /// Open-Letter to Mr. Patrik Schumacher: Yes, Architects are Legitimized and Competent to address the Political Debate

  1. As a devils advocate, I can sympathise with Schumacher in some ways. The architect is increasingly marginalized in the realization of a building…and there should be a serious consideration (now more than ever) of the difference between architecture and building. Not in academic terms as much as harsh realities of the economics and politics that shape what actually gets built as much (or more so) than a design charette. Architects do not build for themselves, it is the people with money , and often disparate interests, that ultimately foster revolutionary architecture – or not…usually not, as economies continue to mesh at a global scale and markets expand in agency and volatility fed by speed. Perhaps ‘building’ is no longer the most appropriate venue for the aspirations of ‘architecture’. A questioning of education should at least include the consideration of leaving a stale profession for dead, one that is desperate and exploits young optimistic students until they break. It is should not include breaking away from the arts, but encroaching more on them, learning how to become artful, to find new venues to display the profound implications that architecture may have. These ideas (especially those written about on this blog) need to become real somehow to have any real impact as protest. If not through ‘building’ than how else? How to materialize and instrumentalize revolutionary ideas, to engage the polis, to destabilize?

  2. …”As such it should be sharply demarcated against other competencies like art, science/engineering and politics. Architects are called upon to develop urban and architectural forms that are congenial to contemporary economic and political life.”

    to me this means abandoning what he blankets with ‘architecture’, specifically ‘building’, as corporate art, as in: pop music, hotel room paintings, etc and encouraging a migration of students, passionate practitioners, and pedagogy towards a new mode of creative production and new ways to engage markets and policies…leaving the production of buildings to those who dont even care to read schumacher. Something mutant or hybrid. History certainly proves that the purification and reduction that he is proposing through this ‘demarcation’ is not what drives novelty…biologically speaking it is mutation – becoming impure, becoming hybrid and opportunistic by leaving traditional practice behind.

    thanks for posting this, have been a follower of this blog for years

  3. Well, as Léopold had already pointed out, Patrick’s statement is totally hypocrite , once his own designs are not fit for the new economic status of an fast developing world.

    I come from a Architectural School where we ONLY present projects for an “ordinary life processes of contemporary society”, or ONLY project that don’t have any proposals for “emancipated radicalism” that Léopold talked about in his previous articles. We here in Brazil, for decades, didn’t bother about an architectural debate, and only focused on making the students design something that would stand up and copy the same old typologies, same solutions for old problems of the polis. (As you can see that we are only still famous for our modernism approach for buildings).

    We lack this kinda of debate, and that’s where I disagree when people said that if it’s not going to be real, it doesn’t have an impact as a protest. About 70% of my architectural knowledge is based on text books, or projects that I see on magazines and blogs such as this one. And they DO contribute for an exchange of ideas that may not materialize themselves right know, but their ideas will continue to echo and mature for further designs.

  4. So where is the architecture of realism, that builds for people, i would just like to now. What concretes and glasses have made practitioners more important than theorists?
    I think we should step back for architecture’s sake and look what this ‘field’ of art or even science has achieved. Skyscrapers, malls and restaurants.
    I was recently reading an article on the funambulist blog on a book called ‘Pornotopia: Architecture and sexuality during Cold War’. It uncovers the truth. Architectural luxuries made for a specific type of life, aiming for money and only market.
    Is that what architecture is about? Is it about teaching people how to make things stand? To become engineers, programmers and planners?
    In a few words, what architecture schools in Britain are try to do is risky. It is a fact that we, as students, are let to debates and dialogues and theories on society and politics, but isn’t that what architecture aims to achieve? A more complete view of what perceive as space?

  5. An Alternate Blood-Letting:

    Sir [and I use that term loosely] –

    Where does one being with such absurdities and contradictions? How does one approach such appalling invectiveness towards exactly that which should be nurtured?

    Mr. Schumacher, hang your head in shame. Your brief, un-substantive article in The Architectural Review should be digitally burned for its dripping condescension alone. That you have the gall to completely debase particular schools for not following in your drivel of a practice – devoid of life, devoid of soul, duende, and lays limp in hollow form “testing” – is a testament to exactly why these schools are of the utmost importance today.

    Perhaps you might stop to consider exactly why and how these dystopic proposals have developed? Or do you not care? Let’s pretend you do. Perhaps, the current student body is actually engaged in the political and social comings-and-goings of the world and feels a bit of despair because of it? You must know what that feels like, right? These projects are only a projection of where we are headed if nothing changes. They imagine a future in which parametricism and the scientific beatitudes that pervade the undertones of contemporary discourse have overrun the world and destroyed it – and yet the potential brilliance and sweet breath of these projects is precisely their perseverance in the face of inevitable destruction. They witness some enthroned oaf mucking up the place and decide they’d rather be involved in the solution rather than the perpetuation of the problem. That it might come off to you as desiring some “poetic import,” suggests many things about your principles and the state of the profession today. Might you stop to think that perhaps this is a result of the desire for something missing? Might your designs not be enough for the rest of us with hearts as well as brains? Oh, cruel world! Often, they imagine something broken, some larger problem, and attempt a solution. Does this not suit your taste for “systematic research and serious design experiments”? In your article you suggest how you imagine a school should be:

    “I consider the best schools to be a crucial part of the avant-garde segment of the discipline charged with the permanent innovation of the built environment. It is here that systematic research and serious design experiments can be conducted in ways that are more principled and more forward looking than would be possible within professional practice on the basis of real commissions. Academic design research allows designers to select and focus on specific aspects of the built environment, and abstract from other aspects.”

    That you might even entertain the idea that the RIBA awarded projects contain none of this is so absurd it borders on farce. I’d laugh if I wasn’t so angry. The logical basis of the argument is so non-existent that I don’t even know where to begin. Your more or less stated criticism is that these projects don’t contain valid research but are thrown together from poetry snippets and lustful longings of a bygone Romanticism. And yet your position is so divorced from reality that I have to wonder how you dressed yourself this morning: “Instead we witness the invention of scenarios that are supposedly more interesting than the challenges actually posed by contemporary reality. “ Please explain to me how an ecological research center is an invented scenario in an era of rampant ecological destruction. How is that not contemporary reality? Had you done even a modicum of Googling alone, or read the links posted next to your own article, you might have found that, for example, the structures of the Venice algae monitoring facility actually contained a vast amount of research. Yet you chose to overlook that and be unsatisfied with the pretty picture you’re seeing, attesting to your shallow field of vision that is reflected in your “professional” practice. Rather than looking at a compelling image and investing time and energy into discovering what is compelling about it, you look, maybe smirk at its sex, then move on to devour the next piece of flesh. I have to ask, is satisfying? Are you full? But I know the answer: no, not a chance. It’s a voracious appetite when you’re not truly digesting anything, isn’t it? There’s your irony.

    “The demonstration of creative imagination and virtuoso visualization skills is not enough to merit an award.” Do you actually believe this? Is this a joke? Creative imagination and virtuosity do not merit award? What in the hell does? Does it not require creative imagination to invent whatever the hell you’re thinking schools should produce? Or perhaps you don’t actually want students to create new thing, but only exit the school as institutionalized, happy little indebted corn husks? Christ almighty, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

    And allegory? Some might spin an allegorical yarn, yes, but since when does that lack value? You’d rather have a school of engineering automatons producing so-called technological innovations than encouraging an environment of lateral and nimble thinking? How dare you claim that these schools lack value and have no place in the professional world! Implicit is your desire and claim to power, in which you dictate your limpid architectural gestures – and they are nothing but gestures – to be produced and worked out by the automatons your suggested type of school would contain. I imagine you’d prefer nice quiet industrial designers hunched over glowing computer screens trying to fashion a little joint that doesn’t look like a joint, or a small gear to operate the glossy cover that only exists to cover its own gear; a nice little meta statement of your subjects. Your loyal servants, your indentured servants, starry-eyed pleading servants. Chained to desks by those invisible coils of paternal appeasement.

    I could go on, but I doubt you’ve read this far. So I’ll end with this: You, sir, are full of shit. Glossy white shit.

  6. some go to conservative schools that teach how to design and build comfortably within current traditions. Some go to these such schools that believe that an architect should be nothing short of a revolutionary…only new ideas allowed, only startling and provocative narratives of a dramatic future. In the case of the latter, shouldn’t they take more seriously what it actually takes to become a destabilizing force? To BUILD outside of traditions and markets that foster nothing but mediocrity and that blindly carry on towards their own destruction. Unfortunately, this work must begin to exist materially, or culturally as buildings, policies, as actualized novelty in order to prove Schumacher wrong. Otherwise this work , interesting as it may be, just bounces around architecture blogs and the rare magazine. Is that really protest?

    Is it not irresponsible to instill these ambitions in students without tempering, without training them how to negotiate harsh realities of the marketplace that allows for buildings/cities to exist, the politics that result in the current conditions that they are reacting so dramatically against with these proposals? If not then they are merely filmmakers, story tellers, and graphic artists with a concentration in architecture as a medium, not yet architects so much…but we know that fiction in film and literature certainly is capable of destabilizing as much as any building, so this work is certainly productive, it just doesnt reach much of an audience.

  7. Accountants study to become accountants, lawyers train to practice the law, and architects train to colour in. A students first day in practice running a project is where the education begins. Design, planning, detailling, budget costs, valuations, contractual matters, that is the job that makes a difference. Dishing out chocolate coin awards for so called earth shattering, unbuildable designs doesn’t do the students or the profession any good in the long run.

    If people want to practice fine art, then study fine art, myself on the other hand, I relish putting buildings up from start to finish without the use of levitating bricks.

    Schumacher I love you man. x

    Pedro Alvarez

    • You speak as if these levatating ideas do not contribute to the greater whole of materialized ideas. Thought become actions and ideas materialize.

      • Get a grip Johns…..let me tell you a little story about a young architect. Once upon a time there was a young pragmatic whippersnapper student who loved architecture after many years in practice taking it up the rectal passage and a number of years absorbing pointless tripe not contributing on how to actually erect a building and earning ever worsening crap wages, the lad left architecture to graft for a contractor and doubled his salary along with a company car. Take it from me I’ve been around the block and I am 3 years post part 3. The ever increasing pointless role of the architect spurred me to leave the profession for a more worthy cause.

  8. I fully agree with what Mr Shumacher has said regarding architectural profession and the alternate reality that is architectural education. Shame on all of YOU who live in a constant dream state and believe there is any place for the drivel produced by arch students with the only intention of winning presidents medals etc. It will be the students who suffer in the long run as they have been programmed (much like the robotic brixton terminators, probably) to buy into the type of nonsense lauded on them by architectural staff (not all).

    Yes, education has to confront a slightly skewed reality to allow students to experiment, but honestly, robots of brixton!? there must be middle ground that allows a more professional experience and grounds a little reality into these jobless (not much call for specialists in urban sci-fi architecture these days), and underpaid potential architects lives.

    Frankly, if a potential employee presented me a portfolio of work thats recently been awarded a presidents medal, I would hire them on the spot, provided my practice gets through to the next stage of the latest algae farm/robot workforce/supervillain funded competition.

    p.s the person above who thinks he is taking crazy pills, probably is. I guarantee the research for the algae farm project he holds so closely was steered to suit the students/tutors/potentially the writers delusions of grandeur.

    get out.

    • what really bothers me about this discussion is that people seem to believe that dreaming and doing are mutually exclusive. evidently someone who dabbles in narrative or social and political commentary is already predisposed to be completely inept at developing a joint detail or welding connections. why is this? unless you know these students personally, lets perhaps give them the benefit of the doubt that they can transition into the “real world” more easily than others seem to suggest. and, for christ’s sake, why would you want to crush a student’s creative soul in school – the only place where they have room to dream and schumacher and his brooding ilk want to make it “more realistic”? awful.

      and to think that these few schools – and they are few – who encourage this type of thinking should cease to exist is to completely eradicate any lateral thinking. its lunacy, pure and simple. i have spoken to quite a few professional principals and they, for the most part, would rather someone who engages in lively dialogue [driven by an inquisitive mind] than someone who sits around taking orders and hiding behind a computer screen.

      I am of the opinion that the student who can produce something of the caliber rightly awarded by RIBA is a much more appealing job candidate than a form-finder or mayaneer.

      i guess all these crazy pills have made my opinions a little unsavory. fugetaboutit.

    • I have to say any office would be very lucky to have one of these students work for them. We (yes, I am also about to graduate from one of “these schools”) are equipped with the latest 3d-2d program knowledge, enough technical knowledge to make a building stand and plus a critical look upon architecture history/theory. Most of us already work for several offices before graduation, so we are fully aware of the “jobless and underpaid architect life”
      If you don’t care about imagination, social/political awareness (which is an essential quality for an architect) you can at least look at that video and see amazing technical skills, crazy amount of work and the determination to finish it.
      So shame on you for making fun of these people for being imaginative and analyzing different scenarios. These people are the ones that are most likely to come up with innovative results when faced with “real life restrictions”

  9. Léopold,

    I wish you had left out the personal jabs at Mr Schumacher. I don’t see what his background has to do with the potential in/validity of his statements. There is simply not enough information to judge him as a character: perhaps he believes that such experimentation should take place alongside “standard” education? perhaps he things that such education is for private practice? Who knows, and, who cares? the article was not about him.

    Moving on to the actual topic, a few remarks:

    By affirming that architects are not legitimized, nor competent to argue for a different politics,

    I would say that this is not the view presented. Nobody believes that somebody should be illegitimate to hold views simply because of their profession, but instead I think that the point is that architecture (the profession) is not the right tool for the job. Schumacher is suggesting that architects can do and think as they please, but that schools should teach them what the profession actually is.

    Architecture directs, oppress, hurts our bodies whether it has been conceived as such or not. You believe that architecture cannot be a site of radical political activism; I would argue, on the contrary, that each architecture is actually a site of radical political activism.

    Agreed, architecture is by definition violent and intrusive, and hence ‘politics’ is inescapable. However, again, I would suggest a more moderate reading of the situation. What is the role of schools? what should a student learn? Schumacher seems to believe that operating in the real world is a big part of it – and hence his rejection of designing the fantastical.

    It seems to me that your reply to Mr Schumacher is a defense of architecture, but this is misguided. Mr Schumacher did not attack architecture, he attacked architectural education. You need to learn the alphabet before you can write, and Schumacher is saying that schools have stopped teaching students the basics.

    • Dear Karel,
      From all people who are supporting Patrick Schumacher’s argument, you seem to be the only one who really read my letter and therefore I owe you a response which would be the following.
      About architects being allegedly “not competent nor legitimized to argue for a different politics”, I was quoting stricto sensu his article, so he has to be held responsible for what he wrote. And you misunderstood my discourse after that because I was not arguing that architects, beside being architects are also citizen and have something to say, I was resolutely arguing that architecture is inherently an instrument of power (in a lot of different forms) and ignoring this fact or pretending to ignore it constitutes an embrace of the established relationships of power -embracing such relationships being fine but at least it needs to be done resolutely.
      I am certainly not defending architecture, I don’t even know what that would possibly mean, somehow if I try to speak this way, I might even be the one attacking architecture by affirming that architecture is inherently violent and hurtful. The world does not need architects, it would not be so hard to teach developers about aesthetics if really that is what architecture was about, so as architects we need to think architecture for what it is, a important political weapon (this will sound only extreme to people who thinks that politics is what we assist (and not participate) to when we watch the consensual debate in national parliaments, governments etc.). Some people (and Patrick Schumacher is probably part of them) might think that stating that is to remain within the immaterial (symbolism, narrative etc.) but I strongly believe (and I apply it to my own design) that this has everything to do with the materiality of architecture. That is what I am trying to show often on this blog.

      Anyway thank you for taking the time to read.
      Have a good evening

      Leopold

  10. what really bothers me is people who immerse themselves in narrative or social and political commentary (to the extent that they would create a project like the above mentioned) are usually the people who complete their Part II only to find themselves capable of working in a capacity that embraces their way of thinking i.e. tutoring back at the university that tuned their skills to begin with. circle begins, circle ends. Not really progressing the profession.

    the creative universities are the ones that produce the most passive students – from the outside it looks amazing, on the inside it is a machine churning out replicants (all architects love blade runner don’t they)

    The most creative students are the ones who stand on their own two feet and don’t allow themselves to be spoon-fed, I believe the soul crushing begins the moment a student accepts that to gain notoriety, he must accept his/her fate of being ordered by an architectural tutor to do as he/she is told, all in the name of being nominated by the aforementioned tutor for an award.

    The above is very general which I apologise for, but I believe, and have witnessed, one dimensional architectural training that creates an art or nothing approach (and it is often 3d smoke and mirrors), and believe if architecture is to remain a profession, it must first accept that the world is changing.

  11. Get a grip Greggs, its that obnoxious and arrogant attitude that makes the world hate architects, you should already know this as your self proclaimed resume appears to have endowed you with enough knowledge to stand toe to toe with any professional in the built environment, just like you are taught in university…

  12. thank you leopold!
    i actually cannot judge, in how far he is commenting on the award itself, the jury choice or the students or their teachers. but it sounds really ridiculously self-mutilating =)
    basically what he’s obviously not able to understand is that young people finally (!) have again an interest in an understanding of architecture and urbanity as a critical composition of co-habitation, more than arraying objects – an urbanity, which obviously lack more and more equity and spatio-economical justice.

    simply, i don’t know what he considers ‘avant-garde’ here: “the (best?) students of the current generation as well as their teachers seem to think that the ordinary life processes of contemporary society are too boring to merit the avant-garde’s attention. instead we witness the invention of scenarios that are supposedly more interesting than the challenges actually posed by contemporary reality.”…
    hence he is obviously wrong, for it is him, who wouldn’t understand ‘contemporary reality’ in it’s becoming-post-neoliberal. reality is not boring, it is wrong! he is wrong, as hadid became wrong over the time. instead of turning parametricism to a cost-saving, intelligent building system, the style fell into neo-narcism and produced (admittedly, first fascinating) pure objects of outdated liberal over-fatted values and marketing.

    finally, i admit he’s right that this is much of contemporary daily routine, but that is a wrong one that we have to defend ourselves against!

    but he had a clear moment: “the resultant works are statements or allegories rather than designs”! yay, he got it…
    design is not for everybody! that is why the guys got awarded.

  13. I would like to briefly generalise some of the assumptions made here, trying to see them from the perspective of a young practicioner architect.

    It’s true, Léopold, here we are not talking (only) about architectural education, but on the political consciousness of the individuals face at the violence this society inflicts, whether or not schools teach this.

    I see that finally the separation between the role of the architect and the one of the engaged intellectual in our profession is being questioned again, after some thirty years of deliberate disengagement.
    Yet a debate like the one we read in these platform, without keeping out any of its value, was quite common during the late 60’s and 70’s, when the machinic optimism of a Price and Archigram first gave place to the negative utopianism of Archizoom and Superstudio, and then was finally strucked by Rossi and Tafuri’s teaching, namely that form and history were the only things worth thinking about.
    In this (arguably too simplified) shift we see generalised all the positions: 1. embracing the opportunities of the present through slightly utopian optimistic projects, 2. representing (and criticise) the expansion of a formless city as a condition of capital pervasiveness; and 3. declaring that utopia/dystopia are inherently regressive, or better a product of a false architects consciousness.

    “According to Tafuri, modern architecture and especially its avant-garde moments could have been described as ideological prefigurations of the upcoming effects of capitalist development. In so doing, modernist architectural culture had a precise role in naturalizing these effects and making them socially and culturally acceptable.”
    From: http://thecityasaproject.org/2011/03/pier-vittorio-aureli-manfredo-tafuri/

    While I find there should be no debate around Léopold’s main assumption, that architecture, namely the built one, is intrinsecally the product of the dominant power and violent “per sé”, as a practicing young architect -(and I would like to mark: a practising architect, not an academian, a stricto sensu intellectual, or a paper architect), I’m still very far from finding a way (not-to overcome, obviously), but to at least to engage against this condition.

    When I tried, working on the vocabulary of dystopia to narrate present conditions (pardon me for talking about my own production, but it’s part of the discourse), I immediately after felt the failure of that approach, for any representation of a material situation, (in my case the exploitation of immaterial labor through the vehicle of flexible architecture) is stuck to the condition of narrative and symbolism.

    How to “concretely” argue for a different politics without falling in a reactionary reformism, the new political and cultural form of capitalist power over society, the very form in which economic power is able today to persist and reproduce?

    And how to do it without being obliged of participate to the mechanism David was referring to, of: students production / award winning / publicity / tutoring back / close circle of (mostly) private universities’?

    Should we accept the inevitable condition of architecture as a superstructure and be confined to building zizekian “houses for doing nothing”, while waiting for a new paradigmatic – hopefully better – society?

    I apologise for the fuzzy superposition of thoughts, but I had liked to pose rather open questions than firm positions.

  14. Before starting with the argument, I’d like to say that I have taught in different capacities in South America, the US and the UK. I studied at Columbia University under people like Kenneth Frampton and Joan Okman and have taught at the AA diploma school, and being invited to juries of DRL where Patrick teaches. After more than 10 years involved in Academia, and living in London, knowing about the players and hearing the gossip first hand I think I can give a valid point of view ( albeit a bit over simplified and cynical because of what I consider to be the puerile nature of Patrick’s intentions with his article)

    I have gone now through Patrick S’s. article and the post and comments here. Its a great topic for argument, and I am really glad to see some disciussion…even though I have to admit I have seen much more worthy topics posted here which sadly attracted no comments. This just to say that Patrick S’s article has a really obvious and sadly shallow motivation….that is as always, to showcase his approach to teaching / practice as the only viable option,…a goal that always forces him to discredit the rest.

    As one of my last year’s students was shortlisted for the Silver medal, i was present at the awards ceremony, and yes as Patrick I was disappointed at the winner for a couple of reasons.

    1-the project didnt touch upon what for me constitutes de core of architectural design:
    -space
    -form
    -tectonics
    -programme
    -materiality

    2-The project wasnt deep enough in showcasing the argument it was supposedly aiming at……it was basically trying to be revolutionary, but not really putting the work into it ( when i say work i dont mean work 24 hours doing fun anaimations…..i mean studying ‘boring’ writtings and succesful projects form the past)

    3-the project choose purposefully to be lazy and not engage or study past historical and theoretical currents, it dindt situate itself within any of the discussons of our field…..basically it avoided all the substance and poured all effort over the style ( which wasn’t that polished anyway)

    4-it helped to perpetuate these set of boring recurring theme of british schools….apocalypse, decay, ALGAE FAMRS ( for fuck sake)…..all born out of the Bartlett and now infecting all schools (even the AA) in Britain. I am all up for projects that discuss dystopia, but please really discuss it….dont just add some rust, or growing lichens or moss…..or add robots. If you like robotics, go study robotics, don’t lie to yourself….And I feel totally in position to say this because I HAVE DONE IT, I AS A TUTOR have told my students….hey all the people who end up short listed in the president’s medals are either a robotic thing, an algae farm, some flooding thing, some dystopian future…or the classic and lamely named FUTURE SCENARIO. (the present is pretty interesting right now, no need to go to the future….just check maxkeiser.com or zerohedge.com)

    5-tall the above points can be explained by a strategy almost all of us use in our daily lives, this is the KEY issue for me, and the deceitful practice which Patrick knowingly engages in the same way as all of those examples he pointed out in his article. This issue is ….PERTINENCY, or in their case ( 99% of us all) IMPERTINENCY…..or dumping loads of BULLSHIT into a discussion, just so you never have to face the real issues, I kind of obscurantism, but more of an obscuring of the real questions that should be asked. So lets give an example. Say am an average professional football player, but I surf on the weekends as well. I would beat Lionel Messi at surfing….but its obvious he will destroy me playing football, and on the same line, if I surf against Kelly Slater, he will undoubtedly whoop my ass. So, if I am a professional football player….who gives a fuck If I surf better than Messi? ( as long as my surfing doesn’t provide me with a special set of abilities that would make me a better football player). So lets apply this to the presidents medal winner. He is an architecture student…..and he wins the medal because most other architecture students couldn’t create an animation like his ( lets be honest….there was so little architecture, or for that matter purposeful, refined design in general that it is obvious he just won because of the animation)…..But what if we send his animation to compete against CGI students? Well….I am sure that it wouldn’t be so amazing right? So you see, because we are a society driven by immediate reward ( win the award get the job, the money, the fame etc ) we forfeit on the journey, on the learning, on the education. So what we aim at creating are empty vessels…quick, all style no substance. But how do we make sure nobody recognize them as empty vessels….well we do what Patrick, the guy from robots of Brixton, 99% of students and tutors and all of us in general do….We divert the discussion into IMPERTINENT matters…..Be it robots, dystopia, future scenarios…..or in the case of Patrick ‘parametrism’…..NONE of this issues have any structural effect on the core building block of architecture: form, space, tectonics, materiality and programme.

    So in a nutshell Patrick just wrote this attack because:
    -other schools IMPERTINENT theme has been awarded consistently over the years at the presidents medal, as opposed to his IMPERTINENT theme. ( basically and childishly DRL veneer over Bartlett-style veneer)
    -he was not chosen as head of the Bartlett…so now its time to discredit their production and all production that carries their veneer ( both IMPERTINENT…his and theirs)

    So all this IMPERTINENCE is sort of like the two party system in the US or, Communist VS capitalist…..all politician in the US no matter if they are republican or democrat are form the same party……the ‘green $$$’ party…….look at who pays them: Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Lokheed Martin…..And the US who was always the bastion of capitalism….now is a socialist state for the rich ( bailouts are the biggest antithesis to capitalism).

    So there you go, Patrick says ( and am still laughing at this) that ‘those’ schools teach their students things that are outside the reality of the profession….well I;ve been to jury’s of his DRL students and they have absolutely no idea of what a building is, what a person’s relation to the built environment is etc etc….( don’t you find interesting that they want to cover their deficiencies by building pavilions???……pavillions that cost more than a house but obviously don’t have to deal with any day to day realities or uses or purpose)
    Therefore its clear that this article by Patrick is just complaining to the fact that dirty looking, rusty projects are more popular here in the UK schools than his ‘elegant’ parametric IMPERTINENCE….both are wrong, and both keep us distracted from engaging in real discussions….As I wrote here in the funambulist before….AGORAE vs ARENAS…….yes the students work a lot, there is a lot of discussion, a lof of debate….but none of pertains or is relevant….because we have had a generation of tutors who are mediocre architects, and mediocre tutors. And to put the argument to rest…..please tell me if any of these current ‘stars’ if Patrick himself who is claiming to be in the process of inventing the next big movement can even be put in the same sentence as proper architects like Utzon, Wright, Corbu, Khan or Mies?…..they are absolutely different things….the former are just charlatans making a good living out of their rethoric and the later are architects.
    I’d encourage all of you who are interested to listen to the POD cast on the AA website from Patrick’s day long self-eulogy to his book the autopoiesis of architecture. Specially the eschanges with Eric Owen Moss and Zaha…..specially when you see the interaction with Zaha you will understand the psychological motivations of Patrick to have a voice of his own and not be under her….And Zaha ( a very smart cynical person) expresses very clearly her opinion on his IMPERTINENCE (i.e parametrism)

    Annex:
    In regards to some of the comments and replies here in Leopold’s article, I have to say that Patrick is also absolutely wrong from my point of view in saying that architects have no business in commenting or letting their work comment on socio-politico-economic issues. ( please read Kenneth Frampton on this). I’d like to just give and example to express the kind of PERTINENT architectural discussion that can arise from taking into account the constituent aspects of architecture and incorporating socio-economic issue into them.

    The example is Khan’s Indian Institute of Management. I discovered Khan’s work sadly only recently and only after my office had won a competition to build a tower in India. Having to go there and thinking about building there and the logictics, made me think about Khan’s building and the decisions he took. Decision which were all PERTINENT to an architectural tradition while simultaneously interweaving issues of a social and economic spectrum…..What am going to write might be absolutely wrong, but that’s the great thing….that buildings that take into account not only parametric, but also tectonic, spatial, material, programmatic, formal and structural are so rich that all of us can engage and read things from it.

    So basically, Khan had to build this thing in Ahmedabad. Usually he would have used concrete….but the refined finish of exposed concrete he could get in the west wasn’t achievable in India…..so instead of ‘importing the skill’ ( what western architects like Patrick would do even if they build in a developing country….thats why the behemoths of dubai and abu dhabi are ‘amazing’ but have atrocious detailing and execution ) he looked for the most suitable material….but first from the point of view of the site technologies, the site materials production, and the skill of the labour force. So he choose brick….brick not only requires a less skilled labour force, it is also produced by smaller local factories which are directly linked to the community ( not like Portland cement produced by holcim whose end profit goes to Switzerland). So right there immediately there is a Marxist decision to use a material in which the workers did own the means of production…small community owned brick factories. Also no need to bring western skilled concrete labour. The building is can be built by the people who will use it….the people who will use it know how it was built, and feel proud of having built it themselves. Now you can say….oh yes brick building how boring……but here is an extra bit of discussion which is more interesting than any of the bullshit our current IMPERTINENT architects discuss….and its when Khan asks his famous question to brick: ‘brick what do you want to be?’ and brick says an arc, but arcs are expensive, so Khan asks back: ‘what about a lintel?’ and brick says what about an arc. I never understood this quote until I saw what he did on this project. He has arcs ( as properly as any brick building should have) but instead on relying on the mass on the sides of the building to hold the arc together like any traditional brick building does, he puts a concrete ‘tensor’ holding the arc together from the inside….which actually looks like a lintel!! So what is he doing here? He is not making the most efficient building….he is being radical and avant garde, but bringing to surface architectural issues….what is an arc, how does an arc work, is the arc shape anachronistic? How can we create a modern arc that doesn’t offend brick but also is not constrained by the mass required by an arc?…..so to me this is discussion within a building…..a discussion about architectural history, about construction, about social realities, about image, space and form…..and this is revolutionary and this defends the rights of the oppressed….much more than doing projects that are just superficially or figuratively revolutionary
    Now tell me, can we have a discussion like this that is linked to the quintessential constituent aspects of architecture with robots of Brixton or any of the recent student projects form around the world? No.
    Can we have a discussion like this with Patrick’s ( Zaha’s) projects? Can we say the same for Guangzhou Opera house? For the Maxxi? No we cant, all we can do is discuss in a futile way if we like the ‘form’ of it or if parametrics influenced their appearance. And its not because as Patrick says, we have no business discussing politics, its because they are just not good enough architects, so they have to rely on smoke and mirrors to hide their deficiencies.

  15. Beautifully written by Mr Mcintosh, without any knowledge of Mr Schumacher I cannot comment on this, but point 1 – 5 is on the button and I only wish I could have made the point as well.

    look at past winners………

    earthquake huts when there have been earthquakes in the news.
    flood defences when flooding is in the news.
    middle east relocation centres during the gulf war………..etc.

    ……..themed projects to pull on the heart strings.

    I also work at a university and witness this on a regular basis. And also chuckle when an algae farm/seaweed powered building pops up.

  16. As far as the UK is concerned the RIBA is the culprit with regard to the decrepid state of the English courses and the teaching they provide. I wholeheartedly agree with eduardo and david. The university that I attended for my part 1 and part 2 from the outset seemed like the place to be for a decent education. As is now stands I would have been better off learning to become pastry chef or become a dab hand at knitting. The course seemd to be a closed-loop system. The best students who produce these so called algae farms and cyborg sainburys end up teaching as lecturers on the very course they have just completed. Not ony that, they get paid 45k for a complete lack of knowledge of architecture. Architecture is not just about theory or politices, we are meant to be technologists, project managers, lawyers, health and safety savvy individuals. A whole synthesis of subjects that make up an individual that can produce a sketch on a piece of trace and then take that idea all the way through until it is out of the ground and then constructed. The course I attended and many more wouldn’t even entertain teaching these fundamentals. I can’t reel off a war and peace set of quotes from kostov, heidegger or calvino but I appreciate these texts as a backbone to architecture, but only one of many vertebrae.

    The students leave the course after spending 20-odd K in fees only to be blunt instruments. The most ill prepared and ‘blunt-instrument’ students get a medal and a pat on the back for being essentially shit. What do I know, as an architect who is 3 years part 3 I have done my fair share of buildings because I had a desire to do so rather than remain overly content to churn out scribbles on the back of a napkin and call myself a cutting edge student/architect.

    I look forward to next years presidents medal winner, most likely a cryo-prison in hackney.

    Via con Dios

  17. Thankfuly Leopold knows that I suffer from being too impulsive. And I think I was as pissed off as him and as Martin.…………..so had to go to the gym to cool down…first day of snow in London as well, so now that am chilled I can post back and try to be more balanced. I still stand by all I said, but the most important thing for our profession and our future as humans I think is that we manage to talk and listen and be balanced. And hey, weather Patrick is right or wrong at least he has caused us to dedicate some time to read and write our thoughts.
    So, I think I was really partial towards discrediting Patrick and most of the rest of the London’s / UK’s schools, but for what I have seen in crits and Juries and gossip from students, Patrick is actually a great person in terms of supporting his students and motivating them to work. By the same token, The tutors and the student who produced robots of Brixton are undoubtedly quite dedicated to their agenda….but I think this is the key issue….what is their agenda, and how should we label it? I think if this student goes off for example and creates a great, creative, innovative architectural visualization and animation company, that would be cool ( look at joseph kosinsky director of Tron)…..but the time he has used to do that, will take away the time he needs to spend discovering and learning about architecture ( 20, 30 years of hard work after school)…..so what I ask for is clarity, as in any jury I go to, I always ask in the beginning….mr. student before you present, tell me what you want to be judged on?….architecture? Sustainability? Pure design? Render capabilities? Story telling? Solutions to social problems? ( ideally he would answer….ALL OF THEM….i had enough time to tackle everything! And everything is interconnected and tells the same story….the tectonics support the story, the structural solution supports the story, the formal qualities and nuances, the spatial sensations and materials chosen all support the story or agenda or message I want to convey). So just to add to robot’s of Brixton…..my biggest disappointment is that after watching the animation after it first came out, and after looking at it with many different architect friends, all I could say was…..cool video. I wanst motivated to go and research about why we have this social inequalities, I wasn’t pointed at any book or author or work of art that dealt with this and would expand the discussion ( to me the quintessential successful project should be like The Matrix….multilayered….’cool’ to satisfy knuckleheads, but also political, philosophical and filled to the brim with references of cultural and historical nature…..so after watching the movie, if you are a knucklehead you say cool…but if you are a b it inquisitive you go and read the book Neo had in his room…..’simulacra and simulation’….and then you go down the rabbit hole)
    Now this same comment can be of course applied to Patrick’s students…and maybe in a greater manner. See the problem I have with his students / employees etc, is the indoctrination….the brainwashing that goes on unashamedly to try to persuade them and us all that ‘their way’ is the right and only way ( where did the unit spirit of diversity of the AA go?). As an anecdote, a group ov my colleagues were having an afterparty during xmas and a person who had studied at DRL and used to work at Zaha’s started saying that Maya was the key to architecture ( by the way many times I had to teach this person certain things in Maya) this person said good architecture can only be achieved through Maya, and then went on ranting about it….and to be fair, they had indoctrinated this person so much with this discourse that she was convincing everyone else in the room. Now, maybe this person is right and Maya is the only way to do ‘good’ architecture…..but, surely you want some variety of approach….and surely you can stop ranting and listen to other arguments….and surely there are infinite number of architects who don’t know what Maya is and do good work…..and finally again I have to ask….did this person pay an enormous fee to learn maya, or to learn architecture?……
    Then I had another colleague from the same school….and this person is always eager to show that ‘YES HE CAN’ ……but he spends all his time learning grasshopper, and eco tec and kangaroo….( and he is actually a high ranking tutor at the moment) but once he had to design a building, and he started putting bathrooms and waste storage spaces in the centre of the plan, stairs that didn’t go anywhere, and a myriad of ridiculous mistakes…..and to be honest and totally opinionated, he didn’t have a clue about formal composition therefore his design looked like rubbish ( sorry to be so subjective)…..basically because he didn’t have the knowledge to know past successful buildings, so he didn’t learn this difficult language we architects should master….he didn’t use tectonics, space, form, structure, materials and programme to his advantage….he thought grasshopper would solve it for him…..so again, I wanted to ask him….do you want to be an architect or a computer technician? ( both professions, I respect as much). If he wanted to be an architect then go study architectural matters……and here comes the thing about ‘BUT I PUT A LOT OF EFFORT INTO THIS’. Sure, but effort is not meant to be fun i.e. if you spend the whole night coming up with a grasshopper definition that is fun for you that is NOT effort. If you spent the whole night studying architectural references and cases and typologies and testing….THAT is effort. So yes my colleague and the guy who made robots of Brixton and all of Patrick’s students put a lot or effort into their work…..and it might actually be great and rich but when you pin it up on the wall….jury member’s cant talk about any coherent architectural topic…..But still the sad sight of these indoctrinated students continues….in the same way some people in the US think Iran is their enemy, or that everyone envies them for all the riches they have ( or used to have)…..so my colleague instead of spending his time studying what he claims he wants to be ( architecture) is still playing around with parametrics. Now this is actually understandable…..people want to acquire these ‘black arts’ this jargon so they can feel superior to other people talking about things other people don’t know…..and that is the technique of every unit in these schools….come up with an obscure gimmick that leaves everyone out of the discussion so nobody can criticizes you. As an extra anecdote ….one I was helping out a Unit at one of London’s finest the main tutor started the year asking the students to play with bubbles….for 3 months blowing bubbles…..then he got a warning from the school, cause this was just too much of a piss take. Then he told me, Ed teach them Maya dynamics….so 3 months of bubbles but now simulated in Maya with particles. By the end of the year, when nobody had anything resembling architecture he told me in front of everyone…Ed teach then the blur tool in Photoshop, because nobody has a project and if we blur everything and everything is left vague the jury cant criticize….so that is what am against. I am not against about experimentation or cross fertilization from other disciplines if the projects are engaged and presented and are judged architecturally ( just because it is called Architecture school)….all I say is that if you want to talk about emergence, chaos theory, fractals etc….go and study math., and if you want to blow soap bubbles, go and be a clown.
    Maybe the problem is actually the educational structure and society in general and all the politics involved with it. Also we have to remember that for many of these tutors teaching is a source of income, especially during times like these. And there is always a pressure to deliver the flashy goods….so it ends up being more about getting the student to produce the flash in 9 months than to actually teach him anything. As I was explaining about my past experience leading a unit, I became very cynical and practical about it…..I knew 9 months were not enough to really change 4 previous years of non education, so I just cut to the chase and only tried to teach them how to create a compelling project in the most efficient manner….the only thing that sort of keeps my conscience at ease is that I made this approach explicitly clear to them, and I explained to them every day that what we were doing was not educating them in architecture, but merely giving them a course on how to pass the year they were in, and that if they loved architecture and were serious about it they would have to commit themselves to study it on their own, of course having my door open to any questions, suggestions or guidance they might encounter in the future if they decided to properly study.
    Well to wrap it up, I think actually all the work coming from Patrick’s students, and ‘the other camp’ ( even the algae farms and the floods) would have a lot of potential if they were a bit more honest and open about the motivations behind what they do ( specially form the side of the tutors and actually even more form the part of the schools). Also a big note to both Leopold and Martin….two people whose work I’ve followed for a while…..I think the way you guys tackle your work is actually NOT the way in which people like the guy form Robot’s of Brixton operate…..i do understand why you took offence on Patrick attacking them ( again it was a hilarious case of the pot calling the kettle black) But I actually think a huge number of schools are not engaged enough and don’t foster the types of discussions we have in forums like these…..its just a constant machine of creating hype with no substance. In a way is understandable as this is the same case for all walks of our current life.

  18. Pingback: # MILITARIZED ARCHITECTURES /// Military Training Village of Marnehuizen on Socks Studio | The Funambulist

  19. I was one of this years shortlist for Silver. I don’t know how to feel now. In the environment in which I was taught I constantly struggled to do my best, and believed my shortlisting to be a very proud day. Now I find my efforts trivialised in the AR by a man (someone who conventionally I should respect) who didn’t even make the effort to read the full scheme before he deemed it as having an ‘unreal understanding of what constitutes a worthy brief.’

    … I’ve deleted the rest of this message

    Demoralised

    • That type of message is exactly why I wrote my little comment the way I did. That someone [Schumacher] could accuse multiple schools and its students as being so roundly un-substantive, while he himself singularly owns such shallow design [which is to say nothing of the content and form of his pedagogy], has just won himself all the vitriol in the world. I’m not entirely sure how that constitutes potkettleblack, but perhaps that will require some further introspection on my part.

      Eduardo, you make many valid points and I appreciate the perspective and credentials you bring to speak on such a subject.

      To some of the other commentors, I think its universally agreed that no one likes automaton-producing schools and it is perhaps my ignorance of the rest of the projects produced at the schools in question. I was under the impression that the winning students were the exception rather than the rule. So…my bad. BUT STILL, I tend towards appreciating those more than any parametricized slosh, so I won’t concede too much of that argument.

      All this being said, Leopold might be itching for the conversation to turn towards the part of his letter that we haven’t quite touched on yet, and that is the engaged [intentional or otherwise] politics of architects and architecture. Perhaps Schumacher is disillusioned after trying for years to make a political impact, but perhaps not. And that he would lambast students for even *attempting* social/political engagement, successful or not, really pisses me off. In my opinion it is akin to saying “Shut off that portion of your brain, its not worth it and you can’t do anything about it.” Furthermore, to Leopold’s credit, there is the position taken that it is impossible for architecture NOT to be engaged, a priori. Now, would Schumacher like to discuss that point, I’d be interested to know.

      Its funny that the pedagogy strain of the argument elicited the most heated comments, whereas the political [im]possibility of architecture was only tangentially touched upon. Like Eduardo said somewhere in there, its interesting to note that there are plenty of other articles floating around that warrant such lengthy discussion.

    • Ben,
      thanks for your message. I think that you should care as much for Patrick Schumacher’s comments as for being shortlisted for the Silver medal, i.e. not so much ! Your project is a very good articulation of most of the things that compose architecture, engineering, vernacularity, constructibility, representation, technological innovation and the will to participate to something useful (which can also be problematic with the technology you are using, see above the story that Eduardo tells us about Kahn in Ahmedabad) so I think that you should be happy about your project without having the concern of gaining an institution’s legitimacy nor the star system’s approval.
      Good luck for the future.

      Leopold

  20. David wrote:

    look at past winners………

    Earthquake huts when there have been earthquakes in the news.
    flood defences when flooding is in the news.
    middle east relocation centres during the gulf war………..etc.

    ……..themed projects to pull on the heart strings.

    I couldn’t agree more with this comment. The name of the game seems to be survival of the unfittest, well in my book you do it write or you get a crap mark. All of the best schemes seem to be a set of drawings that are very attractive as pieces of fine art or an abstract of some kind, but the schemes aren’t buildings. They are over complex, unbuildable art forms that in reality, really wouldn’t be constructed to cater for the needs of say, an earthquake. Like I say, as pieces of art, they look cool. We are supposed to put buildings up for clients on time and on budget, and in todays climate there is no space for star wars esq childs play buildings (if you could call them that). There should be a separate course called BA (Hons) in Architectural Pointless Timewasting Oversubscribed Bullshit. Exactly why I feel increasingly embarassed to call myself an architect.

  21. whatever u all know he’s “right” #architects #servants #machiavelli the only thing that he misses is that in certain markets being “critical” is a value. But I mean I’m sorry but those riba medal projects are horrendous. #reality #realism
    ps watch megastructures episode on zahas thing lol

  22. Lawyers , as a profession, have successfully embedded themselves into politics and thus in the crafting of public policy ; having a natural fit via their competency in the use of a “specific” language. There is no reason why , Architects, trained to solve complex problems, cannot effect public policy through the use of our own “specific” language. The issue is whether we as Architects can learn to operate comfortably without clients, as lawyers have done, to manipulate the systems of public policy to achieve change in our built social realms.

  23. Thanks for the response, Léopold. Schumacher’s way off the mark with the idea that architecture is not “legitimised” or “competent” to have an effect on the political or economic contexts. And he totally underestimates the merits and value of speculative projects. But I can’t completely dismiss his point about students being encouraged to inhabit a world entirely of their own manufacture. In my view, the real world (‘real’ always being a fully contestable term) is a strange and fantastic place worth affecting and being affected by.

    These kind of projects risk being assimilated into a flood of images. Since I know little about them other than their blogified appearances, I can’t presume to evaluate them individually. Perhaps they each have something deep and valuable to contribute.

  24. the debate is productive … unfortunately some of you misconstrued my point. We all might participate in the political process as citizens, voters, party members, demonstrators etc. … however, in our capacity as avant-garde architects we are called upon to adapt the thinking and design resources of the discipline to those socio-economic and political tendencies that emerge as legitimately victorious from the political process proper. We are not called upon to second guess or sabotage the results of the political process. Architectural discourse is not the arena for a sophisticated political discourse. As professional architects we are also not called upon to undermine prior decisions. Who could give us this right? Self-appointed?
    What would give an architect the right to second guesss for instance the decision to invest in a public building with a particular programme and represented by a legitimately constituted client representative. The attempt to subvert such legitimate intentions would be arrogant, pompous, unjustifiable. The politics of the new building has been defined already. It is now our job to translate its political intentions in a congenial, effective, sensitive way … innovative in terms of its architectural translation. In a competition setting we might try to reinterpret the political agenda of the project, in an open discourse with the legitimate jury. Thats fair enough. If we go too far we might loose our chance. Perhaps thats a risk worth taking. That level of subtle activism within the institutional processes is welcome.
    Those of you who – like some of you seem to – have no trust and respect for the political process and who thus think that the political system does not deliver, who think that politics presents the bottleneck of progress, those of you should exit architecture and enter the political process proper in full force … or at least seriously engage in a political debate, perhaps join a (radical) political party … and become true activists within the political arena proper. Architecture and architectural discourse cannot substitute itself for this real political discourse where you do not have to convince or charm other architects or architecture students with imagery but where you have to win arguments in debates with seasoned political activists. … And only in the political process proper you can legitimately and effectively influence and change the constitution of the clients of architecture, for instance by nationalizing real estate development if you e.g. think private interests should be excluded from development. However, to try to subvert or sabotage privare clients where they are granted to legitimate rights over a site would be ineffective, as well unacceptable, would violate democratically constituted and confirmed rights.
    Realism: the realism I imply for student’s creative work has nothing to do with banal dull pragmatism. I am looking for an original, skillful, sophistcated, creative engagement with contemporary design tasks that might become real briefs, perhaps high density, mixed use urbanism in urban brown field sites … interpreted in a progressive understanding of the dynamics of postfordist network society … where an intesification of relations and communicative interactions between the different programme components would be desired … The task here would be to device new repertoires that could facilitate the organisation and articulation of inceased communicative complexity, maintaining legibility in a dense, complex information rich scene. …

    • Thank you for taking the time to response, and thank you for addressing what precisely was, in my opinion, the element of the debate. Although I still completely disagree with you, I will publish your comment in a proper post itself as a fair counter-weight to my readers (since the letter was addressed to you) as well as my own response to it (to which you’ll be welcome to answer if you have the time and motivation). If you have any remark or question, feel free to contact me.

      Leopold

      • seems to be a controverse discussion of two different positions with a different backround of argumentation. there seems to be the missmatch. in the selfunderstanding of architects architecture is politics, a political weapon (directed to the 60ies disource about the autonomy of architecture). in practice architecture is a result of a mangle of different interests designed and conceptualized by architects (directed to the disource of latour and luhmann about autopoietic, structural coupling ant ANT ). means that architecture is both in the same time politic because of position and non-political becuase of the work of cultural expansion (mangle of practice). due to the discourse about autonomy in the last 50 years it would be good to add realism to the field of architecture to increase impact to “real” world.

  25. It is sad to see that most of the comments show that people are mistaking Politics for cheesy and naive imagery. Political folkrore!

    Go back to the french beaux arts school and le corbusier, you will understand what real politics as.
    To make sure you understand: it was not the beaux arts…

  26. I would like to ask Leopold about his political position and outlook. Do you have a clear political position? Is it far off the mainstream? Is it a vague sense of unease or is it a well developed, comprehensive, systematic, articulate political position? If not yet the latter, are you aspiring to achieve full, articulate clarity of conviction? If so, how do you intend to achieve this? In which discursive arena?

    • Duly noted. Let me articulate that this weekend in addition of already articulating the text that I am currently writing on a similar topic (A materialist reading of landscapes of insurgencies) in a future publication that Mr. Morel has been asked to participate too and in which I hope that he will tell us more about Le Corbusier and les Beaux Arts.

  27. Is all power and all political power a negative force? Power is an efficient way to achieve social synthesis (integrated action). Political power is necessary to order society. The build environment has its own unique ordering capacity – this is per se neither hurtful, nor violent, it facilitates the structuring of social relations. (The absence of social order is hurtful and violent. Social order is fragile and society might degenerate/regress in the absence of ordering mechanism. … I wonder if you would describe yourself as Anarchist? … I myself have sympathies in the direction of libertarianism or anarcho-capitalsm … but my architecture can only be based on the assumptions of mainstream politics, the political agenda that is in fact empowered. A practicing architect can only decide in this way.) The political question is not power yes or no – or architectural order yes or no – but where the decision making and control capacity in relation to architectural ordering initiatives is located. To enter a democratic political debate about this matter one would have to assess alternative institutions in terms of their overall rationality and chance to enhance global productivity/welfare/freedom. And after the political question is settled (in the political system) there remains the question of the most pertinent, effective architectural solution to the ordering agenda of the legitimate (political, economic, social) power. This question can no longer be answered in the political system, nor in the economic system. This question can only be answered in the architectural discourse, according to its specific categories and criteria of success, i.e. according to the double code of utility and beauty.

    • While I am not an architect, I have read through the original article, the Open Letter in reply and all replies on this page. I have tried to look upon this whole argument as put forth by Mr. Schuhmacher purely from a logical stand point and I must admit that I am shocked.

      A sentence saying any profession is reduced to relevance only within it’s own “theatre of operation” is so outdated, it seems to hail from mediaeval concepts of crafts.
      Where is some reference to interconnectedness (Even Stafford Beer would count, if not Luhmann, whatever?), where is some reverence, however faint, to more contemporary sociological theory?

      What brought me to reply at all and precisely at this point in the thread is the sentence “Political power is necessary to order society.”. I simply cannot believe someone who has spent at least some time arguing about theoretical matters of the aforementioned “Polis” can let himself write such a simplistic sentence?
      There should be a whole barrage of theories and historical analogies on one’s mind, that prevent anyone from simplifying the concepts of power, society and order back to Hobbes. And even Hobbes deserves more differentiating thought.

      Granted, all this might be about architecture and architectural theory might have it’s folklore that I am unaware of. However, calling for award winning students to address more pragmatic societal challenges, while presuming an anachronistic and unreflected idea of society reminds me of the father and son dialogue about monsters under the bed in Rorty’s “Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity”. By calling the projects of said students somewhat irrational in the face of “real-world” needs, Mr. Schuhmacher demonstrates an implicit belief in a “metaphysically salient and salutary” order.

      That is a common belief shared by a good part of humanity (but obviously not by the host of this blog). It is also the right and probably the duty of graduates to disagree with existing concepts of order. On a personal note, they should not have to receive criticism on a level as shallow as this from a tutor on this account.

  28. Good response based on seemingly unassailable etymological justification, but I wonder if the messy realities of intervening in the fabric of ‘the city’ thru architecture best any resemblance to the rhetoric you have espoused? I suspect that Schumacher is wondering the same thing. I suspect that Schu’s point was that being architects does not give us a divine right to intervene in the city on our own terms, a point which is analogous to your argument and something that is bourne out by history.
    Regarding the value of theory vis a vis practice, as a practitioner I feel that theorists have to be socio-economically relevant. There is a need to be involved with the kind of speculation that is geared to informing practice rather than only making waves or exciting students. A marked absence in the former type of speculation linked to a preponderance of the latter type, is responsible, as much as anything else, for the accelerating marginalization of the architect. Pure theorists should remember that this has not only lead to the development of forms of procurement (procurement, do pure theorists even understand what this means in the real world?) that are ever increasingly devoid of architectural input-leading to less work for architects and more developer lead shopping malls etc, but the marginalization of the architect also leads to the cutting back and even closure of schools of architecture. You only have to read the same issue of the AR to see examples of speculation at the ends of the spectrum of relevance. On the one hand we have the Smithsons, lionised by schools of architecture but resonsible for the ‘treble’ tragedy of Hunstanton school, Robin-Hood housing and the subsequent excommunication of architects from any substantive position in the development of schools and housing in the UK. Then you have Herman Hertzberger, a noted expert in theorising on and designing schools, and someone who has gained the trust of society thru the sympathy and success of his theory, and improved schools for millions of children as a result.
    At least the Smithsons tried to be relevant, but the true culprits of excessive and corrosive largely irrelevant speculation are, it seems to me, the likes of CJ Lim, who has hardly realised a single built project despite running an architectural practice!
    For my part, right now I’m largely in the business of the building of mosques. For the clients, with limited funds they are simply large spaces where important obligations can be carried out; for others they are an expression of there culture, their right to exist openly as part of the prevailing society, not as an invisible aspect of it; yet for others, mosques represent an erosion of a sacrosanct national identity; and for others, it is a way to show non-Muslims and remind Muslims, that Islam has historically never imported foreign culture into newly adopted lands, but has always sought to emphasise it’s universality by Expessing it’s values thru the new cultures that it meets; no where is this more evident in the culture of Islam than in it’s architecture.
    The mosque presents the most relevant and fertile ground for theorists to explore, but howany of them are interested in it?

    • Dear Michael,

      Thanks a lot for your very interesting comment. Your experience in building Mosque seems fascinating, would you like to write a short essay (1500 words) for this blog in the future ? I would be very happy to publish it.

      I think that Mr. Schumacher, you and I can all agree that the architect/god is not the paradigm to follow and I understand that there could be a confusion in my discourse between architecture (which really does not need architects to exist) and architects who have to position themselves towards architecture.

      Also, I understand that you might not necessarily aim exclusively at me when you talk about ‘pure theorists’, but I still feel the necessity to say that I spend 45h of my weeks working in an architectural practice in order for me to acquire the necessary construction/management knowledge to be a designer myself. All the work I am putting in this blog is done to direct my action as a designer.

      Anyway, thanks again for your message

      Leopold

      • Dear Leopold,
        Thanks very much for your reply to my comment. No, I was certainly not aiming at you, or any of the other commentators on your blog, but rather at a kind of theorist that has become very prevalent in the UK; the kind who is trapped in a bubble, completely cut off from socio-economic reality, the reality of the realisation of architecture. Some of these people work in practice and in this regard, Schumacher may have now elected to throw stones at schools of architecture, but he does so from a glass studio! The Smithsons also had a practice, as does CJ Lim, but they never lived in the real world! You are an architect thinker, who ‘chooses’ to engage with the world. It is a moral choice tha you have made, it was the chouce Rossi made, it is the choice Corb made, that Sergisn Bates have made. Russell Light has also made it, as have others. The important thing I believe, is to engage with reality somehow and not to try to make a virtue out of aloofness. The best way for architects to do that is through some kind of practice, however limited, but as Schumacher, (whom I greatly respect, because he thinks and argues clearly and never hides) has shown with his genius boss, it is possible to work and practice in a reality that is parallel to the one most people operate in, but the same could be said if Peter Zumthor! I’d love to write a short essay on the mosque projects that I work on, and I hope that it will be worthy of this fantastic blog! Thanks for starting this discussion!

  29. Pingback: # ARCHITECTURAL THEORIES /// A Conversation with Patrik Schumacher | The Funambulist

  30. I see architecture as a project itself. No one can define it, but he can declare a specific interest in it, exploring and raising awareness for his interest and the topic he approaches. I appreciate the part of architecture called ‘buildings’ , structures and materials, but i concern it as another medium of architecture; not the only one. If architecture concentrates and only aims in building (architecture as profession), it will soon become blind and sooner or later dead.
    On the matter of what is taught in these schools, being subjective as part of this education, i would stay on the word experimentation. Architecture can’t be seen as a ‘lesson’. It can’t be taught in the sense of a science. Comparing architecture and art to sciences, i hope we can all agree in the clear difference in their approach to theory; in science we define theory as linear, whereas in arts we define it as organic. If i’m not mistaken, this shows the overall creativity and experimentation, which constantly changes the conditions of people’s approach to it.
    I am aware of the risk that architecture schools ( mostly in the UK ) create. Students graduating, are on the edge of

    But is this what architecture is all about? Being blind aiming to build. I have been asking tutors and critics this question since i started studying. I wonder if we aim to build good structures, steady and even those with low- budget.
    If we want to talk about architecture that helps the world and the society when existing, taking form and being built, then we must look at Tyin Tegnestue projects for an architecture that follows necessity and not megastructures in Dubai, created by a G20 of architects, ruining the nature and making people relax in a pornotopia of capitalistic rules.
    Let’s go forward to 2500 and look at what architecture is making now.
    Generally not specific, ‘great’ examples; the most common architectural space. It is luxury isn’t it? And playboy gentlemen, smelling like those in advertisements, giving the keys to a woman, with the most beautiful, thin legs. It is a Monaco that architects in practice create. An elite of elegant structures that only few can approach. And maybe that’s not the worst thing ever happening; but not in a global, full scale! The only politics that i see close to this architect, is Berlusconi’s hyper sexuality and nothing else. Fly to Dubai one day and look at the people dying and crying in poverty. I am not a leftist, not a socialist. I am a humanist, with all the will to help people through my constant research and interest in them. In them and their existence as social beings.

    Thank you.
    I really appreciate the debate created above, as well as the response of that many architects with a clarified position on the topic.

  31. sorry to comment again, but just to fill a small gap, i will continue a part that i left incomplete .

    ‘I am aware of the risk that architecture schools ( mostly in the UK ) create. Students graduating, are on the edge of’
    are on the edge of being thought as architects or not. Nevertheless, they have a strong argument and a undoubtedly stronger interest in architecture and it’s matters, than other schools that follow the pathway of ‘lesson learning’.

  32. when I speak about political power I refer to the exercise of democratically empowered/legitimized power … that has nothing to do with Hobbes’ absolut sovereign … I locate architecture’s place in society within the framework of Luhmann’s theory of society as modern, functionally differentiated society … and I do think that Luhmann’s social systems theory and theory of society is the most compelling, comprehensive and coherent social theory since marxism … the differentiation of distinct discourses and domains of competency remains a fact of social life that is not going to dissolve through philosophical argument or wishful thinking … think about it: do you want business leaders, scientists, jurists, politicians and engineers dictate how urban and architectural spaces are to be designed???? what these protagonists from outside of our field deliver are demands/constraints. It is up to us and our creativity – supported by the accumulated/evolving wisdom of our own collective expert discourse – to decide how to interpret, translate, and integrate the various demands/constraints in the most elegant, innovative, satisfying and liberating way imaginable.

    Patrik

    • Lucid as ever Patrik,
      But I ask you, what happens when, during the course of project stakeholder meetings, informal meetings, conversations etc. Polititians, administrators etc. as well as architects, remember at key moments that there are human beings, with vast experience of interacting with architecture. And when these people don’t remember their humanity, those who have no stakeholder title, who are only human beings are excluded, and we end up with stuff that we will demolish in 20 or 30 years?

      Thanks

      Michael

  33. I can understand the point of not making architecture students able and skilled to propose buildings, in the sense of space, program and materiality ( as Ed. McIntosh already mentioned ), but my point is not on rejecting those who wish and research in order to materialize ( to make the actual research into a building ) . I would rather say, i appreciate several of them and their buildings, but what i was trying to say is that there is a satisfying attempt at the moment, not successfully always and risky as i mentioned, to concentrate on other mediums and aspects of architecture.

    When i talk about politics, i consider important and vital this moment of power. Politics stigmatize through the arts and through architecture. I do not mean i agree with all forms it takes through this evolution, but there is an interesting point, even in the total art of stalinism. Drawings of architecture, talking about a Pantheon of the patriots and ‘temple fantasies’ of the soviet society. And i’m not mentioning only this part of history. I find surprising how in ancient China, buildings were made of wood, because of the fact that the kings would change continuously and quickly, resulting in the loss of culture, as we can’t really know about it today.
    To that extend, architecture is not an engineering aspect. I consider engineering, part of it when an architect tempts to build. It is a skill of the architect, ready to help him realize his ideas, but what i can see is that skill overtook him at a point. And if we leave out, the very ‘avant-garde’ schools of UK ( mostly London ), at least avant garde wanna-be, then we can see that architecture schools have an interest in realistic aspects, even though they don’t win President Medal awards.
    What RIBA showed for me, is that there is an insertion in architectural field at the moment, claiming the fact that architects can express ideas and compose in an alternative way, to talk about it with other elements. with that happening when they really support it. i am clearly not saying that students with 2 photographs and 1 drawing have gone into understanding of architecture and investigation, but there are rare exceptions of that way. And the difficulty in that theoretical approach is that it creates only a few successful people, while building and construction architects are more.

    To the particular project that won, would like to say that Kibwe is not talking about robotics. If that’s what you’ve understood, i feel really sorry for that fact. He is using the robots as an architect, not as a scientist that is involved with robots. He is aware of a whole condition-situation in Brixton and expresses it in a very powerful way, a narrative. He raises social awareness as a great thinker of political and social matters.
    Because, in architecture there is a wider and deeper approach that can be explored. Let me go to a question: If this student hadn’t done this project, who would? I find his project almost amazing; his approach is necessary and very significant for today’s matters.
    So who would it have been? An animation student? No. A script-writer? No. A sociologist? No.
    Then we must think why it is so important. It talks about racism and social injustice today. It is not talking about tomorrow and i want to be clear about that. It is talking about today, through a fact of tomorrow. Through elements that will exist tomorrow and become real. There is nothing fake about it.
    I have other examples in my mind if you want to ask me, but my text is going really long and i might be misunderstood.
    I have to say in truth that i feel glad for being in the same generation with students like the above and also being aware of what is going on in schools of other ‘fields’, even the arts. Just not so interesting. Not interesting and important only for me, but for a whole society.

    Thanks,
    Stratis

  34. Being an RCA graduate, this discussion is not only touching on so many important aspects of what I perceive as the current state of our discourse, it also reminds me of my own experience. I cannot judge if the graduates that are the representatives of the educational system criticized here will be ill-equipped for meeting typical challenges later on in their career. I can only report that the rather open minded take on what still counts as architecture, has proven immensely valuable for my own architectural practice.

    In reply to the more theoretical points in this discussion above, I have to say, that I have some doubts that the questions of order, power and politics as used here are really fit to describe the way power is really executed by the sovereign (people) today. The public is using all kinds of communication channels all the time thereby creating a densely knit network of interconnected senders and receivers. Network effects can quickly lead to massive accumulation of force that has sent states, companies but often also it’s own children into the abyss (think of Iran). Every socially relevant profession and organization is facing the question of how to deal with this change and develops answers to it. It seems inevitable to me, that socially relevant architectural projects (and thus the profession per se) develops an answer to this change in the anatomy of power and political practice!

    Such an answer must be fit to offer participation in the architectural design process to said public, rather than reducing it’s concept of the circumstances to impersonal constraints and demand. What’s more is that such an answer must be visible and effective in restoring confidence in architects to be apt and willing experts for harnessing and interpreting needs and wants into adaptive and socially relevant architecture. In my own humble attempt, I suggest to split the architectural practice into “evolvers” and “resolvers” in my “Minifesto”, to signal a fundamental change that reaches beyond our professional discourse. A website with some more examples is to follow soon.
    You find my text here: http://urbanistin.tumblr.com/evolver-resolver
    Your thoughts are very much appreciated!

    Thank you again for hosting this discussion Léopold Lambert!

    Julia Hinderink

    • Interesting.  However, i feel that your chatscterisation of the arena of architectural intervention as a ‘complex spacial system’ adds to the problems you are arguing against.

       This description suggests that the total interactions of the creations of architects with everything else, can be apprehended if not controlled, in totality, but this is unrealistic and leads to the reductive models of practice and procurement that have hitherto been modernity’s great problem.  

      The same issue of the AR in which Schumacher attacks the current UK education system takes as it’s theme the ultimate failure of the ‘scientific’ paradigm, a paradigm on which the description of the built environment as ‘a complex spacial system’, is based.  If the ARs new position is to be believed, then we need a different attitude.  Architects need to find their place around a table at which other actors are sat; other stakeholders who have important inputs to contribute to the evolution of the places in which we live, work and play.  Architects need to sit at these tables and they need to listen, as you say, but they also need to accept that they are contributing to a tapestry that they will never be able to control.  In terms of design this is not about permanence versus ethereality, but rather about specificity versus non-specificity.  It is about robustness; physical, programmatic and cultural.    This is something that humanity has already been able to achieve in the past.  

      Also, in listening architects must feed what they here not only into the practice but also the theory and teaching of architecture (which would solve Schumacher’s issue); not only into the conceptual stage of design but also into the implementation (which would solve your issue.  If the ‘chain’ of design is broken in the way that you suggest, can you gurantee effective transmission of what is imbibed by the architect at the conceptual stage to later stages?  This is something that is already a problem in procurement routes where design responsibility is split.

        But there is another, I believe deeper implication of your proposal.

      Your characterisation of the two aspects of practice, evolvers and resolvers, seems compelling, and actually reflects what organisations like Audacity.org have been calling for, and how architecture in Germany, for example ( as I understand it) is actually taught, but  i feel there is a danger of such an approach perpetuating deeper underlying problems whilst fixing superficial ones.  It is my belief that the increasing complexity of the world, of cities, of our lives is largely illusory, and is a construct vital to the sustaining of capitalism.  Continual growth in economies, depends on the continual reinvention of products and systems of all kinds and your idea of dividing the profession into the two said groups could be seen as simply adding fuel to this fire.  Indeed, as you have already intimated, such division is already practically occurring in our mature industrialised economies and your suggestion would seem a natural step in the current direction of things. However, going back to Leopold’s open letter, is this the position that architects should be adopting?  Should they not be commenting or even ‘railing’ against the capitalism that has lead to the inequalities that are responsible for the increasingly poor quality of the built environment for the general populace?  For as real and debilitating as the self indulgence of theistic architect has been, it is only an aspect of the industrialised capitalism that is truly responsible for the malaise that both you and Schumacher have highlighted.  In the recent past, ‘expert’ architects (however self-indulgent) were placed at the disposal of the working classes, today architects are for the rich only with the housing and hospitals of the poor being effectively designed by large and ruthless contracting firms who have cabals of ‘experts’-lawyers, technocrats – in their pay, as well as politicians in their pockets.  

      So in summary, I feel that your proposal to divide architects up into resolvers and evolves would not only rubber-stamp a natural consequence of capitalism, but would emasculate the profession as a force for activism and criticism in one of the last genuine battlegrounds of urban politics.

      However you have raised something that very much needed to be raised to make this discussion more complete, many thanks for that!

      Thanks

      Michael

  35. Pingback: Miroirs de la ville #6 Le capitalisme contre le droit à la ville. Néolibéralisme, urbanisation, résistances « Urbain, trop urbain

  36. I would like to comment a little on the role of politics in architectural education by way of a couple of examples of political architects. I am referring now to architects who have been successful at conveying a political message through their work. I think the work of both Archigram and of Lebeus Woods is both political and architectural. By architectural I mean that it is grounded in a specific spatial structure and what is important about their work is that it is their spatial/architectural proposal that is able to produce a political meaning.

    This has been said in these comments before, that the projects that are given as examples in Patrik’s article use video, renderings, images and atmosphere to get their political view across. They lack an architectural argument to go along with their political view. If there had been one, then Patrik would not have ben able to make his point, because for him, as well as I can tell, if there is spatial innovation or research it can qualify as architecture. That is the realism he is searching for, not a formal one, since ZHA is clearly engaged in the expansion of architectural form to spaces that were considered fantasy not too long ago.

    To return to Woods and Archigram, they were able to cross the boundary that Patrik claims exists by successfully making a tectonic argument that had political ramifications. It is true that this did not work in a direct manner, neither Archigram’s nor Woods’ designs became political talking points. But if we look at their influence we can trace a line that does lead to direct political influence. One only has to look as far as Richard Rodgers, a clear disciple of Archigram, who later became the city architect of London, where he clearly had a word in the political and economic discourse of the city.

    So what about politics in architectural education? Here I want to use an personal experience to illustrate a point. While studying I had the fortune to be in a studio taught by Lebbeus Woods and Michael Webb (of Archigram). The design brief had nothing political in them, in fact it would difficult for me to imagine how this project could have been politicized. We were asked to design light boxes. The whole studio was organized around how light and space interact. To me this was much more useful in my architectural education than if they would have asked us to design portable relief housing for earthquake victims.

    My point is that while I believe that architecture can have a political point to make, I do not think that it is the role of architecture schools to teach or promote politics, just as it is not the role of high schools to teach or promote “intelligent design”. It is up to each of as architects then to decide whether or not to engage in the politics of architecture.

    Patrik is right that we do not control what is built. Whether we choose to take a commission building settlements in Palestine, office towers in China, or museums in the UAE, those projects will get built. There are places where the political discourse of architecture can progress, be it in competitions, writing, or even subverting the traditional programs in the projects we choose. But in my opinion it is more important to teach students how to design good spaces than to celebrate their political views.

  37. Pingback: Politics, the Presidents Medals, and Plato’s Republic « Critical Itch

  38. Pingback: Resilient Systems and the ‘any-space-whatever’ « dpr-barcelona

  39. Pingback: # GUEST WRITER ESSAYS 22 /// The Mosque: Religion, Politics & Architecture in the 21st Century by Michael Badu | The Funambulist

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  41. I think about it this way: politics is everything in our lives and therefore every field is political, and can be a tool for political change. To change the current situation is to make a revolution, and to make a revolution all kinds of skills and fields can be useful, but a revolution certainly cannot be achieved through architecture alone. Therefore, I do agree that architecture is very much political and can be a tool of change, but it is not the answer by itself.

    To make change we should think of the bigger picture, and then see how each of our fields can contribute to this change. We should not however invert this perspective, and look at change solely from within architecture forgetting about all the other parts of the puzzle.

    note: I hate the word “activism”. it makes me think of worthless plays of no real effect and a part time hobby. change is revolution, and revolution is blood and sacrifice. otherwise its all bullshit.

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