Reflections on Advocating Architecture: PS11.03

Last night I (and quite a few others from the BCC) attended the Perth Samplings 11.03 talk, organised by the Office of the Government Architect. The speakers were Carly Barrett, Jennie Officer, Beth George and Andrew Murray. The title was Advocating Architecture.

There are three ways which I think that title can be taken; promoting a certain activity within the profession (i.e. some activities that architects do is 'architecture', and some is not, e.g. management, or for promoting quality), and promoting the importance of architecture to the rest of society. It could also be taken as a label 'architect as advocate', so an architect who is prepared to promote a cause publicly (i.e. specific ideologies within the profession).

I thought all the speakers did an excellent job - the talks were engaging and interesting, and were generous in content. So, considering the talks against the possibilities I have outlined;

Carly Barrett described the architectural culture in 3 cities she visited on a Dulux Study Tour; London, Barcelona and Copenhagen. In terms of 'advocacy', her reflections on Copenhagen; the Danish society as a whole is apparently very appreciative of design, and the architectural profession, such as it is, being entirely deregulated, works specifically to keep the core design activity sacrosanct - the profession has three main sub-groups, with 'CEOs' (managers) and 'constructors' (project architects?) working to give the designers the space away from distractions. This would seem to promote the importance of design, a specific activity within architecture - Carly suggested that her experiences in Australia made her feel that design thinking was being swallowed by management thinking. 
It was mentioned (by a questioner?) that in Barcelona children are taught architecture and design at school.

AJH described Jennie Officer's talk as "searingly brilliant", and indeed it was. She examined why young architects are given so few opportunities, and didn't pull her punches. She is certainly an 'architectural advocate', someone who is prepared to go out in public to promote her ideas - she has spoken previously at Perth Samplings events, asking hard questions. She also touched on understanding of architecture (or lack of) in wider society - the housing market in particular, where many people other than architects design houses, devalues the status of the architect - but didn't offer any strategies for how this could be changed.

Beth George (with her partner Nic Brunston) has started Space Market, which, as a result of understandings gained through her Ph.D research, engages with building owners, tenants and the real estate milieu to utilise difficult and unused spaces in the Perth metropolitan area (esp. the inner cities, were this space type occurs most often). This seemed to me a successful example of architectural advocates promoting the value of architectural thinking outside the profession.

Co-editor (writer and publisher?) of The Weather Ring, and now also The Architect, Andrew Murray discussed the importance of a Western Australian architectural culture with a strong discourse, with a printed journal containing peer-reviews of buildings (not just architect's statements). These journals promote public advocacy within the profession, as they provide a much-needed and regular public platform by which voices can be heard (not everyone gets a slot at Perth Samplings or 3 over/4 under, and even if they do - it might be many years before they have another). But what about outside the profession? Andrew mentioned dropping the first issue of The Weather Ring at various places around the city, including PICA, which suggests he intends for non-architects to read it. Are non-architects interested in architectural design? Interested enough to read a journal about it?

Advocating architecture;
I think the most successful example of promotion of architectural ideas to the general public is the UK's Grand Designs. I haven't seen the Australian version.

Sarah McGann's 2010 special topics unit at Curtin involving school children; I don't know much about this one, but perhaps someone else does?

Affirmative Architecture may provoke some thoughts on these issues.

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