Who do we think we are?

The RIBA President’s Medals results have just been announced. This year I’m particularly interested in a couple of the dissertation awards.

A commendation went to Angela Hatherell from Oxford Brookes University for her piece Who do they think we are? Perceptions of Architects in Twenty First Century Britain.

Who do they think we are? Who do we think we are? Although I am not legally entitled to call myself an architect, for the purposes of this study, which in effect forces a ‘them and us’ situation, I feel, after six years of study, having been indoctrinated with the language, ideals and points of reference of an architect, that I am now more architect than not. However I do not wish for this to come across as a paranoid exponent of a conspiracy theory against architects. A ‘no-one likes us we don’t care’ attitude fails to enhance anyone’s reputation (unless you are a Millwall fan) but if architects are found to be distant and aloof, with a ‘take us or leave us’ mentality then it does seem that they (we) are going to be ‘left.’

Who knows, perhaps we will discover the opposite to be true, however I doubt that. I can only make judgements based on my personal experience of calling the RIBA for the purposes of researching this project. I was told by the receptionist that unless I was a member I couldn’t speak to anyone and should instead ring the premium rate (50p / minute) information line. Architects? Aloof and elitist? Well superficially their (our) professional body shows clear signs of being just this, so what about the members? And what does everyone else think about architects? Do non-architects care about architects? Do they know about architects? And what is this knowledge based on and informed by? Personal experience? The media? Fiction?

I’m curious to know what her conclusion is. I have a friend who goes to Oxford Brookes, I’ll see if he can get a copy. Alternatively, you could just tell me what you think of me and my profession in the comments.

The dissertation prize winner was Olivia Gordon from The Bartlett School of Architecture. The title of her work is Word-robe.

The aim of this dissertation is to use the famous extract from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where Lucy enters the cupboard and first discovers Narnia, as an index for a personal storage system. This is used to house my own narrative on the theme of closet space, an individual ‘wardrobe of words’.

My writing then, in inhabiting the ‘fixed’ text of Lewis’ novel, uses the predetermined structure of the story to develop my own investigation of the theme of cupboards. In effect I aim, like Lucy, to enter the mundane space of the wardrobe and discover a “whole country” within. The methodology I use is similar to George Perec’s in his essay “Think/Classify” where he explains, “The alphabet used to ‘number’ the various paragraphs of this text follows the order in which the letters of the alphabet appear in the French translation of the seventh story in Italo Calvino’s “If On One Winter’s Night a Traveller”. Rather than letters, I use the words of my chosen extract, as a means of classification. Reading and writing between the confined lines of the text become a way of ‘slotting between’ as one would file objects in a cupboard, generating a spacious place of creative investigation.

The method of classification created through this process of reading and writing questions the opposition of orderly classification versus random spontaneous thought. It is here that the theme of the research develops: an exploration of the nature of the space of the closet, both as a mechanism for control and categorisation but also as a place to explore the freedom of the imagination. And so, following Lucy’s journey from exterior to interior, my dissertation investigates these alternate themes and reflects on the implications that such a duality might have for the architect as designer and definer of space.

I see that Derrida’s influence lives on. Unfortunately there are no illustrations on the web site, but this week’s AJ magazine shows some wonderful drawings of subtly adjusted anthropometric diagrams involving people moving a wardrobe.

Both look worthy of further examination, I’ll see if I can get hold of them. Let me know if you know someone who knows someone who knows where to get them.

Leave a Reply