Fraser sees little New Year cheer ahead
January 16 2011It may be the start of a new decade but Malcolm Fraser sees nothing but a continuation of past mistakes in the years ahead. In this downbeat New Year’s message, first printed in the AJ, Fraser ruminates on some of the architectural follies of the past 12 months, contending that only craft based architectural practices and institutional reform can stem a creeping malaise.
There’s scant New Year cheer up north. Workloads are shaky, with the effects of chronic underbidding yet to feed through. (There’s a story about a practice who won a project with a fee bid well over four times higher than all others. The private client took the view that the low bids would harm both project and architect – but other private and public clients will not or cannot take such a view.)
Last year’s big, glamorous competitions – the Dundee V&A and the new Glasgow School of Art – were won by teams led by non-Scots. While cultural-exchange is valuable, Scottish architects are not exporting well: with exceptions like Graeme Massie in Iceland and Sutherland Hussey in China, it’s the unadmired corporates like Keppies and rmjm who win work abroad.
Of course rmjm tells its own story. The nailing of their colours to the Fred Goodwin turbo-capitalist mast sends shivers down the spine, the parallels between Scotland’s largest practice and Goodwin’s rbs self-proclaimed.
Scotland still posesses a big bundle of small-to-medium, craft-based practices, bursting with talent and awards. But we’d be forgiven for thinking that the Establishment doesn’t particularly care for our desire to make contributions to the wealth and beauty of the nation. For example, the Scottish Government has bundled-up 10 and 20 years of public projects into its vast, monopolistic “Hub” procurement stream. So if there’s a wee community centre to be built in an Edinburgh neighbourhood – or, indeed, a huge hospital – I need to go and plead for the architectural work as a subbie to a massive English construction conglomerate, the size of the contracts being so great that Scottish contractors feel disadvantaged.
I’ve written about the evils of the Hub and been invited, by its programme manager, to “apply to join the supply chain”. How my heart doesn’t soar at the clear promise to make public architecture cheaper and cheaper!
Elsewhere our Government seeks to impose “New Urbanist” orthodoxy on us, official policy implying an English-model superblock over the endemic market-and-close pattern. New Urbanist superstar Andres Duany is favoured, at vast expense and without the requirement for the ojeu processes that dog the rest of us, to jet in and tell us grateful natives what Scottish architecture and “placemaking” really is.
I hugely regret sounding like Dad’s Army’s Private Frazer (We’re Doomed!) and remain a passionate optimist – the darkest hour is just before the dawn, isn’t it? Our vigorous, crafts-based practices share a remarkably-consistent vision of the significance of care, simplicity and integrity in architecture. We are not well-represented by our institutions in Scotland, which range from the distracted to the ineffective. Maybe we need to do something about this?
Back to January 2011
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