Friday, June 11, 2010

Sexism and all male design panels

Some of you may have spotted an item in this week’s BD about Will Alsop and Paul Finch dressing up as John Nash and The Grand Old Duke of York next Saturday to launch the London Festival of Architecture.
After lots of photo ops in key places, they’ll be on a panel ‘criting’ ideas for Waterloo Place by six design teams. I have been asked to join the panel along with Sarah Gaventa, the ebullient director of Cabe Space, and a friend of mine. Neither of us are in the publicity blub for this event because we were an afterthought when presumably somebody realized the all male line up (Roger Zogolovitch and Lee Mallet are chairing) did not give off quite the right image.
Sexism is not something I get very worked about generally. I don’t believe in all-women short lists for example, and I find the endless soul searching about gender balance in architecture rather irritating As Eldred Evans once said, the barrier for women entering architecture is the ridiculously low salaries not topless calendars in site huts.
But the similarity between the architecture profession and men's clubs is clearer outside the office than in it particularly on judging panels and design reviews. There are lots of reasons for this I suspect. My feeling is that because no one really knows what good design is, architects not only need but crave strong guidance and they are more likely to listen to a man than a woman. This is also the way architects have been trained where it is normal to have your work trashed, but unusual if the trashing is done by a woman  since the majority of tutors are men.
Also, there’s the cult of personality which of course architecture thrives on. For this to exist you need a critic who is often the guru or father figure to a particular group of architects .This person will speak up for them at design reviews and on competition juries and generally help their careers along. Women  who are not nearly as clubbable as men find this kind of thing strange.
I haven’t decided if to take part in the crit, but that's not because of the sexism. I like all the men who are taking part and can think of worse ways to spend a Saturday morning, but I am not convinced that Waterloo Place needs to be helped – of which more another time.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Why do architects chose names that require a BBC pronunciation manual?

If Buschow Henley wasn’t bad enough, the practice has now rebranded and come up with Henley Halebrown Rorrison guaranteed to be as troublesome to BBC newsreaders as al-Qa’eda and J K Rowling.

But the difference, of course, is that because we hear about al-Qa’eda and Harry Potter’s creator quite a lot after a time their names just trip off the tongue. But who will remember Henley Halebrown Rorrison? It doesn’t even work as an acronym or an abbreviation and say it too quickly and you sound as if you’ve been running up five flights of stairs.It’s a hopeless name but it’s to keep all the remaining partners happy. In other words to soothe egos, which is what silly name changes are usually about.

Look at Rogers Stirk Harbour - always sadly destined to be known as Rogers - or the exceptionally unmemorable BFLS. Please don’t ask me what the letters stand for. I can’t remember. All I know is that it used to be Hamiltons and after that my mind goes blank. Oh, except that someone else who also worked there has opened an office called Grid, which doesn’t stand for anything as far as I know and sounds like a high performance tyre.

The list of firms who’ve split recently and the numbers who’ve been persuaded to undergo a ‘visual identity transition’ in rebranding speak grows by the day. This is because of internal disagreements on how to survive and what to target, retirement, and the realization that the office is no longer recognizable as the place you joined all those years ago. The hope is that a new name, like a new lover or a new car, will make you seem young and hip and happening again. Sadly, it never works.

I wish Henley Halebrown Rorrison all the very best of luck but I can’t help thinking that its name change is about as pointless as John Prescott’s insistence on a new brass plaque saying Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to replace the one which read the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office at a cost of £645. The name change was pure vanity, and now he’s going to be Lord Prescott surely a new plaque, costing even more, will be winging its way over to his new Westminster office.

So, before you change your name, stop and ask yourself wouldn’t you be better to stick with what we know, what we can honestly remember, and trips off the tongue rather than over it.