Olly Wainwright on Fundamentals
With the second Fundamentals lecture series beginning on Thursday 25 January, Guardian architecture and design critic Olly Wainwright looks back at last year’s series and introduces the key themes for this year.
“I was delighted when Mel Dodd and Andreas Lang from the Spatial Practice Programme approached me to curate a series of events at CSM as I felt there was a huge appetite (and a big void) for public debate on architecture. There are plenty of architectural lectures in London – at the Architecture Foundation, RIBA, Soane Museum, etc – and many publications and online platforms where people espouse their opinions, but there are very few chances for a real live discussion, where opposing views can be aired frankly and passionately and the audience can truly participate.
Fundamentals was aimed at filling this gap, providing a forum for debate around the forces shaping our cities – the invisible networks of planning, funding and the economy that lie beneath architecture. For the first series I was determined to invite people at the coal-face of shaping the places that we live and work, but who explicitly weren’t architects – I thought it would be interesting to hear from the economists, planners, developers and consultants who operate in the wider context that is often absent from the myopic world of architecture education. The format was kept intentionally snappy, with speakers given just five minutes each to set out their stall, before a discussion and contributions from the audience. The debates covered the fundamentals of housing, planning, land, industry, public art and landscape, tackling the status quo and asking what could come next. The audience’s conclusion from most of the debates seemed to have been to go and work in the public sector, become a politician or start fomenting the next revolution.
Having begun by looking outwards, this year’s Fundamentals series focuses the spotlight on the profession of architecture, taking a long hard look in the mirror to tackle The Way We Work – from training, to labour practices, to how projects are procured. The provocative premise is that architectural education is in crisis, staggering on as an overlong, overpriced indulgence with a tenuous grip on reality. Meanwhile, architectural practice only survives by running an exploited labour force of overworked, underpaid, precariously employed staff, fuelling an industry devoid of the power it once had. Ultimately, the best projects often go to the worst practices, with risk-averse procurement systems leading to work being awarded to global conglomerates and safe pairs of hands. The architectural profession is broken at every level – how can we start to fix it?”