Oxford Dreaming Spires

Viewpoint David Gloster – UK.

David Gloster -

Towards Oxford 2008

Any consideration of what debates should rage at Oxford next July might perhaps be tempered by a single sobering thought.   Namely, that at the 1958 event this conference marks the 50th anniversary of, the profession of architecture was pervaded by a sense of certainty; certainty about the redemptive power of architecture, the structures within which the profession worked, and positive belief in a narrowish set of paradigms.  This certainty is almost entirely absent five decades later - and probably not just as the effect of a post modern society where a queasy relativism of values rules, and no absolutes exist.  Rather the retreat from certainty is a reflection of the schisms within and without the profession, the fractures and shakes in the fabric of a once solid and unassailed western belief system, and the evidence that our cities now reflect pressures so complex and baffling we may prefer not to acknowledge them.

If any condition defines 2008-ness, it is conflict.  The great visual unities that we gorge on in Rome, Paris, or St Petersburg have been displaced by laissez faire development right up to and beyond the doors of the metaphorical cathedral sitting pretty, poised, and perfect in its city square.  Everything can go, and anything can be offered in its place.  New versions of the city from zero stalk all continents, variously emerging as Dubai, Shanghai, call centre ribbon developments in New Delhi, and the swarm shanty towns clinging to the edges of Sao Paolo.  The notion of a single response to a neatly packaged problem - the old client brief, tied up with a neat bow - just won’t do anymore, it seems.  Can this concatenation of circumstances be seen as an opportunity rather than a problem?  Of course: we might then see this unsettling and troubled condition as providing the seeds of a real and honest (albeit slightly bloody) discussion about where the education of architects and the profession of architecture fit in to our redefined 2008-style planet.     

A few headlines outlining some of the conflicted conditions architecture operates in…

  • hyperdensity vs. small scale regionalism  or
    why Lewis Mumford was right about the sophisticated village
  • sustainable architecture vs. an architecture of consumption  or
    why we don’t need to worry about turning the lights off
  • building vs. architecture  or
    if Ruskin understood the difference, why don’t we?
  • role/rule of history vs. the role/rule of science  or
    why truth and beauty are always better than ‘performance’
  • constructional innovation vs. intermediate and low technologies  or
    constructing on the cusp of catastrophe is better than building within limits
  • paradigmatic paper projects vs. experiential learning  or
    why we learn more from prophets than practitioners
  • physical communities vs. virtual communities  or
    why I’d rather live in Sim City than Seoul 

David Gloster
Director of Education
Royal Institute of British Architect

 

 

 

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