The New Wave: The New Traditional

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Sub crawl tourist/heritage walk © Dress for the Weather.

The New Wave: The New Traditional

It was in the early 20th Century that the cultural icon of the architect was born. The dawning of the machine age, birth of modernity and post war reconstruction of whole societies propelled the image of the architect, that lone genius into the limelight and elevated him to the status of a hero amongst men.

Architectural styles would change but this suited hero became ingrained in the public psyche, an image that would live on to this day resulting in what we know term as Starchitects.

Scotland of course had its own heroes from the 20th Century, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and later Gillespie Kidd & Coia and Sir Basil Spence.

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Sir Basil Spence presenting his design for Coventry Cathedral courtesy of www.basilspence.org.uk

Oh how far the profession has come from those days of the ‘Master Builder’ where, by his intellect he conjured form and space, with his hands he drafted scenes of beauty and through his words commanded armies of workers to bring his thought into reality.

Of course this mythical image was not quite the reality, no one figure could genuinely control all aspects of designing and creating architecture – architects have always worked in teams. Yet the level of respect ladled on the architect at this time signified the high regard for the position held within society and the importance placed on his role as the lead consultant.

Today as buildings have become more complex and more technologically advanced the design team has grown in size and other specialism’s have emerged. In addition the depletion of craft skills, the rise in influence of contractors and developers with alternative contracts such as Design and Build and the increasingly onerous procurement procedures such as PQQ have seen the architect’s role increasingly marginalised.

The situation has left many architects questioning ‘what is there left that I can influence?’ Only at the small scale domestic sized projects does it seem to remain possible for the architect to control almost every aspect of the design.

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studioKAP Leijser House, Balfron as featured on Grand Designs ©studioKAP.

Christopher Platt the new Head of the Mackintosh School of Architecture and director of the small architecture practice studioKAP explains his view of the current landscape.

“A new epoch has begun” once wrote a gifted architect.
“Are we witnessing in architecture a similar David and Goliath confrontation that the food retail world has been through? A polarising of the small shop against the airport-scale supermarket, justified by a fig leaf-ethos of supply and demand?

Building an environmentally-enlightened, humane architecture requires many hands, holistic thinking and the ability to cross the construction and the cultural realms. An architect’s education makes them uniquely placed to operate in concepts and connections and the wider construction industry needs those skills urgently. Yet opportunities for and appreciation of architects are scarce.

Pitching for a feasibility study alone necessitates the production of a book and ‘relevant’ experience has a shelf life of three years. How can the small, serious practice exert its architectural influence in areas beyond the domestic?

In studioKAP we have experience in Germany, Ireland, Africa as well as in the most sensitive urban and rural settings in the UK and yet (like other practices our size) we struggle to win commissions in the UK public realm.

As the new Head of the Mackintosh School of Architecture, I want our graduates to be able to make their living for the next 40-50 years by practising their craft. Can we as a school influence the public domain culturally and constructionally, so that our graduates have more opportunities? Sought after by the construction and developer Goliaths as well as the best architects?

Those graduates must also be design entrepreneurs and players – active agents in making cultural opportunities for themselves and for society’s benefit. By re-fashioning the rules of engagement which inhibit us now, we may refresh the nature of our profession. Will society give us the opportunity to build a better world and make a living doing it?”

A couple of young recent graduates doing just that are Andy Campbell and Matt McKenna of Dress for the Weather. Much of this series on the New Wave has been about young start ups reviving radical approaches to architecture with their own new slant. There are of course brave young start ups out there with a more traditional approach. Andy and Matt set up in 2009 after graduating in architecture at The University of Strathclyde; here they explain their perspective on continuing the tradition of the architect.

Andy Campbell: “Dress for the Weather started as an outlet for commonly held ideas and as a vehicle to progress projects initiated at University. Our success in these projects has meant we were in a position to carry on full time, becoming more focused, and grow our portfolio of projects as a design practice.”

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The Typology project, recording the uses of Glasgow’s buildings © Dress for the Weather.

Matt McKenna: “We are working on a wide range of projects including house extensions, building feasibility studies, public art works, printed media, tourism and education which are all concerned with architecture or places. The practice ethos is based around forming an understanding of the environment and context in which we are working. This is achieved through rigorous research and learning by ‘being there’ and working with people in the locations of our projects. We aim to produce work that responds to, and is equipped for, its context: climate, economy, place and user. In essence, to ‘dress for the weather’.”

Andy Campbell: “We have always looked to build a strong network of collaborative relationships through live projects. This gives us an interesting and talented collection of collaborators which loosely resembles a traditional practice structure. The idea of preparing ourselves in this context is another way of dressing for the weather and we have found it a successful way of securing projects that we would not have otherwise been able to compete for.”

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Patterns Public Art commission © Dress for the Weather.

Matt McKenna: “Our work as lead consultant on building projects has been incredibly valuable to our on-going architectural experience. This situation has meant that we are in a position to sit our professional exams and see this as an opportunity to continue to progress the practice and create more work for ourselves and others.

It’s up to others to decide if the way we have done things is ‘traditional’ and it’s definitely not for us to proclaim to be part of a ‘new wave’, we are only the ‘newest’ or ‘youngest’ continuing a line of thought and practice that is constantly evolving.”

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The Roost, house extension with a twist. This project is led by 55 North
Architecture working closely with Dress for the Weather. © DftW.

The architecture profession has long had architects practicing within their locality undertaking small scale projects and house extensions. However if those young graduates who are seizing the opportunity to build through this traditional path are to move onto larger more ambitious projects in the future, then we will have to start breaking down the barriers to procurement for smaller practices.

Pidgin Perfect is a creative studio who build, produce, make and create as a means of bringing different ideas and different people together, putting the community at the heart of urban projects.

Pidgin Perfect are Dele Adeyemo, Marc Cairns and Becca Thomas.

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