The New Wave

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Ratio of Part 1 graduates to advertised jobs on the RIBA website in June 2011. ©Pidgin Perfect

The New Wave: Doing things Differently and Making a Difference

The architectural profession in Scotland is suffering like never before. The inescapable reality is that the property boom that sustained the industry for over a decade is now well and truly over. A quick tally of the numbers reveals the gravity of the lack of opportunities.

Around 400 students of architecture at Part I level and a further 250 at Part II level are graduating from Scottish universities each year into a market where a recent count revealed only 13 Part I and 39 Part II jobs advertised on the

RIBA’s website. The most telling statistic of all is that not one of those jobs was in Scotland.

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Ratio of Part 2 graduates to advertised jobs on the RIBA website in June 2011. ©Pidgin Perfect

Amid all the doom and gloom, and in the wake of this seemingly never-ending recession, there is a growing number of graduates across the country taking risks to make a stand. A New Wave of architect emerging.

To understand their nature we have to think back to the ‘good old days’ of the Noughties when credit was free and easy and there was plenty of work to go round. TV had spawned new fresh faced cultural icons: Sarah Beeny, Kirstie & Phil and Kevin McCloud, telling us to move house, buy to let, do them up and self build.

Suddenly it wasn’t enough to fulfil Thatcher’s promise of becoming a property owner. Now for fear of falling behind the times, everyone had to be a property developer. And if you couldn’t afford the mortgage, the mantra was buy anyway – after all the market can only go up. Don’t you know Gordon Brown has ‘abolished boom and bust’?

Architects played a central role, eager for more projects we worked for developers large and small. It’s hard now to believe, but just a few years ago you could see new developments on practically every street: trendy apartments springing up, new retail and office space, bars and cafés, new builds and extensions all happening at an electric pace. Luxury and iconic became the new buzz words, along with new terms like PFI and PPP.

Never before had architecture been so lucrative and so glamorous. Spectacularly expensive spectacular buildings saw architecture’s public profile surge to ever higher levels and the cult of celebrity mated with the profession to create a new breed – the Star Architect. Now mega-celebs in the form of Brad Pitt, Justin Bieber and that great female icon, Barbie wanted a piece of the action, attracting students to sign up to architecture courses in ever greater numbers. Icons like Barbie have inspired a new generation of students to become Architects.

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Image courtesy of Vogue.com http://www.vogue.co.uk/news/2011/03/01/barbie-the-architect-launches

It was all just a little too good. The bubble had to burst.

Three years on from the 2008 recession and any hope of a quick bounce back and return to business as usual has long since faded. Chronically slow growth has set in and seems a reality for years to come.

Not since the early 1990’s has Scottish architecture faced such challenges. In the struggle to find work the brain drain to London and further afield has never been so prevalent, with many of Scotland’s young talented graduates being lost to the profession elsewhere.

Many have been predicting the death of the architect. Certainly it is the end for much of the profession as we know it, a fact largely supported by a recent produced by the RIBA’s Think Tank titled: ‘The Future for Architects’.

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RIBA Think Tank Building Futures debate on the Future for Architects in Manchester. Pidgin Perfect were invited panel speakers. ©Pidgin Perfect

And yet, out of these trying times there are a number of start-up practices creating their own opportunities. Whilst projects and profit margins may be tight, but they are to be commended for making a stand in Scotland and working to improve their communities.

These emerging practices have the determination to refocus on long term values. To quote a recent article, in A10 magazine, they are “Doing it differently, making a difference.” In the process creating new typologies for Architects working within the urban realm. Architecture is going through profound change in order to reflect the values of today’s society. It’s a phenomenon that can be seen across Europe but, how is it materialising in Scotland?

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‘Doing it differently and making a difference’ A10 #41 September/ October 2011 page 54.

From early October to early November 2011 we will be investigating this through a series of short essays categorising the emerging trends in Scottish Architecture into five discernible areas and introducing the practices behind them:

The Community Consultant
The Environmental Studio
The Collective
The New Traditional
The Creative Studio

The focus of the essays will be on those practices set up post 2008, emphasising the rising talents and endeavour that is at work in Scotland today.

We all now know that the course of Scottish architecture can never be the same again, for so many reasons but simplest of all, too many people within the profession have seen their life plans dramatically change.

These are exceptional times and the prospect of seeing how these new approaches to design might evolve into our nation’s future built projects is incredibly exciting. So we hope that this series can provide some inspiration to others as together we forge a new direction for the profession.

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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