Pessimism or optimism / Glancey / Guardian

Jonathan Glancey wrote an engaging article in the Guardian’s G2 section outlining the bleak prospects for architects in the crisis. Elena pointed it out and is using it with the students. [ Here is the article. ] It seemed to me he had missed the point of his own story – how radical social innovation in building could crack unemployment – so I wrote to the Guardian as follows

Jonathan Glancey (Frozen skyline 17 November) is right to paint a gloomy picture of the prospects for UK architects in the coming years. But why does he end with such a defeatist conclusion: go and work in Dubai or points east while we wait for “…the next building boom when the money flows again”? The implication is that, if we just get back to how it was a year or two ago, everything will be OK again.

That’s defeatist because radical rethinking of how the built environment is produced can actually be a stimulus to recovery and a generator of inspirational building. He tells the story of the Tennesee Valley Authority and of the London Underground in the 1930 but misses that lesson. And it’s not just for architects: in a modern society around a quarter of all jobs are probably linked to the design, production, marketing and management of the built environment so the scale of the impacts are massive – both in a downward spiral and in the kind of upward spiral which we should now be trying to devise.

Society’s needs have not gone away. We have massive housing problems, an urban structure which needs to be reconfigured to work without so many cars and a building stock which needs retro-fitting to save energy. Isn’t there scope for some vision here Jonathan? A few architects may get work with oligarchs, mullahs and sheiks but it doesn’t solve the world’s problems.

The paper published a rather shortened version, omitting the oligarch, mullahs and sheiks. Huh. [ Published version ]

Author: Editors


2 thoughts on “Pessimism or optimism / Glancey / Guardian”

  1. Dear Michael Edwards

    In my experience you’re lucky the Guardian published even the shorter version. About eight years ago they accepted a letter several paragraphs long. But now I give them a single paragraph with short sentences. And this is usually shortened. To be fair, it does let more people have their say in the shrinking space between ‘celebrity’ cooking, and the special problems of the Middle Class.

    Can I suggest you try getting the Guardian to publish an article instead? You obviously have contacts who can talk to ‘the right people’. I’m afraid that’s how things are done in our intellectually stifling society.

    Have you considered faking your death? It both amuses and dismays me when the first time I read about some original and stimulating thinker is in their orbituary.

    Of course, there is now an alternative online. I’ve only recently come across your blog and find it interesting, useful, and something I’m recomending. (Though with an extremely limited impact!)

    I’m particularly optimistic about the potential for ideas to be presented in online video. One model is the TED lectures. We badly need a local or – even better – a European version. That way we might avoid the same tiny group of London-based ‘opinion-formers’ repeating the stuff they now serve-up on TV and in newspapers.

    I’ve just downloaded and watched several fairly long lectures on YouTube, which is the first place I now look for an author whose ideas I want to know about. (I couldn’t find you.)

    As you know, there’s lots of stuff online of variable quality. But I enjoy hearing and seeing someone present their thinkwork. Your ideas about Kings Cross, for instance, could be presented within a video walkabout – or as a voice-over.

    Best wishes,

    Alan Stanton


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