Saturday05 September 2015

Rogers is not as anti-establishment as he appears

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No amount of shuffling around in leisurewear can disguise the ‘radical’ architect’s status

Richard Rogers

Richard Rogers

Eighty years old, a seat in the Lords, heading up a White Paper committee, adviser to city mayors, and now a major retrospective — no amount of shuffling around in leisurewear can disguise the fact that Richard Rogers has all the qualifications for the peak of the British establishment.

And he’s in the club with other architectural names, like the old radical Peter Cook, the famously acerbic Richard Murphy and, of course, Norman Foster, who has the added qualification of tax exile. But he and other members of the architectural establishment have tried to pull off a remarkable trick and present themselves as creative radicals.

It’s a well-known delusion. Communist revolutionaries became George Orwell’s upright pigs; Mao sacrificed millions in his attempt to radicalise China.

As a Yugoslav friend said in the 1990s: “Old modernists are like old communists: they don’t realise the revolution is over.” And like China’s state capitalism, where the revolution has become just an excuse for staying in power, the old architectural revolutionaries use establishment tactics to keep their noses in the trough. They control the institutions. They make sure all the plum jobs go to fellow travellers. They control the education system to form loyal cadres to “carry on the cause”. They purge opponents with show trials posing as design review.

They manage their propaganda through a submissive press. And you only have to look at the latest round of RIBA Awards and the Stirling Prize shortlist to see the grinding conformity. How do they do it? To keep up the illusion you only need one thing: a credible enemy. Stalin created imaginary counter-revolutionaries; the architects’ candidates for “re-education” are most of the population and their establishment.

Singled out for special treatment are the most dangerous enemies of all, traditional architects. They undermine the whole mission by revealing a popular and viable alternative. So they are persecuted as traitors to the true course of history. No architect-selected competition will have a traditionalist on its shortlist. No student pursuing an interest in traditional architecture is likely to get through. And no peer-selected prize will ever go to a traditional design. Pretence of persecution makes a perfect cover for persecution.

Robert Adam is a director of Adam Architecture


Readers' comments (11)

  • Enough already of this vile comparison to Stalin and Mao and their genocides.
    It is Robert Adam, dependent on Establishment desire for a status-giving, doffing-your-cap-to-those-above-you architecture who is the Establishment. He is definitely not a Traditional architect, whatever that may mean, and certainly does not produce Traditional architecture - just pastiche.
    His web-site shows a huge portfolio of work, belying the impression that he is barred from work by the Rogers/Foster ""Hegenomy".
    Please keep his bitterness out of your paper.

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  • grapefruit

    Rogers builds exactly the same sort of stuff name architects do. The difference is he actually speaks out about city and urban issues.

    who else does?

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  • It's a little difficult to take seriously as a persecuted underdog an architect whose practice specialises in country houses for the super-rich and whose major client is the Duchy of Cornwall.

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  • I must thank the above commentators for proving the point in my last paragraph.

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    A plague on both your houses. Both sucking up to the rich and powerful so that you can get work. And then both posing as Men of Principle.

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  • So being a 'man of principle' (or woman?) means that either you don't get any work or you don't work for anyone with money? Or maybe that you're just nasty to rich people (not a great way to get work) That would write off most the architectural profession and the work would be done by non architects instead. Or is the plan to change society completely so there are no rich and powerful people who can commission architects? Not quite the subject of this debate.

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  • By responding so ungenerously to these columns, Robert Adam has shown the huge chip on his shoulder, which comes, not from him being restricted in obtaining work by the so-called "Rogers' Establishment", but rather from him being born with both insufficient grey cells to carry an argument, and lack of aesthetic sensibility with which to design a graceful and attractive building.

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  • Robert, you should realise by now, people are not bashing you because you are traditional - many architects are, they bash you because your work is so ugly some may argue you give traditional architecture a bad name.

    I see the furnitures you've designed on your website... Emperor chair, you must be joking!

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  • While of course like every architect I must accept that people don't like my work, architectural criticism that resorts to nothing more than epithets such as ugly, lack of aesthetic sensibility and stupidity is not intelligent criticism but insult and, as such, has no value. As for my comments being 'ungenerous', well, what does are calls to ban my comments from BD and not taking my work seriously if not ungenerous?
    It is interesting to see that although my short piece was not about Roger's or anyone else's design but the changing role of revolutionaries and establishments the comments above, with the possible exception of 'grapefruit', shows how architects can't deal with debate without resorting to invective on style. Again, ample proof if any more were needed, of the veracity of my last paragraph.

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  • The work of the students at Kingston and Bath Universities (and others) recently published here would suggest that there is a healthy pluralistic engagement with an essential architecture, both sensitive and critical. As did the beautiful school project of Feilden Fowles, again recently published here. I dont recognise the issue that Robert Adam is so excited about. Perhaps one should seek out the things which give you joy, rather than focussing on the things you hate.

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