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Friday25 July 2014

Top architects lack principles, says Will Self

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In renewed attack, novelist accuses Richard Rogers, Daniel Libeskind and Rem Koolhaas of saying one thing but designing another

Will Self

Source: Polly Borland

Will Self

Novelist Will Self launched an outspoken attack on architects who ignore ethics in the pursuit of their careers.

His comments came in an interview with BD following his recent outburst at a literature festival when he said architects who had worked on the Olympic “obscenity” should retrain as dentists.

When BD asked the writer and ‘psychogeographer’ to expand on his views, he said architects cannot expect to be taken seriously as artists if they put money before principles.

He reserved particular wrath for Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind and Richard Rogers.

They were among the profession’s most dynamic critical thinkers, he said, yet they were still prepared to build follies to international finance.

“It’s not because they can’t afford to pay their heating bills,” he said.

“They should be taking a lead and saying now is the time to reconsider the viability and justness of projects, particularly in the teeth of recession when we are slinging poor people out of their houses in the East End and telling them to move to Walsall.

“Koolhaas takes commissions that in many ways exemplify exactly the sort of things he critiques. Think of his seminal essay Junk Space. He is still building junk space having correctly identified its parameters and painful insubstantiality.

“Same with Richard Rogers. His urban plan created under Blair was a pretty good idea but he goes on putting up disgusting airports and luxury flats.”

He acknowledged the difficulties architects faced but said they should consider whether a project involved “grotesque” finance, environmental damage – or would be of lasting value to society.

“What an interesting world it would be if all principled architects refused to work on [unprincipled] projects,” he said.

“Most architects want to get to a position where they are starchitects who can aesthetically dictate what will be built. The paradox is they have to [pimp themselves to get there].

Self’s remarks on architects’ involvement in the Olympics, made at the London Literature Festival last week, provoked anger - and admiration - among the profession.

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Readers' comments (26)

  • He's right.

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  • Spot on.

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  • here here

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  • How frustrating. Just when you've built up a head of steam to vent at the man, he spouts wisdom.

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  • Dear Mr Self,

    Society gets the architects it deserves,

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  • He makes it sound like Walsall is a bad place to live in the coming weeks...

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  • Is he about to bring out a book about architecture?

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  • The thing about architect is: we're powerless. Architecture costs a lot of money so architects have to follow the money. And we know who has the money.

    Architects who have principles and who stand by them never get much work.

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  • These guys might be 'starchitects' to the rest of the profession, but they're just pawns in the game of capitalism - if they operated with integrity and selflessness they'd lose their commissions to other architects who were happy to play the game.

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  • Alex Henderson

    Architects have to make concessions Mr Self. Their ideas are constantly reined in by cost, health and safety, politics, engineering limitations and the client’s desires. I’m sure they would like take the lead and let their artistic flair run wild, but unfortunately, this is architecture not painting.

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