The image of the architect. Research and exhibition at the British Pavillion of the Venice Biennale 2012

Alex Warnock-Smith, Torange Khonsari, Andreas Lang, Owen Pritchard

Research output: Non-textual outputExhibition


The word and title ‘architect’ has become a semantic and professional myth. As a label it has become a cumbersome cross to bear for the highly educated and talented British professional. The title is increasingly criticized for being a political and professional straightjacket limiting the nimbleness and creative freedom of the designer to a set of preconceived criteria. It is now easier to operate as a designer of buildings and spaces outside of the legislative and institutional constraints of the RIBA and ARB. For Venice Takeaway, we propose an investigation into the status of the architect led by stakeholders that inhabit the environments architects act upon in order to compose a portrait of the role that can be used as a critique of the ARB code of conduct. Through direct engagement with architects, cultural practitioners involved in the city, designers, financiers and local inhabitants we will examine diverse development contexts around the world, to stimulate a broad conversation about the role and practice of the architect, leading to a collective critical rethinking of the discipline, and a new international, architects charter. The 1997 Architects Act and the ARB Code of Conduct were intended to define and protect the profession and outline the obligations of the architect. In our view, these definitions are in dire need of re-evaluation, and fail to reflect the amorphous role that architects play across all facets of building and spatial design. In short, many of us, and ourselves included, feel that the official definitions of our role make generalisations and assertions that are restrictive operationally and limits implementation of creative vision. It no longer reflects the work we do, nor the perception of our role in society at large. In particular, the proposal will challenge various clauses of the 1997 Architects Act, the ARB Code of Conduct and Practice 2010, and the RIBA Plan of Work 2007 and surveys practices that defy those rules. Building upon previous critiques of these definitions, in particular the 2009 RIBA Research Symposium Changing Practices, the proposal will situate these discussions in a wider international context, critiquing the role of the architect from outside the UK and its establishments, rather than solely from within. Our contribution to Venice Takeaway will be an investigation into the perception of the role of the architect across a selection of international projects and the formulation of an alternative architects charter, that will provide a malleable, informed and creative framework that we wil invite architects visiting the Venice Biennale to sign up to – a provocative riposte to the archaic and insular institutions that govern the profession. The international emphasis of Venice Takeaway necessitates that we take a global perspective in the scope of our investigation. The nature of the role is international in its scope, and we would like to examine the cultural response to both the word architect and the expectations of the architect in the eyes of those that surround it. We propose a methodology that playfully assesses the role of the architect and perceptions of the role of the architect by non architects. In each case, we will have a conversation with the persons identified as ‘the architect’; the institutions or persons who have employed and financed them, persons from other disciplines who are stakeholders on the project,collaborators and those affected by the projects. In each conversation, we will reveal the working processes and experiences of the project, and ask the persons we converse with to describe the roles, responsibilities and perception of the architect in the project. Edited versions of these video-conversations will be displayed in the exhibition, with contrasting stories juxtaposed around the space to reveal the complexities and contradictions of the narrative. In each situation, we will also describe the ‘official’ definition of the label ‘Architect’. From this analysis, we will extract key themes to do with the working processes, responsibilities, roles and perceptions of the architect, to inform the alternative charter. These conversations will be displayed on screens as unedited films portraying the real time situations with each interviewee. These will demonstrate the diversity of people that we engaged with around the globe. An alternative charter setting new maxims for the title, roles of an architect within a contemporary context will continue to take shape during the festival. The use of the internet opens the definition of this role to an audience outside the profession which we believe is important. Through the careful analysis of the responses we receive and conversations we had, we will prepare a platform that redefines the contemporary architects charter that embeds meaning in a will also take the form of a website, providing an openly accessible resource to develop a new contemporary charter for the architects role in society.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventThe British Pavillion at the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale - Venice, Italy
Duration: 1 Jan 2012 → …


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