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Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Thinking it Through - Professional friendship Print E-mail
ImageDiderot used to comment on the joy of knowing that whenever he spoke from the heart he could always contact his friend Baron d'Holbach to find out why he was right, and to get the references.

ImageThat is the way it ought to be. Any political activist needs to have friends who can share the insights of the ivory tower intellectual. Power without purpose or direction is extremely dangerous. Even more important is the need for the ivory tower intellectual to have friends who are political activists. Thought which is out of touch with reality, and isolated from involvement, is both dehumanising and incestuous.

Thought is not superior to action. Action is not superior to thought. It is the friendship between then which produces sound judgement.

The professional, that person who has a commitment to some common good which extends beyond any commitment to self or the individual client, must by definition have a commitment to friendship. It is impossible to be either selfish or jealous and to still be a professional.

Why then do we find so much architectural action crippled by "professional jealousy"? Why do we find, even in a university which is funded by the community to serve the common good, an all too frequent lack of friendship and openness about both ideas and action?

Building which has a commitment to others is clearly different from building which has only a commitment to self and ego. What is not so clear is that so called "non-professionals" often act in a thoroughly professional manner, while many who like to call themselves "professionals" act in a thoroughly unprofessional manner.

The person who begins a building project by taking into account their own needs, the needs of all those who will be affected by the building, and the needs of future generations, is acing in a thoroughly professional way. They may not achieve the perfect answer, but they will be part of the search for perfection.

The person who begins a building project by taking into account their own intellectual quest for profound insights, their own need to demonstrate that superiority which will merit them membership of an elite social group, and their own need to produce great architecture, is acting in a totally unprofessional way. Such people give thanks that they are not like others. However, all superiority which is based on power, even intellectual power, is vulnerable and afraid of challenge.

Egotistical building can make a great contribution to extending the frontiers of our perception and understanding. Egotistical building can be visually brilliant. Egotistical building can explore a virtuosity and single-mindedness which is denied to those who take into account the feelings of others. Everyone ought to have a few egotists among their friends to enrich their lives.

The true egotists transcend "professional jealousy". They feel neither challenge nor threat because they simply know they are absolutely right. Jealousy belongs to those who think they are superior, but deep down are not quite sure about it.

It is possible to have good professional architecture, and also good architecture which is not professional. The same cannot be said of urban design.

Urban design is not a spectator sport. Urban design cannot be called urban design if it has no commitment to the community at large. Some architects seeking a display of architectural virtuosity may long for the ultimate power of gaining control over a whole city, but that level of dictatorship could never be accepted by a democracy.

Urban design, like democracy, is a team sport. Architects who lack teamwork skills, may of course, like George Bernard Shaw, feel that "If (architectural) Despotism failed only for want of a capable benevolent despot, what chance has (architectural) Democracy, which implies a whole population of capable voters?"

A community comes into being through the co-operation and interaction of many different people, living out many different roles. Jealousy and ego have no place in community.

These challenging times are endlessly interesting. No value and no precept can be taken as a given. The rate and extent of change is beyond the comprehension of any single mind. Every opportunity to discover what other people are thinking is to be grasped and celebrated. Just when we thought we had graduated and could get on with the real building we have all become students again.

These are not the times for professional jealousy. Every eccentric idea must be pushed further to see where it leads. Every difficult concept must be explored and explained. These are not the times to condemn others just because we cannot see what they are on about.

Before all else, in a university, or a profession, the community ha a right to expect professional friendship.
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