A minor transatlantic controversy erupted last month after UK “architecture minister” aka Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport with responsibility for architecture and the built environment John Penrose apparently compared architects with other negatively-stereotyped groups, noting architects are “just one of those groups people love to mock.” The comments were part of a longer blog post about Rowan Atkinson, Dreamland, and VisitEngland’s new Smartphone-based marketing campaign.
The story was first reported by bdonline.co.uk’s Mark Wilding on July 18. Wilding calls Penrose’s comments “shocking,” adding that “architects may not be pleased to hear that they are lumped in with ‘slippery estate agents, over-paid footballers and disingenuous politicians,’ as the minister attempts to tackle the public’s attitude towards the profession.” The story was re-reported by the Architectural Record News Wire on July 22, under the headline “Profession is a Joke to Public, Says UK Architecture Minister.” The story notes how Penrose believes that “people love to mock architects” and reiterates his comparison of architects “slippery real-estate agents” et al.
Penrose’s comments are far less damning than Wilding’s tabloid-esque reportage would lead us to believe. From the July 15 DCMS blog entry, “Dustbins, bicycles, roller coasters and a plug for QR (which is QI):”
“Rowan Atkinson used to do a stand-up show in the early eighties which began with him emerging from a seat in the stalls and, as he clambered onto the stage, launching into a rant about architects and architecture:
“Modern architects – scum of the earth. It doesn’t matter what you ask them to design, they still come up with something that looks like an old dustbin with a bicycle sticking out of the top.”
It went down a storm. And, thirty years on, it would probably do so again. Completely unfair of course and downright insulting but, in much the same way we like to take the mickey out of, for example, slippery estate agents, over-paid footballers and disingenuous politicians (present company excepted, needless to say), architects are just one of those groups people love to mock.”
Penrose’s comments are certainly inappropriate, but Wilding’s sanctimonious commentary is far more embarrassing for the field. Wilding’s hypersensitivity reveals a deep cynicism about our field’s possible decline with respect to its place in the world; a perpetual cycle wherein we continue to shun any reference to our lack of relevance in the hope that the problem will go away, without realizing that in fighting that fight we’ve already conceded.
Architectural Record Newswire: http://archrecord.construction.com/yb/ar/article.aspx?story_id=161653800