In practice, yet remains unaddressed. Their criticisms and

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In his book ‘Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development’, the Italian architectural historian, Manfredo Tafuri theorises that “just as there cannot exist a class political economy, so too there cannot be founded a class aesthetic, art, or architecture, but only a class critique of the aesthetic, of art, of architecture, of the city itself” . Although there is a sense of underlying pessimism  (something that is usually associated with his writings), Tafuri brings to light, the essentiality of criticism in architecture, a point that Sarah Wigglesworth brings up in her article, ‘Critical Practice’. However, although there is a sense of duty to be critical in practice, Wigglesworth talks about the complications and constraints met while trying to be critical in a modern commercial climate. To thoroughly understand the points made by Wigglesworth in the text ‘Critical Practice’, we must first look at how the term “critical architecture” can be defined. In the book ‘Critical Architecture’, Jane Rendell coins the term as an abbreviation for “critical architectural practice” and “a simple way of marking a place between criticism and design in architecture”. To be “critical”, is to observe the way in which architecture is done normally, through practice and production, in a critical manner. To then find new methods of design to best suit the everchanging ways society live in currently. However, the term ‘architecture’ not only refers to the physical representation of drawn designs, which the word is normally associated to; But it “is a subject that includes history, theory, criticism and design, technological and social studies” . Therefore, “critical architecture” itself can hold different forms as well. A prominent example of this, which Wigglesworth also refers to in her text, is the project, Desiring Practices.’Desiring Practices’, a project in which Wigglesworth along with a collective of architects all contributed in, is an example of a critical act. Taking place in 1995, the project was planned and designed to challenge the ever-present yet, simultaneously, “invisible patriarchy”  and bring light to gender inequality that still exists in an architectural practice, yet remains unaddressed. Their criticisms and ideas were relayed through a series of 12 exhibitions across London (including the RIBA headquarters), a symposium and a book.  The drive behind the project is understandable. Despite its liberal public image, the profession is known for its lack of diversity and poor positioning of women. Although this subject is well documented and has been brought up numerous times over the decades, the progress made in tackling this issue (although gradual) has been minimum. The irregularity in representation in this sector of work can be best exemplified in the countries, the United Kingdom, France and the United States.  In the United Kingdom, women only represent 26 percent of registered architects in 2016, 27 percent in France, and 18 percent in the United States. This creates a staggering margin alongside the number of women who enter architectural education, which exceeds 50 percent in all three of these countries. Although the number of “registered” architects is a significant increase from the 1990s, a time in which Sarah Wigglesworth states that “only 9 percent of architects are female” in the United Kingdom, the pay gap between male and female architects also continues to increase in turn. In the UK, female partners and principles earn a significant £55,000 (per annum) less than their male counterparts. A figure that has increased by £42,000 in the last 2 years. However, efforts have been made to encourage greater diversity. In Europe, Due to the flexibility in which EU Directives can be upheld, there is a difference in response from countries; taking either the regulatory or voluntary approach. The UK has taken the regularity approach with its introduction of the Equality Act in 2010 in response to the EU Directive, requiring members to enforce equality initiatives. While, France has taken the voluntary route, establishing a quota for a minimum of 40 percent of board directors to be female, and introducing the “Diversity Charter”, “a written commitment that can be signed by any company…that wishes to ban discrimination in the workplace and makes a decision to work towards creating diversity” .  There has also been an increase in scholarships and schemes offered by universities and boards, such as the Royal Institute of Architecture (RIBA) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA), that address the issue of lack of women and other minorities in the field. The AIA in the US has also conducted a number of surveys concerning diversity in terms of gender and race (minorities) in architectural practices in order to try and find ways to combat the issue.In the article, Critical Practice, Wigglesworth provides her perspective and personal interpretation of the ways in which architecture can be critical, and the practicality of doing so. The assertions she lists regarding the argument at hand, include the following: The extent in which a building can be critical depends on the context of that building, critical architecture is not something can be easily recognised (this is also due to the variety of forms in which it can take), and to practice critically, you must also act politically .”Politics” or “acting politically” is a topic that has been brought up on numerous occasions, where critical architecture is concerned and is the 5th assertion Wigglesworth states in her argument; “to practice critically implies acting politically”. Despite being essential to achieving a genuinely critical architecture, it is also a condition known for being “the most problematic”. The referencing to politics, in this context, differs from that associated with diplomacy and government, and, in fact, refers to the engagement a practice has with the conditions of an architecture’s production. One method in which this can be achieved is by balancing the wishes of a client while also attempting to be critical too. This can be problematic to execute with ease and is also something that can be looked at in query. In response to the ‘Critical Architecture” conference held in 2004, a project organised by the architects Jane Rendell and Jonathan Hill of the Bartlett, it was found that “the terms ‘design’ and ‘criticism’ should be divided” was a view held quite tightly by the architectural community in the UK. To harness both in practice seemed, or may still seem, contradictory. For, it is the client and their demands that enable a practice to operate primarily. So, the idea of questioning those demands was met with understandable scepticism; “one is paid to service one’s clients’ desires, not to be critical of them”. While it is evident that there is (or was) in internal conflict within the architectural world, where most believed that ‘criticism’ should be performed by critics alone, and ‘design’ (in terms of architecture) should be associated with drawings, proposals, buildings and their architect, there is also an external conflict that may be encountered when trying to be critical (or political). This is the risk of “being oppositional and confrontational to a client’s wishes”. Similarly, in all fields in the commercial world, the role of a client holds significance (tying in with the point made above). Therefore, the experience of a client can either be damaging or profitable for a practice as a business.Recognised in Wigglesworth’s article, Ash Sakula’s Boxley Street project (Peabody Trust “Fresh Ideas for Low-Cost Housing” competition winner) is an example one may refer to when trying to envision critical thinking (in the political sense) in practice. Briefed to design low budget housing, the practice, Ash Sakula, discards the usual template that is repeatedly used for apartment layouts, and suggests a different idea concerning space and how it should be prioritised; continuing to rearrange and allocate accordingly. The kitchen becomes the “main social space” and is the largest of the rooms in the apartments, due to its communal capabilities. An oxymoron, the living room, corresponding with the two adjacent bedrooms, is reduced to a size similar to that of “a railway sleeping compartment”.  While, the hallway is widened to become a room in itself; renamed the “sorting zone”, where all storage systems (shelves, cupboards, wardrobes etc) of the home have now been relocated. Although the user will find themselves having to adjust to these new conditions, Ash Sakula has reconstructed the usual flat and made choices based on how space is usually used in a modern home and the social aspect around this.Surprisingly, this re-examining of the typical home (or apartment) and the curiosity in the purpose and true functionality of space is evident within some of the essay writings of the French writer, Georges Perec; more precisely, in his book “Species of Space and other Pieces”. In the chapter, appropriately named, ‘The Apartment’, Perec finds himself intrigued by the framework and complexity of the family home and challenges the current understanding of space. More specifically, it is the concept of what makes a room, that grasps the attention of the author. Through thorough and humorous contemplating, it is concluded that despite their specific titles and individual functions, it is this alone that separates the rooms of any home. For they are unambiguous in terms of space and form. Although differing in some parts (this may be in size or placing), the usual plan of a dwelling consists “of a variable, but finite, number of rooms”, rooms that are then to be erected to create boxes, homogenous in form. Once viewed alongside the programmatic thinking of Georges Perec, there is an added significance to the decisions and methods applied to Ash Sakula’s Boxley Street project. 

Categories: Architects


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