AD NEW MODES: Redefining Practice
Four Families of New Practice

alma-nac
AD, London, 2018

This piece is taken from alma-nac’s introductory article in the AD New Modes publication. To read the first half, follow this link

EXYZT and Agnes Denes, The Dalston Mill, Hackney, London, 2009. This temporary wheat field, functioning flour mill and bakery served to connect local communities with the new incoming populations of a rapidly changing area. EXYZT refused to accept architecture as an isolated discipline — their manifesto went so far as to state they refused to enter the current world of architectural practice, a system solely serving the building industry (image credit: Eliot Wyman. Courtesy of the Barbican Art Gallery).

EXYZT and Agnes Denes, The Dalston Mill, Hackney, London, 2009. This temporary wheat field, functioning flour mill and bakery served to connect local communities with the new incoming populations of a rapidly changing area. EXYZT refused to accept architecture as an isolated discipline — their manifesto went so far as to state they refused to enter the current world of architectural practice, a system solely serving the building industry (image credit: Eliot Wyman. Courtesy of the Barbican Art Gallery).

Recognising the causes of change is crucial to understanding the potential impact of this ‘revolution’ on the architectural profession as a whole. The catalysts are contextual. A globalised context could be argued to stem from  Western capitalist trends, from the four threats to localism Brian McGrath maps out in his article 'Architectural Localism as Damage Control in the Face of Globalism and Digitisation'.[1] Many will be both shared worldwide and Western-centric.

However, as emerging markets grow to form the majority of global construction (with an estimated growth of 128% by 2020, resulting in a 55% share of global construction',[2] a far wider set of local influences is just as critical to comprehend. So are the catalysts for this change in the architectural profession global or local, born from scarcity of environment or window of opportunity? Douglas Murphy’s clarification of the diminishing role of the architect is a clear enough impetus. [3] His analysis of the profession’s history of ‘constitutive crises’, specific to the UK, paints a colourful picture of the drivers of change. The causes are multitudinous, but three main patterns emerge – financial pressure versus new value; new routes to change; and the political/environmental condition.

With this change of perspective encompassing a wider set of values comes new routes to architectural production. In the case of Killing Architects, this involved a deliberate, wholesale move away from the building as their form of architectural production. For others, not completely divorced from the built form, there is a shift away from polished construction as the celebrated output and with this the potential for a reduced technical barrier to entry. These new avenues of exploration can come without the necessary procurement behemoth battling practice structures, sometimes without even the requirement for apprenticeships in practice. New routes to genuine architectural agency outside of the stranglehold of the current systems of spatial influence – are numerous. Roles previously treated as ‘other’ to the traditional architect are being subsumed, for example in the practice of Carl Turner Architects where they are builder, developer, curator and, ultimately, client for their own work.[4] Elsewhere, client types are changing from top-down wealth to bottom-up connected communities, providing opportunities to return to exploration and testing, and learning through doing. The Burnside skatepark in Portland Oregan, officially endorsed in 1993, is a fantastic example of both such a process and resulting product, a method of urban intervention being toted as one of ‘visualising citizenship’,[5] its precedent causing an explosion of similarly inspired projects.

Burnside Skatepark, Portland, Oregon, 1993. Starting life as a series of illegally constructed concrete banks, this skatepark was designed, built, managed and funded by the local skateboarding community. Iterative negotiations with local authorities saw the scheme retrospectively approved, The park has fundamentally changed both the local area, but also the wider approach to designing and building skateparks (image credit: Adumbvoget (CC BY-SA 3.0)).

Burnside Skatepark, Portland, Oregon, 1993. Starting life as a series of illegally constructed concrete banks, this skatepark was designed, built, managed and funded by the local skateboarding community. Iterative negotiations with local authorities saw the scheme retrospectively approved, The park has fundamentally changed both the local area, but also the wider approach to designing and building skateparks (image credit: Adumbvoget (CC BY-SA 3.0)).

Then there are architects whose work responds to the vacuums of state, whether the physical legacy of failed state operations, or the opportunities found within slow and complex bureaucratic systems. These practices are working at the micro local level, such as studioBASAR’s introduction of social spaces in Bucharest, Romania[6] or GutGut’s creation of communities within former industrial buildings in Bratislava, Slovakia.[7] They are also working at the macro level, for example atelier d'architecture

autogérée’s fusion as both non-governmental organisation and interdisciplinary design studio.[8] Globalisation in and of itself presents possibilities for the exploration of new practice; Zoohaus Collective’s Inteligencias Colectivas initiative operates across scale spectrums combining local skill sets with globalised construction knowledge, then seeding new vernaculars via open-source sharing of the outcomes.[9] Just the return to genuinely locally responsive design becomes new in the current financially focused environment; HECTOR’S efforts in this department explore the reality of socially contextual design in the extremely complex and deeply rooted modern urban environments, their designs responding to ‘multiple conflicting narratives’.[10]

alma-nac, Co-working and community space, Southwark, London, 2017-2018. Proposed scheme for activating a disused, local authority-owned building at the base of a housing block to provide a community workspace hub.

alma-nac, Co-working and community space, Southwark, London, 2017-2018. Proposed scheme for activating a disused, local authority-owned building at the base of a housing block to provide a community workspace hub.

Rural Studio, Hale County Animal Shelter, Greensboro, Alabama, 2006. Education/construction/practice fusion Rural Studio create bespoke architectural solutions on behalf of the local community they work within. Here, four students from the practice arranged the finance, designed and ultimately constructed the shelter on behalf of Hale County which was without the means to provide the building (image credit: Timothy Hursley).

Rural Studio, Hale County Animal Shelter, Greensboro, Alabama, 2006. Education/construction/practice fusion Rural Studio create bespoke architectural solutions on behalf of the local community they work within. Here, four students from the practice arranged the finance, designed and ultimately constructed the shelter on behalf of Hale County which was without the means to provide the building (image credit: Timothy Hursley).

Four Families of New Modes

This AD brings together a series of practising groups and organises them according to four predominant trends. Each of these is preceded with a foundational piece to establish the context within which these specific subsets of pioneers work.

(1) Diversification of the Role:
New practice types entrepreneurial in spirit. This brings together those architects whose work steps on the toes of the disciplines around them, climbing up the food chain to take the role of project initiator or developer, or reclaiming territory lost in the wave of specialisation as their primary output, utilising their wider skill sets to offer new types of services. 

(2) The Power of Localism: A new breed of practice returning to localised action.  Agents for change within existing communities, developing briefs, places and organisations, facilitating community building and rearticulating region-specific design. In place, reverting to the locally embedded professional, yet modifying this position with new practice modalities.

(3) The Disruptive Architect: The all-out disruptor. The small family of practices whose work either sets out to destabilise the financial/political structures in which they operate, or doubles as a form of activism.

(4) Policy, Strategy and Common Good: Working far upstream of the drawing board, these practices employ broader strategies in the creation of our towns and cities, be that influencing policy, redefining value or working outside of the realm of the building as product.

what if: projects, Livesy Exchange, London, 2018. Crossing the boundary between community enabler, architect and infrastructure designers, what if: projects guide projects with goals ranging from increasing the transparency of local planning activity through to designing and financing the regeneration of overlooked community spaces. Livesy Exchange began with the conversion of 60 garages on the Ledbury Estate on Old Kent Road into a multi-use community skills and industry space, but following fire issues on the tower, strong local support has seen the project evolve to a new-build scheme delivered in collaboration with local partners (image credit: what if: projects).

what if: projects, Livesy Exchange, London, 2018. Crossing the boundary between community enabler, architect and infrastructure designers, what if: projects guide projects with goals ranging from increasing the transparency of local planning activity through to designing and financing the regeneration of overlooked community spaces. Livesy Exchange began with the conversion of 60 garages on the Ledbury Estate on Old Kent Road into a multi-use community skills and industry space, but following fire issues on the tower, strong local support has seen the project evolve to a new-build scheme delivered in collaboration with local partners (image credit: what if: projects).

Is it Real, is it Right, is it Viable?

So are these new modes of practice indicative of a genuine change in the profession? And as professional practice rather than hobby, do they need to be financial viable to be eligible for such a characterisation? Are such changes an expansion of the role of the architect, or an escape from it? Architecture has always reinvented itself, so is this new typology just one more iteration, or something altogether different? How can we know whether it is something more than just the ongoing natural flux? Are the practices included in this issue indicative of a genuine new direction, or just a creative hernia? Bose’s article is key here, asking ‘Firstly, whether such an “expansion” is appropriate’.[11] Bose argues that to answer this question, we must first establish whether we define architectural practice as ‘a service industry, a creative field or a commercial enterprise’. We can perhaps add to this assessment. Measuring architecture as a profession, this evolution must in some way be tested through its financial viability. Ignoring the capacity for payment of services comes with the ugly association of a return to the worthy hobby of the privileged. Yet in moving away from commercial agendas, as many of the practices within this edition clearly are, there is an inherent requirement to adopt a new set of values. These new values may well exhibit longer lag times to exhibiting value, yet proof of their impact on society may well be required before architects’ fees can be justified.

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[1] McGrath, B. (2018). Architectural Localism as Damage Control in the Face of Globalism and Digitisation. Architectural Design, 88(05), pp.50-7.

[2] Jamieson, Robinson, Worthington and Cole, op cit. p1.

[3] Murphy, D. (2018). Constitutive Crises. Radical Practice and the Definition of the Centre. Architectural Design, 88(05), pp.14-21.

[4] Turner, C. (2018). The Architect as Optimist: Carl Turner. Architectural Design, 88(05), pp.44-9.

[5] Iain Borden, “Chapter 7 Skatopia”, Skateboarding and the City: a Complete History (London: Bloomsbury) 2019.

[6] Axinte, A. and Borcan, C. (2018). Towards an Intermediary Practice. Bucharest Laboratory. Architectural Design, 88(05), pp.38-43.

[7] Kordík, L. and Polakovič, Š. (2018). Shifting the Line. Reclaiming Space for Social Interaction. Architectural Design, 88(05), pp.98-103.

[8] Petcou, C. and Petrescu, D. (2018). Co-produced Urban Resilience. A Framework for Bottom-Up Regeneration. Architectural Design, 88(05), pp.58-64.

[9] Villalba Rubio, L., Chacón Gragera, J. and Domínguez Fernández, M. (2018). Collective Intelligences. The Future is Hybrid. Architectural Design, 88(05), pp.66-71.

[10] Shin, J. and Rich, D. (2018). Designing for Organising. Architectural Design, 88(05), pp.86-91.

[11] Bose, S. (2018). Financing the Expanded Field. Adding Value Through Innovative Practice. Architectural Design, 88(05), pp.22-9.