07/06/2022

TBartlett, one of the most prestigious architecture schools in the country, and part of University College London, is the subject of a damning report. Prepared by investigative firm Howlett Brown, it found evidence of bullying, racism and sexual harassment and a “boys’ club” for employees shielded one another from complaints. There were allegations that a “senior executive” had ridiculed, insulted and verbally abused female students and made biased comments against them. The report said the Bartlett family had suffered from “decades of toxic culture”.

There may be classes for the teaching and practice of architecture on a larger scale. Both have always been subject to a hero complex in which the cause of great architecture is so exalted that almost no sacrifice can be made for the sake of their name. Students are encouraged to work impossible hours and endure sleepless nights. They then have to present their work in sessions known as “criticism” in front of fellow students, to be praised or cut short by their teachers and esteemed guest critics.

This culture is implemented in practice where the price of labor in glamorous practices is often impossible hours for low pay. Customers may also be expected to pay for ingenuity; One of the most impressive feats in architectural history is the homes whose costs have pushed their owners to the brink of bankruptcy and whose failures have driven them to despair. The eventual winners were the architects who rose to fame and made history, but there is plenty of human debris along the way.

It is important to distinguish specific instances of abuse in Bartlett (and, as it will likely be, other schools) from a broader culture, but given the severe imbalance of power between star architects and enslaved students, it is easy to see how one might encourage the other. One can only hope for the emergence of a more humane profession.

trash included

Recent phone booths in New York City have been removed. Photo: Eric Bendzic/Rex/Shutterstock

The last phone booth in New York has been removed. This will be sad news for Clark Kent, who has nowhere else to go in Superman, and for those nostalgic for all the movie detectives and desperate lovers who screamed important news in the bustling streets while scraping the loose change in phone slots. But the stalls finally went the way of homing pigeons and telegrams.

In the UK we’re still close to that point, in part because many buildings are listed as examples of the famous K2 and K6 red phone cases, introduced from 1926 and 1936 respectively. Instead, owner BT leaves it to rot, with faded paint, broken windows and floors littered with rubbish, possibly to provide a reason to remove it. This may be neglecting BT’s responsibility as guardian of historical structures, but it may make sense. The K2 and K6 are designed to eliminate the clutter of debuting less sleek and stylish stands. Now these redundant things, even when well taken care of, are themselves a mess.

nation state

Looking Forward: Historian Eric Hobsbawm. Photo: Wesley/Getty Images

A friend sent me something about Great Britain. “A parasitic economy rather than a competitive economy…” she says, “the best country in the world in terms of wealth and luxury: a place for foreign millionaires to buy real estate.” This appears to be true. The only thing is that it was published by historian Eric Hobsbawm in 1968 Industry and Empire He described the years leading up to World War I. Not much seems to have changed since the century.

Rowan Moore is the architectural correspondent for The Observer

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