So where have the loquacious architects gone? Have architects become, like the tradition of French painters, dumb… ‘bete’ also suggesting ‘beast’, an animal without speech. It is true isn’t it? If you think of the Athfields and Walkers, not to mention the Fowlers and Waldens, architects used to be rampant orators, at times difficult to shut-up. But now liabilities seem to overwhelm opinions, and the debates of architecture are limited to polite gripes about who won what at the NZIA Awards, and less polite snipes on the amount of time things take to get through council.
In a recent Listener, Ranganui Walker declared that if you weren’t thinking politically, you may as well be dead intellectually. ‘Politics’ can be a broad term. On the one hand, there is a ‘politic’ in how loudly you complain about the NZIA Awards. But on the other, there is a ‘politic’ which engages society in the setting of values and standards. Deidre Brown’s recent talk to launch ‘Maori Architecture: from fale to whare and beyond’, discussed the immanent Treaty of Waitangi Claim Wai 262, which sets out to repair damage caused by the Crown’s failure to protect mātauranga Māori (Māori traditional knowledge). This covers ‘flora and fauna’ ie. genetic material which might be lost to ‘bio-prospecting’, but also Maori intellectual property.
Apart from my personal belief that mechanisms like Toi Iho branding are destined to be conservative and produce an historicised definition of Maori art/design/architecture, the protection of Maori intellectual property is important – Robbie Williams’s tattoo leaps to mind for a start. But Brown’s point, more interestingly for architecture, suggested the extent to which Maori building/construction knowledge has been eroded by building codes. These codes fail to acknowledge in fact they exclude the option of using customary techniques and materials. Te Puea’s project for Maori housing of the 1930’s is an example of lost a opportunity.
But this loss is not just in Maori tikanga. How many other forms of identifiably ‘kiwi’ architecture make reference to vernacular architectural traditions (perhaps a bit shoddy, but tradition none the less!!)? How many students are inspired to study architecture because of a family history of DIY? How much of an architecture student’s understanding of construction and materials comes from completing some of their own DIY?
…. and why don’t there seem to be any architects being vocal about this sort of loss?