So where does the public stand in the great revolutionary transformation of the new in architecture? Mention architecture to the average Glaswegian, and they may come back parrot fashion with the saturation rhetoric of the Rennie Mackintosh cult or the splendor of Princess square that is imbedded in the Glasgow psyche or rammed down every bodies throats with pamphlets and brochures produced by the ton that are used to welcome visitors to shopping city.
Mention ‘Alexander Greek Thomson’ and he or she might give you a blank stare, (which means the city council can still trash his buildings without anyone bothering too much, apart from the minority hard core of Thomson fans and watchdogs who endeavor to protect them). Mention ‘Industrial Architecture’ and you will probably be met with “What industrial architecture”?
On the other hand. Mention the area he or she comes from, the street they live in, or the house they occupy or the shops where they buy their groceries and how they feel about them, or how they would improve on them they will probably have plenty to say on the subject. But the point is, no one will ask them. The public’s opinion will only be sought or accepted in a very narrow sense, and anything substantial they do contribute must be analyzed and diffused by the experts before implementation.
One thing the public do know (and they are usually the last to be consulted), is what they want in terms of housing, shopping, schools, hospitals, community amenities and social landscape – and they don’t need big conceptual words to describe it. It remains that some of the best social housing is created with the input of the prospective tenants at the design stage, and it didn’t come about through the council’s insight in suggesting they should have it – it came about through the tenant’s persistence in demanding it.
Education in schools as far as the history and practice of architecture goes is much the same as the history of arts in general. A superficial staple diet – Rennie Macintosh makes uncomfortable chairs, Van Gogh paints sunflowers. Teachers with their stretched time resources, if not ignored, squeeze architecture into the tightly potted history of art.
Architecture – A Social Subject
With the vast amounts of tax payers money spent by the authorities on the public’s behalf, how then are the public expected to assess public building projects, and the financial and social implications affecting them and executed on their behalf?
Architecture and design are treated as vocational subjects. Why are design and architecture not treated as social subjects early on at school? In a multi-materialistic society, the assessment of design quality when purchasing goods would be of economic use to most people and, after all, people are born in buildings and spend most of their life in them. These are important points made by Victor Papanek in “The Green Imperative.” He also makes a good point on the aspect of design education which is also recognizable in this country: “On any given Saturday morning in America, millions of children spend an hour or two learning ballet. No one ever worries over the fact that out of these millions, only about four hundred will ever support themselves through modern dance or ballet. The payoff is in fun, training mind, body and eye and in creating a stable and informed audience for dance. This sort of cultural growth is also created through the study of design and architecture, and always has been”.
Architecture is another area of community that is seen like politics, education, and such like as only the concern of the expert. If architecture is left only in the hands of the expert the community is doomed to the environmental oppression of the planners who play on the ignorance of its prey.