|I was proud to have worked with TAC. My time there had been the most enlightening of my life. Gropius was a great natural teacher. He died in 1969, eight years after I left TAC, but he stayed active for much of that time and we corresponded occasionally. TAC lasted much longer as a collaborative but eventually went out of business four years ago.|
Full of enthusiasm, I arrived back in Australia to re-join a successful practice with plenty of work, but a very different culture. The work was of high quality, the design much influenced by Jack McConnell. However, as the practice expanded and we found ourselves designing in new areas and in different locations, it became obvious that the autocracy was not working and that different ways were needed.
I have been involved with Hassell for most of my working life and in that time we have grown it into an integrated firm which practises across a range of design professions, including landscape architecture, interior design, urban design and urban planning. But, more importantly, we grew a firm with a culture of inclusiveness and participation, which, I think, may well endure. I cannot say it has always been an easy road we have travelled and during that time we have had our setbacks, some of which have been almost fatal. But, as a wise man said, "success is the ability to survive failure". On that basis we have been successful more times than I care to remember.
I now wish to address some of the ideas which have occupied our minds at Hassell over the years which I believe have contributed to the quality of the work we have done, not to mention our survival. Firstly, may I tell you a story from MIT.
It’s said that in the early years of this century, Charles Proteus Steinmetz, the great electrical engineer, was brought to General Electric’s facilities in Schenectady, New York. GE had encountered a performance problem with one of its huge electrical generators and had been absolutely unable to correct it. Steinmetz, a genius in his understanding of electromagnetic phenomena, was brought in as a consultant - not a very common occurrence in those days, as it would be now.
Steinmetz also found the problem difficult to diagnose, but for some days he closeted himself with the generator, its engineering drawings, paper and pencil. At the end of this period he emerged, confident that he knew how to correct the problem.
After he departed, GE’s engineers found a large "X" marked with chalk on the side of the generator casing. There was also a note instructing them to cut the casing open at that location and remove so many turns of wire from the stator. The generator would then function properly.
And indeed it did.
Steinmetz was asked what his fee would be. Having no idea in the world what was appropriate, he replied with the absolutely unheard-of answer that his fee was $1,000. Stunned, the GE bureaucracy then required him to submit a formally itemised invoice. They soon received it. It included two items:
1. Marking chalk "X" on side of generator: $1.
2. Knowing where to mark chalk "X": $999.
Knowing where to put the "X" is the essence of the process of making architecture, as with many other professions.
It is this simple knowledge, learned early at TAC and MIT, which has led me along a broad path of architecture in a wider context. My old teacher, Walter Gropius, said many years ago: "The how is more important than the what," and thirty years later Bernard Tschumi asserted: "There is no architecture without the event." Both seem to sanction the idea of the pre-eminence of process in architecture.
Since the announcement of the Gold Medal, I have been asked by journalists, "What do you
|Above University of Baghdad by TAC. Model. |
think of the work you have been involved in?" "You must be excited to see this work standing," they say. I have to say, "No. What excites me is the new work, the work in progress, the event, the challenge, the process."
Architecture maintains itself as a discipline by institutionally recognising certain people who have been trained and conditioned in a certain way. This structure legitimises our productions and excludes all others. Indeed, within architecture, the idea of an omniscient author is especially strong. This is also reflected in our culture - "God, the great architect of the universe".
Perhaps historically, this concept of individual authorship is a measure of the authority we have found it necessary to assert in order to get anything accomplished in what is, inevitably, a collective process involving many different disciplines. For much of my career, however, I have believed and promoted another way, which I believe is better (but certainly not easier) - collaboration.
There are different approaches to collaboration. In last year’s Hook address Richard Leplastrier said: "Architecture is symphonic in the way it works. Its like a great symphony orchestra - you have all these levels which have to be brought together - in a great spirit that brings the best out of everybody."
Whilst in some ways I like the metaphor, it implies the need for a conductor who interprets the meaning of the work and controls the output. I prefer the image of the string quartet or the jazz group with each player contributing and receiving inspiration to produce a collective work that is greater than the sum of its parts.
To me, collaboration is the idea of multiple authorship, of multiple voices, some of which may be architects, some not. The idea, as Gropius said, "that architecture is a collective art". The figure of the architect, in the sense I mentioned earlier, begins to disappear here. It is replaced by a kind of group consensus, a collective intuition. Collaboration is an attitude of mind. Bringing people to that way of thinking is not always easy; maintaining it over time requires conscious effort.
Firstly, we need to develop a high level of mutual understanding - a common language. Secondly, we need to develop mutual respect ? to ensure there are no winners or losers. If we were to believe only in survival through competition and if the winner is pre-occupied always with winning he may find himself on a mountain he would otherwise never have climbed. Let me expand a little on those two requirements for effective collaboration.
As I said earlier the very need for collaboration derives from the diversity of skills and opinions required in the formulation of our work. Inevitably we find ourselves working in teams with other members whose training and inclination leads them to think and act differently from us. Even after extensive team building efforts we sometimes find that misunderstandings develop. However, we get the job done. This is teamwork, it is not collaboration. Collaboration requires a deeper level of common understanding and purpose - a common language.