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Shuttleworth Labels Architects "Absolute Bastards"

It’s almost as if Ken Shuttleworth has taken inspiration from my very own pseudonym…

The founder of Make Architects — a former right-hand man of Sir Norman Foster — thrust his inner "Angry Architect" into the limelight this week, deriding his peers as “arrogant and egotistical,” and accusing them of “taking all the credit” for the work of engineers. His extraordinary tirade was delivered to an audience of 700 engineers, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) was met with cheers.

As The Independent reports, Shuttleworth even resorted to expletives in a rather Gehry-esque fashion: He labeled architects “absolute bastards” and accused starchitects of taking over with “their dazzling shirts, their big watches, and their big, pointy, shiny erections.” Wow.

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The man himself. Via Architect's Journal

Now, I like a good rant as much as the next architect, but Shuttleworth’s outburst appears to contain numerous fallacies, not to mention some of the most outrageous generalizations since Gehry’sinfamous ‘98%’ moment. He has since defended his cantankerous quips, claiming that the speech was a “tongue-in-cheek” attempt to provoke engineers into “stepping up to the mark.”

An interesting strategy, but one that will undoubtedly be misrepresented across the world through the hysterical lens of the watching media. Now, whilst I may be playing right into Shuttleworth’s hands here, there is nothing like a rambunctious retort to stoke the fires of debate. Accordingly, here are five stereotypes spouted by the self-proclaimed “rebel architect” — and the reasons why they are just plain wrong.

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1. Architects “take all the credit” from engineers.

Perhaps Shuttleworth was speaking from experience, but statistics show that the most successful firms are those that value architectural design and engineering on equal terms. In Building Design’s World Architecture 100 — a definitive list of the planet’s largest firms — five of the top ten promote engineering as a core sector of their organization, including the top two firms, Aecom and Nikken Sekkei. This hints at the possibility that working together might actually prove fruitful… just a thought, Ken.

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2. Architects are “arrogant.”

Shuttleworth’s stab at the supposed pretension of the Profession was a tired cliché, not to mention being a gross generalization that tars every architect on the planet with the same brush as Frank Gehry — and even he apologized after his bad day in Spain. Here’s the thing: I have just as many grievances about the cult of "starchitecture" as Ken Shuttleworth, but for me, his biggest mistake was to get personal. Taking shots at the work of big architectural firms is one thing — criticism can be valuable when well-founded — but attacks on the collective character of an entire industry is unlikely to advance the conversation, save for giving the tabloid press something to dig their claws into.

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3. Architects are “egotistical.”

Of course, there are plenty of egotistical people in the world, and some of them are architects; Ken himself could be accused of possessing such a trait, quarreling with Mr. Foster over the authorship of some of London’s most prominent landmarks. However, lest we forget, "starchitects" tend to rise to prominence due to their work rather than their personality, and the media are surely far more responsible for thrusting Hadid, Gehry, and Libeskind into the limelight rather than focusing on the contents of their portfolios.

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4. Architects are obsessed with creating “big, pointy, shiny erections.”

Shuttleworth was undoubtedly having some fun with this comment, which comes straight from the mouth of the lead architect behind St. Mary Axe in London, otherwise known as the “Erotic Gherkin.” Again, this is a dated assumption that does not factor in the rising popularity of low-rise, high-density proposals in urban settings. Heck, even when skyscrapers are called for, they’re rarely pointy and shiny these days: Last year’s A+ Award Winners in the high-rise categories came in a vast array of different shapes and sizes, all with one thing in common: great design.

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5. Starchitects wear “big watches and dazzling shirts.”

This sentiment is, without a doubt, preposterous: Everyone knows that we wear black and only black. Interestingly, when wading through oceans of images on the Internet to find an architect who may actually be dressed in the attire that Shuttleworth described, I stumbled across just one: this portrait of Ken’s former boss, Norman Foster. Perhaps this is a sign Shuttleworth has been tainted by his own personal experiences working in the upper echelons of the profession, but please, Ken: don’t make us all suffer as a result of your painful past!

It’s worth noting that one of the first people to placate Shuttleworth was a Professor of civil engineering: Tim Ibell, a lecturer at the University of Bath, pointed out that “great buildings rely on great architecture and great engineering in equal measure.”

You couldn't write this script. What on earth is the next headline going to be? ‘Architect Paints Optimistic Picture of a Collaborative Future?’

We can but hope…

Yours controversially,

The Angry Architect