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The Deathly Hallows of Architecture

03 Sep 2015


(With apologies and respect to JK Rowling for the original story)



There were once three brothers who had embarked upon their chosen, treacherous, winding road to becoming architects. None of the three were brilliant, yet equally, none were stupid – for they represented the vast majority of the architectural profession.



During their final year out in practice they were designing their first building when the deep waters of recession threatened to sweep away their hard work. However, these brothers were learn-ed in the magical arts of architecture and simply wielded their magic retractable pencils, iPads and copies of The Architects Guide to Running a Job and ensured their PI Insurance bridged over the tempest, enabling them to cross to the completion of the project.  However, as they were filling in the Practical Completion forms they found their path blocked by a hooded, mysterious figure - Recession.



And Recession spoke to them. He felt cheated. He was angry that he had missed out on three new victims - for architects often perished in the maelstrom of recession. But Recession was cunning. He pretended to congratulate the brothers upon their magic and said that each had earned a prize for having been clever enough to evade him.



So the older brother, who was a competitive, goal-orientated man, asked for a wand more powerful than any in existence; a wand that could undercut any fee bid, a wand that could master all known software (including AutoCAD Revit 2016) and one that could gain planning permissions for even the largest, ugliest buildings - a wand worthy of an architect who had conquered Recession. So Recession crossed to a nearby elder tree and fashioned a wand in the shape of a Silver Montblanc Fountain pen, and gave it to the eldest brother.



Then the second brother, who was an arrogant man, with an ego the size of a planet, decided that he wanted to humiliate Recession still further, and asked for the power to design every RIBA and Stirling Prize winning building in future. So Recession picked up a magical stone, carved with a diagram of the Golden Section, and gave it to the second brother, and told him that the stone would have the power to win any design competition he entered.



And then Recession turned to the third and youngest brother and asked him what he would like. The youngest brother was the humblest and also the wisest of the brothers, and he did not trust Recession. So he asked for something that would enable him to go forth from that place without being followed by Recession. And Recession, most unwillingly, handed over his very own Cloak of Communication.



And so it was that Recession stood aside and allowed the three brothers to continue on their way to the Part III Gateway Examination. In due course the brothers separated, each for his own destination in the architectural firmament.



The first brother travelled far and wide with large, multi national practices, undercutting fees everywhere he went, designing bigger and uglier buildings, and seeking out the richest clients to work for. With the elder wand he could not fail to win the largest project with the wealthiest client and he sank all his resources into the fight to get it built. Upon winning, the oldest brother inevitably proceeded to a cool, contemporary wine bar, where he boasted loudly of the powerful wand he had snatched from Recession himself, and how it made him invincible. That very night, another jealous architect crept upon the oldest brother as he lay wine-sodden, upon his bed. He took the wand and, for good measure, informed the Architects Registration Board of the eldest brother’s low fee bidding and shady dealings.



And so, Recession took the first brother for his own.



Meanwhile, the second brother journeyed to his own home, where he lived alone in a pure white box with his drawing board and set of Rotring Isograph pens. Here he took out the stone, which had the power to turn all his designs into world-beating, prize winning projects - and he turned it thrice in hand. To his amazement and delight, the RIBA Awards Committee appeared at once before him and bestowed upon him the Stirling Prize for his design of a giant museum dedicated to pointless losing architectural competition entries undertaken for free. Verily, he was pleased. Yet the market for Stirling Prize winning schemes suffered from Recession, and predictably the second brother’s ego wouldn’t allow him to design anything less than a theatre, art gallery or an opera house. The commissions dried up, and finally the second brother, driven mad with hopeless longing, moved to an eco Yurt colony in Llanidloes - for he did not belong in the real world.



And so Recession took the second brother for his own.



But though Recession searched for the youngest brother for many years, he was never able to find him. The Cloak of Communication had given the third brother the power to listen and understand, to translate ideas, to present stories, explain concepts, to reason and persuade, to co-ordinate teams, to mediate arguments, to inspire clients and truly engage with everyone. As a result Recession never caught him, and it was only when he had attained a great age that the youngest brother finally took off the Cloak of Communication and passed it on to his architect daughter. He then greeted Recession as an old friend, and went with him gladly, as equals, together into retirement heaven.



And the moral of this ‘true’ story?



It is that communication, or rather mis-communication, is the cause of the majority of problems in life, and especially throughout the construction industry. The life skills of communication in all its forms underpin everything architects do.  It is the most valuable skill we can learn.



Through communication, architects should be able to tell vivid stories in their designs, by interpreting the invaluable stories of their clients.



Robert Firth is a chartered architect and qualified project manager and currently the President of the Royal Society of Architects in Wales. He acts as a Councillor on the RIBA Council and is a mentor for businesses and entrepreneurs, examiner at architectural schools, seminar speaker and is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Cardiff University. He is also a Fellow at the RSA.



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