The future of Britain’s built environment rests not only with her architects, but with the power structures in place to facilitate the procurement and realisation of quality architecture. It is these weakly directed and largely ineffective political mechanisms, it has been argued, that are currently stifling architectural practice in this country. In order for this situation to be rectified, an understanding of their inner logics is required, with the hope that a new architectural power structure will emerge to lead a new architectural discourse focussed upon the realities of contemporary society and culture.
> Complex Power
The relationship between institutional power and architectural practice in Britain is a complicated affair. To comprehend the complex interactions between them, one must possess a full understanding of procurement policies, political structures, and the objectives & methodologies of government, along with the impact of our rapidly changing social, cultural and demographic patterns nationwide. Due to the increasing heterogeneity of society, architectural power in Britain has become increasingly dislocated from the real issues affecting society and architectural discourse.
|+ State as Client to the Client State: UK architectural power diagram [image courtesy of James K. Thorp 2009]|
> Power Complex
Changes in social structures demand corresponding changes in the architectural power structure in Britain. Absolute power in British architectural practice resides with a select few individuals, namely the deputy prime minister, royal family, city mayors and the political elite. This has traditionally always been the case, but modern society’s many facets and complexities require a much more pragmatic, strong and coherent power structure within architecture to effectively pursue a prosperous post-industrialised future for Britain. The power of these individuals is granted to them via social and political position, and is ultimately maintained through a combination of strategy and positive media relations. British architectural power is driven by entrepreneurial interests and economic incentives rather than the more pressing issues of cultural significance, ecological sustainability and social equality. In the end, government responsibility in architectural practice is subservient to the whims of the market, to the extent that the vast majority of British architects have been alienated from meaningful participation and debate within architecture.
|+ State as Client to the Client State: architect as mediator diagram [CTW 2009]|
> Architect as Mediator
In contemporary practice, the role of the architect has become one of mediation – a point of exchange and synchronisation between the numerous stakeholders within society. As active professionals, architects are uniquely positioned to feed back issues from the ground to policy makers, and vice versa, to create architecture that is simultaneously meaningful and socially responsible. Bottom-up power is not to be feared, however. It is not as slow or messy as the current system of ineffective interaction between market forces and hopeless governmental mechanisms of political power. However, due to the minefield that is the current legislation and policies governing architectural practice, architects are increasingly unable to deliver. Policy and legislation are over-due an overhaul. A more proactive and pragmatic power structure is required, with vigorous leadership and direction, to enable architectural practice to steer a course towards a more responsible and coherent built environment.