Architecture students deserve better than toxic cultures and sleepless nights | Rowan Moore

The Bartlett, one of the country’s most prestigious schools of architecture, part of University College London, is the subject of a damning report. Created by investigative firm Howlett Brown, it found evidence of bullying, racism, sexual harassment and a “boys’ club” of employees shielding one another from complaints. Allegations were reported that a “senior executive” mocked, humiliated and verbally abused female students and made sexist comments towards them. The Bartlett, the report said, suffered from “decades of toxic culture.”

There may be classes for teaching and practicing architecture on a larger scale. Both have long been prone to a hero complex in which the cause of great architecture is so exalted that almost no sacrifice can be made too much for its name. Students are encouraged to work impossible hours and endure nights without sleep. They then have to present their work in sessions known as “crits” in front of fellow students, to be praised or dismembered by their teachers and eminent guest critics.

This culture is carried into practice where the price of working in glamorous practices has often been impossible hours for low pay. Customers, too, might be expected to pay the price for ingenuity; Some of the most admired works in architectural history are houses whose costs drove their owners to the brink of bankruptcy and whose malfunctions drove them to despair. The ultimate winners were the architects who rose to fame and made history, but there is much human debris along the way.

It’s important to distinguish specific instances of abuse at Bartlett (and, as will likely turn out, other schools) from a broader culture, but given an extreme imbalance of power between star architects and enslaved students, it’s easy to see how, man could encourage the other. One can only hope that a more humane profession will emerge.

Listed Litter

The last phone booths in New York City are removed.
The last phone booths in New York City are removed. Photo: Erik Pendzich/REX/Shutterstock

The last phone booth in New York has been removed. This would be sad news for Clark Kent, who has nowhere else to go in Superman, and for those nostalgic for all the movie detectives and desperate lovers who yelled important news on blustery streets while shoveling loose change into phone slots. But the stalls have finally gone the way of carrier pigeons and telegrams.

In the UK we are nowhere near that stage, partly because many buildings are listed as examples of the famous red K2 and K6 telephone boxes, introduced from 1926 and 1936 respectively. Instead, their owner BT leaves them to rot, with fading paintwork, broken windows and floors filled with litter, possibly to provide a reason for their removal. This would be a neglect of BT’s responsibility as custodians of historical structures, but it could make sense. The K2 and K6 were designed to clean up the mess caused by the first appearance of less tidy and elegant stands. Now these superfluous objects, even when well cared for, are clutter themselves.

state of the nation

Looking ahead: historian Eric Hobsbawm.
Looking ahead: historian Eric Hobsbawm. Photo: Wesley/Getty Images

A friend sent me something about the state of Great Britain. “A parasitic rather than a competitive economy…” it says, “the best country in the world to be rich and leisurely: a place for foreign millionaires to buy property.” It rings true. The only thing is that it was published by historian Eric Hobsbawm in his 1968 industry and empire and described the years before the First World War. Not much seems to have changed since the century.

Rowan Moore is the Architectural Correspondent for The Observer

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