Authors Changing Authority -Part II

“Once a social context has become destabilized, writing will help to introduce emergent and competing alternatives (representations) and thereby introduce and stabilize the emerging system.  In such a context, written communication can become highly strategic, controversial, and negotiated at various levels as agents pursue competing and diverse representations.”
Brenton Faber, “Writing and Social Change” 2008.

I began the last article at the first ‘transition’ of communication systems: from oral to written, which happened about 5000 years ago; and I ended up somewhere around the second recognised transition, toward the printing press and the expansion of literacy from its monastic custodians, to scholars, and then the professions.

This post will be about the third transition -which we find ourselves amidst- from print to “computer-mediated” communication, and like the last post, I’ll specifically address how this might be played out in professional and organisation structures.  To cap it off, I’ll explain the empowering usefulness of “critical discourse analysis”, which essentially deals with the analysis and scrutiny of ‘discourses’ (conversations, texts, documents) in order to understand that ‘discursive context’ (ie, when you ‘talk shop’), making it possible to enact change using language, and texts –written by authors.

The reason I’m personally interested in this, as I alluded to in the first part, is that I am undertaking research in the methods of change in the institutions which are responsible for architectural education.

I’ll pick things up again around 1980, when commercial and professional environments undergo massive change because of the implementation of computer processing.  New workplace patterns emerge such as multi-authored documents, non-sequential writing, and multi-modal writing (hand-written and digital working documents), each with particular effects on authors.

Multi-authored documents (such as complicated proposals for funding) could be written non-sequentially (writing in independant segments, rather than start-to-finish) and collaboratively (often having very little contact with collaborators).  Importantly, these authors begin to perceive of their audience (readers) differently, and they begin losing their sense of possessive authorship (ownership).  They realise they are writing for their editor, rather than the targeted audience, which gives rise to an increase in ‘nominalisations’ (vague, generic, ‘normal’ terms) which flood commercial and institutional texts.  They became the mission statements, company bi-lines and corporate banners that make you feel like you’ve read something important.

“What We Stand For: Our Core Beliefs and Values
• Objectivity is the substance of intelligence, a deep commitment to the customer in its forms and timing.”

That’s from the CIA, a gem plucked out by Don Watson in his book ‘Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language’.  He lays out the best nominalisations: accountability, teamwork, commitment, continuous improvement, adapting to our customer needs… blah blah blah.

What is important though –and is an incredible achievement of the corporate world– is that this device became remarkably powerful.  A survey of ‘average’ writers in a corporate environment were found to actually increase the frequency and use of nominalisations when they were addressing or writing for a more senior member of management, or important clients.  When they wrote for an audience ‘below’ their level, they used less.  Ambiguity meant power.

This is reflected in professional rhetoric when a survey of 200 medical articles (across 10 years, by J.Z. Segal, 1993) reveals that authority is obtained through the high use of citation and nominalisations.  This is probably very familiar to anybody who attempts to read formal academic writing in any discipline. You’ll recognise it as ‘wank’, or in the corporate world, as ‘bullshit’.

“Over the coming twelve months we will be enhancing our product offering to bring you new features and access to innovative funds. You can be confident that our commitment is resolute, to make changes that investor’s (sic) value. -Insurance company newsletter.”
This is how Don Watson kicks off his book. Brilliant.

Authors Writing for Change

Authors are empowered by writing, making it possible to enact social change.  This is a position that ‘critical discourse analysis’ makes possible, arguing that by writing we not only reflect social systems, but continually reconstitute them.

“Legally, but also socially and culturally, modern organiszations and professions are the products of written communication.” Faber, 270.

If authors understand the type of writing they’re doing, and ‘where’ they are doing it, they can subversively effect change, by constructing a type of authority.  I think the type of authorship (and authority) I’m talking about now relates to the older term auctor (discussed in the previous article) because it is more about ‘allowing something to grow’, ‘enlarging’, which is also connected to augere (‘to augment’).  Authors plant subversive seeds of change within existing texts or organisations when they are destabilized, to augment change from within -even if they are originally external to them.

“Once a social context has become destabilized, writing will help to introduce emergent and competing alternatives (representations) and thereby introduce and stabilize the emerging system.  In such a context, written communication can become highly strategic, controversial, and negotiated at various levels as agents pursue competing and diverse representations.” -Faber, 271.

Conveniently, Brenton Faber explains this process using the recent commodification of higher education as a case study.  Through the 1990s, Universities were struggling with their image, they could not clearly say (or write) what it was that they did, and so the ‘system’ became destabilised from a discursive point of view, as well as a very practical one.  What happened was a ‘transitional change’ from a sophistic and rhetoric based structure, to a corporate and capitalistic one.  It is succinctly captured by the phrase “education market.”

So how does ‘discursive change’ actually work at a practical level?  Essentially the agent or new author subversively engages in the discourse by hybridising a new genre of language with the old one.  The new language (which is actually in conflict with the old one) is carefully choreographed to be palatable to the existing members of the organisation (otherwise it will be rejected outright), and is then steadily grown or augmented.  The process is so powerful because the instability of the structure is precisely the rationale for the implementation of a new structure, which is administered through discourse.

“…this concept of transitional change occurs in increments or linked steps as prior existent knowledge is disrupted and eventually displaced by small additions that ultimately build into new formations.” Faber, 270.

Faber points out the remarkable clarity of the current Higher Education “co-hyponyms”, which cleverly make new words interchangeable with old ones, even though their meanings and implications are completely different:

knowledge becomes skills, and competencies
students become retailers
facilities become resources
administration become management
education becomes training.

The rationale for this change is hard to argue against, as it coincided with massive governmental pressure on University funding.  The resulting corporate commodification of Higher Education becomes a stronger discourse to defend, ironically, by implementing a discourse based on strategic ambiguity and the absence of precision (Faber, 275 from Connell and Galasinksi, 1998)
The exemplar nominalisation becomes “excellence”.

This is not a pessimistic article.  Critical discourse analysis offers an empowering strategy of discursive wariness, because it recognises (and argues) that these contested structures (which is sometimes calls genre’s or orders of discourse) are formal, everyday, and most importantly improvisational.  As I began, and as discourse theory upholds, writing reflects and constitutes social systems.  It is a fluid structure, which is continually contested, and is subject to community regulation, making it a powerfully democratic system, so long as its members are not subversively suppressed.

Authors Changing

The current transition to, and maturing of ‘computer-mediated’ communication is obviously significant for the author, and for my subject of interest, architecture education.  Systems and practices which attempt to stabilise discourses (whether they are rules, policy, curricula, accreditation criteria) seem to be under a cultural pressure (maybe what Faber calls community regulation) to adapt to practices which undermine their perceived stability, such as versioning, hypertext, blogging, crowd-funding, print-on-demand, and unprecedented degrees of collaborative writing (Wikipedia).

Institutions are slow-moving beasts though, with a stubborn vocabulary, and even the pups are complicit. Architects for example, somehow remain solitary authors, despite ridiculous odds, even despite themselves.

In a Studio session held at a well known architects office yesterday, two students referred to one of the office’s projects as being by the office’s Director (after whom the office is named), the name was even used in the possessive sense of ‘his building’, luckily the namesake wasn’t in the room, unluckily two other –completely unacknowledged– senior architects in the office were. Cringe.  I also heard an architect (at University) describe buildings with no more information than the office who designed them, “His Building”.  Authorship (dubious in the case of a building anyway) in this case was more important than programme, scale, or any description. Cringe.  The audience was not only expected to know what office they were talking about (acronyms and abbreviations are commonplace), but to know exactly what buildings they had designed.  I suspect we were also supposed to be impressed by the speakers knowledge (and our relative stupidity), which is another great strategy for protecting a body of knowledge.
Ironically, my silence so far in both of these situations is complicit to the discourse I pretend to be resisting, because “it is important to acknowledge that disciplinarity per se does not rest on a commonly accepted body of rules, but rather is definied by shifting frontiers between negotiable terms, appropriations, misunderstandings and misalignments that nevertheless allow certain identities to emerge.
-Architecture and Authorship. 2007

It seems important then, for myself at least, to understand a discourse like ‘architecture education’ and ‘the architecture profession’ more thoroughly, and become both adept and acrobatic in its everyday negotiation and improvisation.  If only to be more wary, strategically wanky, and honest about my bullshit, because everybody’s shit stinks.

I have essentially summarised ideas from the following articles, most of which are in Bazerman’s fantastic reader.  My referencing above does not do them justice at all, in fact I am more of an ‘editor’ than an author here, but I suspect you would rarely picked up a book with so many vague and possibly boring words in the title, so I felt obliged to share what I think are quite relevant ideas, particularly as a Freeranger.
Reading Material:

“History of the Book, Authorship, Book Design, and Publishing” by David Finkelstein, in:
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text.
Edited by Charles Bazerman.  Taylor & Francis, 2008.

Anne Beaufort, “Writing in the Professions” in
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text. 2008

Dorothy E. Smith, Catherine F. Schryer, “On Documentary Society” in
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text. 2008

Brenton Faber, “Writing and Social Change” in
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text. 2008

Architecture and Authorship
Edited by Tim Anstey, Katja Grillner, Rolf Hughes. Black Dog Publishing, 2007

Death Sentence: The decay of public language
Don Watson. Knopf, 2003.


Authors Constructing Authority

Books have always been directly associated with authority and power.  The history of the ‘book’, their authors, and their authority is a small thread of a larger project about professional institutions and the ways they instrumentalise authorship and authority to obtain certain goals, in the case of my research: changing architecture education.  Over the next two blogs (the follow-up will come tomorrow), I’ll discuss some reading I’ve been doing on the history of the book, and then apply this to some contemporary contexts in the hope of understanding a little bit more about institutional authority, and the practice of writing for change.

My recent reading (I wont get into footnoting with any rigour, rather I have a few books listed at the end which I’ve been looking at) started out pretty predictably, looking historically at the rise of the book and any association it might have with authority and professions.

Things kicked off between 3000BC and 3500 in Egypt and Sumeria, when the first ‘shift’ occurs from an oral to a written system of communication.  This signals a shift to a specific type of mark-making (recording of certain information), which these researchers (Bazerman et al -see below) link primarily to economic trade, ownership, and eventually politics rather than a narrative or literary need.  So for example, if you were going to swap some goats with Osiris, you could record the trade, and claim new ownership.  This was useful as things were getting more complicated in ‘urban’ (more populous) areas with sophisticated agricultural development and trade.  Recorded ‘writing’ becomes an encoded way to make a power play, and uphold it.

So quite predictably, I also delve into some etymological research in an attempt to understand the seemingly obvious connection between the words author and authority.
It seems that the Latin-to-French auctor is the fork in the road of the two, happening around the 12C.  The older Latin root auctoritas connects to the idea of an ‘authority figure’, with terms like ‘invention’, ‘advice’ and ‘influence’ being significant.  It wouldn’t be until the 14C that the meaning ‘power to enforce obedience’ would be used, such as auctorite (prestige, dignity, gravity, right), and autorite (the ‘c’ dropped to imitate the French usage) referring to a book or quotation that would settle an argument – which fits in with the uptake of literacy and reading by acadmia/scholarship in the 12C, and the ‘professions’ in the 13C.

On the author side of auctor, the Latin root auctorem, and with it, auctus and augere refer to ‘one who causes to grow (eventually ‘augment’) or increase, an ‘enlarger’ or ‘founder’.  By the 14C it is used in the common sense as ‘one who sets forth a written document’ (coming after the two mentioned expansions of literacy in liberated (secular) scholarship and commercial professions).

Until the advent of the printing press in the 15C, the written word is sacred.  Protected by monasteries during the Dark Ages (a mighty innings from the 5C to the 11th) the practice of writing and publishing is carefully and skillfully upheld for centuries.  The practice becomes increasingly specialised, with spaces (scriptoria) and specialists dedicated to calligraphy, others to script, others to binding, and so on.  If there was ‘authorship’ (as we know it now), it would be described as collective, with little status accorded to any individual.

To reproduce – to replicate a text – was an exacting and esteemed task, reserved for the most significant words.  Clearly inherited from the status of oratory performance, the word itself held almost mystical power. The recording of the written word therefore is understandably volatile and daring, laying down such weight was an immensely powerful tool.

In 1448, the Gutenberg press rips it apart, to their disgust and imaginable disapproval.  Like Victor Hugo, they cried that this shall kill that.  Within 50 years the printing press has spread across Europe.  The Crown and Tudors got amongst it in the UK where they suppressed “seditious and heretical literature” by essentially controlling the publishing market for a couple of hundred years until the 1700s: an early (or the first?) attempt to monopolise the printed media for political gain.

From here print essentially internationalises.  News, events, (Bibles and newspapers for the colonies -New Zealand for example was printing by 1814, with an expanded programme of newspapers by the 1840s) spread the world much faster and in greater volume, and literary culture becomes increasingly central in the development of societies and nation-states around the world.

“Printing engaged writers in a manner that was different from previous scribal activity. It also undermined previous social beliefs in authorship as part of an established, collective authority – no longer were they merely cogs in an ecclesiastical wheel.”

This “preoccupation with the individualised authorial agency” signals a crucial shift in the practice of authors in the construction of authority.

“Printing shifted communication structures by being able to duplicate exact copies of texts very quickly, so allowing knowledge to be transferred more efficiently and more reliably across time and space. In the second place, this “fixing” of print would become a key factor in establishing authority and trust in the figures (authors) who produced these works.” -Finkelstein.

Tomorrow’s bit will drag this through the last hundred years of authorship and authority.

Some reading:

“History of the Book, Authorship, Book Design, and Publishing” by David Finkelstein, in:
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text.
Edited by Charles Bazerman.  Taylor & Francis, 2008.

The Book History Reader, 2nd Edition

Edited by David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery.

New York: Routledge, 2006 (2002)

Architecture and Authorship
Edited by Tim Anstey, Katja Grillner, Rolf Hughes. Black Dog Publishing, 2007

And for a bit of theory, you can’t go passed Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” (1967), and Michel Foucault’s reply “What is an Author?” (1968 I think), who both contribute significantly to the theoretical and socio-cultural analysis of the idea.



Congress Book

This is the first attempt to document the amazing history of student architecture congress that has run from 1963 (ish) till today.  The event has moved around New Zealand, Australia, and PNG and amazing survived without any overarching parent organization while attracting some of the worlds most interesting speakers and architects.

This book is the hurried result of research gathered over the last few weeks (and in a way the last few years, and decades), which sets out to remind stu-dents who are attending Flux, in Adelaide in 2011, that student-led Congress has a long and marvel-lously incohesive (and sometimes incoherent) history in Australasia. It dates back – at least we think – to 1963, when some New Zealand students invited Aldo van Eyck to Auck-land to talk about the Social Aspects of New Housing. An organised mass gathering of architecture students has happened somewhere around New Zealand or Australia at least thirty times since.This modest & messy booklet is the start of a larger project to more coherently collect and productively re-flect on the residue of Congress in Australasia. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have.

Click here for free download


Coming Home & The View Back

I flew back toward Home recently, on an airplane at about 850km/h, at about 8km off the ground.  I’ve found myself in the air a fair bit recently, with that ritualised placelessness made most obvious when flying internationally.  An idea I pondered when first flying from Copenhagen to Wellington in 2007 (after a six month stay) was whether I truly felt that I was going ‘back’ home, or ‘toward’ somewhere ‘next’.  I hoped excitedly it was the latter, but I don’t think it worked like that.  Then I left again.  Now, after two years away from New Zealand, I begin to believe and feel more authentically that I come ‘back’ to Melbourne now, sort of.

So as I sat there hurtling through the sky above the Tasman Sea, I watched Through the Wormhole, a TV-documentary series, cooly narrated by Morgan Freeman.

The episodes I watched covered two subjects that I realised were relevant to my thoughts about Home, and Abroad.  The first revisited the creation of our Home, otherwise known as the Big Bang theory; the second took a stab at the question of life outside Planet Earth, the ultra-Abroad.


Coming Home, 250 metres per second.

Home(s) with 11 Dimensions.

The first question raised, scientifically, wondered how stable the current theory of the Big Bang could really be, because it seems very difficult to explain or justify that there simply was Nothing prior to it.  It also raised the likelihood of the Multiverse, where ours might not be the only Home.

“Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.”

-King Lear, Act 1.1

“From nothing comes life”

-Apostle Paul, apparently.

One alternative theory to the Big Bang makes an analogy to an analogue watch, which ticks (the second-hand makes a discreet movement), then pauses, before repeating a discrete movement. In this model, the Big Bang (which in itself, as a massive, unbelievably uniform distribution of energy is not really disputed) occurs at the pause, which mathematically represents a nothingness.  Hence our current Universe is the ticking of a second-hand, to eventually arrive (i can’t remember how far we are through, but maybe passed-half, explaining the Universe’s alleged slowing speed of expansion) at nothingness again, and then Bang Bigly again.  Not too fancy, and sort of understandable.

The second alternative gets a bit trippy, and is only fathomable, maybe, to the three dudes that came up with it. M-Theory which is thoroughly not understandable, incorporates the super-string theory, with its 10-dimensionality, and adds time, to make an 11-dimensional fuckoff theory of how the Universe works.  The authors of this theory propose that membranes exist, called P-branes (mmhm), which are multidimensional objects (it can have 0 to 9 dimensions), which something something something (if I copy in Wikipedia it wont make sense anyway).  If String Theory’s account of the Universe is analogous to a body of water (continuous, fluid, and very messy, but accountable on a micro-level), M-Theory (I think) speculated that the Big Bang was more like a ripple, caused by two of these multi-dimensional P-branes colliding, sending a massive, but dissipating force out from the point of contact (explaining in its own way the slowing speed of the Universe’s expansion).  The animated diagram showed two shaky blobby masses (two Universes I guess) slowly colliding, and bouncing back. They also said these P-branes could be as little as 10cm away from us (meaning the 4-dimensional realm we can fathom), at which point I stopped trying to get it, but went, “hmmmmmm.”

And so I wondered who the other-dimensional being was that might be 10cm away from my lacklustre 4-dimensional cognitive ability, and whether he already knew about me, and could fathom me, and maybe, could ‘see’ me, and my Home.  I was glad we were both at Home (dimensionally speaking), and were wondering about the Other.

At which point, I realised how close theoretical physics is to various spiritual experiences.  It is not hard at all to imagine enlightenment, transcendence, and angels as useful analogies of such multi-dimensional being.  I have considerably little experience in either field of study/practice, so can’t really go deeper into the thought, so will keep it as a (public) thought.

The View Back

The second episode covered the usual base of the search for extra-terrestrial life forms, namely the work of the SETI Institute [Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence] .  Rather than zealous alien hunters, the SETI Institute’s Mission is “to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe” which seems pretty useful and profound.  It also resonated with my thoughts about Place and being-an-Other.

It’s become scientifically well-known that the existence of living organisms as we know them on Earth is the result of a microscopically, unbelievably unlikely chemical coincidence, which is so unlikely that it makes for a pro-God arguing point.  The phenomenally low probability that there is life at all (on Earth in our case) has a few scientists thinking the scary thought that, shit, maybe we are alone. Beautifully, these scientists reassure us that our yearning for knowledge and the study of Life and our Home is only made more precious by this position.

The ways we are looking for life is really what hooked me, particularly when the reverse notion was tabled: if someone was looking for us, would they see us?  Our first radio-waves (with any considerable strength) were sent out around the sixties, at the usual pace of 186,000 m/s.  Unfortunately, these messages have covered only a microscopic distance in astrological terms (about 50cm of 10km) to the nearest Solar System, and only 50cm to the equivalent of Mars in terms of reaching the edge of the known Universe.  That’s a bit disheartening, but when we start photographing space, we are fortunately more effective.

I don’t understand how precisely, but developing from the Doppler Effect (where the appearant frequency of (light/electromagnetic) waves are effected by relative movement and gravity) we are able to map distant solar systems, and even now, their planets, and even their size, gravitational field, and chemical composition of their atmospheres.  Apparently, the most effective way to search for signs of intelligent life is to look for something un-natural, a disturbance in the known laws of physics and chemistry.  Scientists are well aware that they may not be looking for humanoid life (especially when you start thinking about the small fraction of time that our ‘bodies’ have been around on Earth, and the haste with which they are changing with technological extensions/appendages), so what they are actually looking for is a trace.  It might be on the scale of a Solar System, or it might be an atmospheric anomaly.  Then they really flipped me out, by declaring that the best trace of our intelligent life is global warming.  Our strongest astrological beacon is the horrendous trampling of our ecological equilibrium.

It’s a funny one really, right now I don’t know where to go with it.

It does seem to somehow tap sharply at a part of me, a part that wonders about the nature of our dwelling here, on our Home.  I guess I’m just naturally curious what that inter-dimensional dude might be thinking, whether he’s on the next P-brane, or in the same Universe, wandering what the atmospheric anomaly might mean, if anything.


The Unaccounted

A cross-posting to re:speak, but there’s a freerange under-current to my thoughts on the survey below, which documents the trajectory of architecture graduates in New Zealand who seem to be disappearing from the coutnries official Register of Architects.

Some background to familiarise you with the architecture profession in NZ.  In NZ, practicing as an Architect (to design, document, consult on, manage contracts with, administer contracts, and supervise the construction of buildings) is legally protected by the Registered Architects Act (2005), which essentially ensures that Registered Architects comply to ethical, professional and quality standards in their practice, ensuring that when you employ a Registered Architect (or simply ‘Architect’ -which is also covered by this Act) you can expect a professional service (like a registered Nurse, licensed Doctor or Lawyer, etc etc).  You can of course participate in the construction and design of the built environment without being a registered architect, and there are organisations which represent these designers (like ADNZ, Architectural Designers New Zealand Inc) -but like I say, you can’t call yourself an Architect.  Anyhow, if say, like me, you get the idea you want to be an architect when you grow up, and your twelve, you study physics and maths, and maybe design, or art, at highschool, and you look at going to one of our three schools, because to become an Architect, you need to get a recognised Degree (now a Masters of Architecture -used to be a 5yr Bachelor Degree) from an accredited programme (accredited by the Australasian Architecture Schools Association, who are in line with the International Union of Architects – but the whole accreditation thing is another story – needless to say, they have to tick their disciplinary boxes.   So, with your degree in-hand, and presuming you still want to be an Architect [this is where my story deviates], you must prepare yourself for the Registration Examination, which grants you the coveted place on the Register.  A prerequisite for this exam is at least 140 hours of practice experience, all categorised/allotted across a number of areas of competency (and there are MANY), and other documented cases which exemplify your skills and capability of being an architect, and you have to satisfy a committee at interview, and you have to have some money to pay for the application fee (incidentally, this fee tripled recently).  Anyway, if you employ a Registered Architect, they are guaranteed to be an on-to-it muthafucka.

So the discussion below is based around a survey recently published which looks at the activity of architecture graduates and the architects register for the last 20 years, as well as looking at gender, and also throws in some stats on membership to the architects representative institution, the NZIA.

It’s a very nice survey, with some really interesting outcomes, you can download it too, see the links below.

There are a few lines of trickery or subversion which have been alluded to in another post, regarding how one is active in our wonderful discipline/practice, but one statistical outcome which I am glad to have my hands on now – so that I can ponder more accurately – is that only 24% of the total architecture graduates between 1987 and 2008 are now on the Architects Register.  Its a loaded stat, but the author re-estimates a more accurate ‘representative’ figure is maybe 38%.  I’m really interested in the Unaccounted 62%-76%, not so much to dream up elaborate and idealised illegal architects or whatnot, but to consider how this figure could be fed-back to schools who craft their curriculums towards an appreciation of architecture, the professional practice of architects, and a liberal comportment for ethics, representation, craft, discourse, community, etc…

Anyway, that’s a mean preface, here goes:

Errol J Haarhoff, Professor of Architecture at the University of Auckland, has published a new survey of NZ architecture graduates, revealing some great relationships between the architectural institutions of NZ.

“Practice and Gender in Architecture: A survey of New Zealand Architecture Graduates 1987-2008” [] (Auckland University, 2010) extends Haarhoff’s previous, and similar, survey completed in 2001 – and if you’re interested, extends two older surveys of Australasian architecture graduates undertaken by Peter Johnson and Susan Clarke in 1979 and 1987, and supplements Michael Ostwald and Anthony Williams’ comprehensive survey of architecture education across Australasia (see the end of the article for these references).  Fortunately, the study can be downloaded from the NZRAB here [] (look on the left-hand column for the link).

I don’t want to go into a full analysis or discussion of the findings here (but I encourage you to), but I did want to point out a few interesting statistics which I had always wondered about, but never really knew the numbers…

Firstly, and most striking is a comparison Haarhoff makes between graduating (architecture) students and those Registering with the NZRAB (the New Zealand Registered Architects Board [] administers the Registered Architects Act 2005, and maintains the architects register, obviously), and he finds that in 2009, only 24% of graduates (from the 3 NZ schools) are Registered Architects.  Statistically, this is a drop from 30% which was achieved in his 2001 survey.

Clearly this is a complicated statistic.  Firstly, Ostwald and Williams (2008) show a current trend in our schools for international students to make up about 20% of the population, it’s possible a considerable proportion of these students emmigrate upon completion.  Another consideration is that more recent years will obviously drop off in registrations (given the 140 weeks of experience required).  Haarhoff also suggests that the registration itself has changed, especially with the introduction of the 2005 Registered Architects Act.  I won’t communicate the full translation of all that here, but Haarhoff does suggest the ‘real’ figure might be around 38%.

Even so, a quick scan of the results shows that never has more than half of a graduating class registered as an architect.

Haarhoff also goes on to show that even when considering the trail-off of registrations in the last five years (because of the experience required in practice), there is still a significant drop in the proportion of graduates who register, given the fact that the average annual cohort of graduates across NZ hitting the scene has jumped from 115 to 165 (43% increase, most of which is attributed to Unitec’s new programme).

A few more factors are discussed by Haarhoff, namely that graduates may now be progressing through practice careers without feeling the necessity for registration, achieving fulfilling working environments alongside other registered architects.  Another critical aspect which Haarhoff confirms, is that a disproportionate number of females never register (where graduate proportions are approximating 50% – although strangely all three schools show a drop in this over the last 2 years – while only 18% of registered architects are female).

Undiscussed here, but really interesting, is Haarhoff’s more detailed analysis of gender in the profession, as well as some curious insight into membership to the New Zealand Institute of Architects – a really great piece of cross-institutional research (which suggests for example that there are 300 unaccounted Registered Architects who aren’t Architect Members of the NZIA).

Unfortunately -and reasonably, given the breadth and value of this survey- it is still very difficult to trace where the architectural graduates really might be.  This is a piece of research that I think would be very very valuable.  It would be a bit of a headache to find everyone (1,850 of us perhaps), but reasonably empirical right?  I suspect there are a few interesting factors which account for the apparent 76% of us Unregistered (or 62%, or 1,850, by Haarhoff’s conservative figure).

1. We travel overseas.  A million New Zealander’s live outside of New Zealand, which by my proportionate calculations of registered architects to population, means about 440 of those ex-pats could be architects.

2. Recent diversification (or ‘fragmentation’!) in the discipline (in the last decade even) – into urban design, city planning, digital fabricating, and all sorts of hybrid practices, means a fair few may never benefit from registering as architects.

3. We research.  Haarhoff correctly identifies, although never puts a figure on, those who follow academic careers in architecture (or other related disciplines).

4. We change careers.  This one I quite love, and although we can’t all be Italians and imagine studying architecture as a generalist education in worldliness –or more accurately, convince others to– I am pleased that there are architecturally educated peers out there, because I believe there is an ontology, and a discipline to architecture education, something important to Being, which is not necessarily about registering as an architect.

Images are Copyright 2010, Errol J Haarhoff.

Errol J Haarhoff
“Practice and Gender in Architecture: A survey of New Zealand Architecture Graduates 1987-2008” Auckland University, 2010.

Peter Johnson & Susan Clarke.
“Architectural Education in the Commonwealth – A Survey of Schools”
1979 & 1987, University of Sydney.

Michael Ostwald and Anthony Williams’
“Understanding Architectural Education in Australasia”
2008, NSW, ALTC.

Julie Mehretu and exploring the syncretic

Julie Mehretu is an Ethiopian-born artist (from Addis Ababa -coincidental link to a quick post on Freerange on Mulatu Astatke also hailing from Addis Ababa), who advanced her studies in Fine Art in the US and now works and lives in New York (generally).

I am continually drawn to her work, which is not accidentally architectural: she speaks very well on the subject of her work as studies/cosmologies/maps of cities and other tectonic and cultural spaces/structures.  I danced with the idea (and still do, often) of using this work in my architectural research, but whether or not I weave this into an academic enquiry, it remains a formative series of works in my worldview of architecture, and the greater ‘expanded field’ of things/worldliness.

Palimpsest (Old Gods)(Please click to get the super-size-me size).

I’ve recently acquired a monograph ‘Black City’ which is the first to publish a substantial collection of her work, past and present, and it is simply amazing.  I’ve selected a few of my favourites here, but you can view some of her work here, at White Cube who represent her, and here is a video/interview with Mehretu in Berlin, where her latest exhibition ‘Grey Area’ was shown (at the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin) which has now travelled to the Guggenheim New York if you’re there, go see it!

An interpretation that I dallied with for a while, and hope to re-animate in the future, is the notion of syncretism, which refers to an ‘attempt at reconciliation of two opposing or different principles, practices, or parties…’, in my reading and understanding (or at least the part that I enjoy about it) is the idea of an equilibrium which nontheless sustains its aspects of tension. This idea not surprisingly was something that I was reading in architecture schools –my subject of interest– how an academic is responsible for simultaneously critiquing a body of knowledge, whilst disseminating it, or how an architecture student grapples with the hypothetical studio project (with all its fantasy, experimentation, failure, risk etc etc), whilst knowingly attempting to replicate and learn principles of the real world.  They are contradictory objectives, but they have to be maintained.

This is clearly not an idea exclusive to architectural education or architecture or architects, which is why I mentioned my deep interest in this work as a framework or doorway into an expanded field of thinking and being.  The obvious subject of some works in particular address the City, and it is immediately obvious that these works are grappling with the coded, multi-layered, crumbling, ghosting, dynamic, etc etc, representation of the City.  They are both fragmented, but approach wholeness; they surround the void with speeding and violent (or beautiful) mass and lines and points; they are architectural, but never building; they are constructed, of deconstructions; they attempt new meaning by obfuscating prior meaning… and they are huge.  The Seven Acts of Mercy (pictured here) is over 6 metres long, and nearly 3m tall.

I think these works probably explain more about me than I have been able to explain them to you about architecture (or the City), but I still wanted to share.  I’d love to hear from anyone in NY who could make it along to her show, it’s open til October I think.

To Butterfly Brains

The rediscovered poem and accompanying images from David Greene, 2004.

To butterfly brains

Keep your brain like an
Exposed nerve he said
To dreamers and slackers
To workers for the beauty
Of ideas
To prisoners in the
Revolving door between
The room called doubt and
The one named belief
To the slaves who work for
The small triumphs of
You can roll a piece of
Steel any length
To those who prefer the
Parking lot to hypersurface
To those who think a
Traffic jam is a temporary

To the cybernetic park
To those who love the
Crystal before the palace
To those who see the park
As a paradise for learners
Dreaming in the city
Stuffed with objects and
We can dedicate
This park to the birds and
The laptop
To the invisible
Data networks of the modern sky as we smell
The roses
To the imagination of the
Flowers and to the
New blue-tooth cell-phone
Event life into the

David Greene, 2004

Archigram Archive Project might enliven Architectural speculation.

A few years ago now a small bunch of wellington architecture students and recent grads flew up to Auckland, excited by the prospect of a Conference about a radical Architecture Student Congress that happened in the 70s in Auckland.  There are a number of stories that have unraveled from this event, but a particularly memorable presentation that day was from Kate Heron (or was it Sam Hardingham, i can never remember, shamefully) from the University of Westminster, who had been working alongside David Greene -a poet and member of the Archigram group- anyhow, she presented on a particular project called the Invisible University -which we were invited to contribute ideas to (the presentation included a recital of a poem from Greene, which was particularly great, and should probably be posted here…I have it somewhere).

A lasting impression was the excitement that a revitalised and active member of an incredibly famous group (in the architecture community) was to some extent continuing its work some 30 years later, in a reasonably radical way.

Westminster University has just published the Archigram Archival Project online. It is an amazingly comprehensive digital archive of the entire Archigram oeuvre, containing hundreds of projects and thousands of staggering images produced by the group in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

“Almost 10,000 items are included in this archive, including digital versions of drawings, collages, paintings, photographs, magazines, articles, slides and multi-media material, accompanied by original texts by Archigram wherever these are available. Around half of these items belong to the 202 projects currently listed and given project numbers by Dennis Crompton in the Archigram Archives. The rest are supporting and contextual material such as letters, photos, texts and additional projects provided by the depositors.”

What I find interesting given this new availability is the possibility for a renewed enthusiasm and experimentation in architectural representation, especially from the student body, which in large, produces increasingly frigid architectural representations –a tangential discussion to be had relates to the uptake of digital representation in architectural practice, which in my mind is still largely in a state of clumsy infancy in most conventional architecture schools and practices: the uptake seems too excited by production rather then quality-.

What I find interesting is the conceptual and intellectual rigour and consistency applied throughout the body of work, which radically attempted to imagine future conditions for modernity, the city, the suburb (and so on, the breadth is phenomenal), and to a huge extent has been proven as fairly accurate.  Commodity-fetishism, virtual nomads, techno-environmentalism and invisible network cities are just a handful of ideas flooding through the work, which remember, was created when only snippets of these conditions were evident -the mobile phone was really only taken up in the 70s.  In some ways the work might be framed as evolutionary, exploring and fantasizing about the things they saw around them, and developing those aspects they thought would persist.
A few favourites:

Sin Centre

“Entertainments Palace’ on the site of the Empire Theatre, Leicester Square, London. Originally ‘failed’ as student final thesis project at the Regent Street Polytechnic

The Polytechnic failed the scheme and continued to do so several times even after its prominent display at MOMA and published status as an epoch-making and original technic icon.”

This makes me think of the stories heard (in nz…a few years back) of students being failed in final years of study, only to retort that the university wasn’t able to argue its case based on the assessment criteria, and eventually were forced to pass the student under legal presuure.  I wonder what it would take to fail these days, sure you could do it by being crap -maybe, but it would be interesting to see which directions you could take architecture that might be considered un-architectural enough to be denied by the university.  I know I tried… and there’s plenty to be analysed there, but I havn’t been bothered yet.

Plug In University Node

“The University Node was an exercise to discover what happened to the various notions of gradual infill, replacement and regeneration of parts on to a Plug-in City megastructure: but with a specific kind of activity.”

Instant City

“Instant City forms part of a series of investigations into mobile facilities which are in conjunction with fixed establishments requiring expanded services over a limited period in order to satisfy an extreme but temporary problem.”

Sorry about the clumsy formatting, but i like how hungry the images get all over the website.

Love it.