1 / 2013 - criticism

According to the distinguished architecture historian and critic William J. R. Curtis, the critic needs to be alert to the contradictions inherent in the architectural programme, and to ways that architecture can mask hidden political agendas. The critic’s task is to discern quality. The poignant criticiser of contemporary architecture from London, Jeremy Till, says in his interview that sustainability is no longer adequate as a starting point for architecture. He is fascinated by the notion of scarcity, which is something very real and yet produced by the social system. Five Finnish critics, culture journalist Paula Holmila, Director of Alvar Aalto Academy Esa Laaksonen, freelance journalist and architect Riikka Kuittinen, civil activist and politician Tuomas Rantanen, and Editor-in-Chief of Arkkitehti Jorma Mukala, discuss architecture critique in Finland in general while reviewing some selected projects in the Helsinki area. Another perspective to architecture critique is presented by designers. They would like criticism to shift from the current conciliatory tone to being no-nonsense and tough.


The distinguished architecture historian and critic tells about his own points of departure as a critic. Contemporary phenomena cannot be understood without knowledge of the past.

The word ‘criticism’
comes from a Greek word signifying the separation of the good wheat from bad. It is about identifying quality and rejecting the lack of it. In my opinion there are no recipes for criticism. A critic has to have a good eye, informed judgement, a deep culture of architecture and a long historical perspective on the vagaries of contemporary production. In reality there are different modes of criticism and these pass all the way from the careful analysis and evaluation of individual buildings which one regards positively, to the polemical attack against tendencies which one finds counter to the development of an architecture of lasting value, or even down right destructive. When I Iook back over the last few years of my own critical writing in places as varied as the Architectural Review, El Croquis, D’Architectures, El Païs, The Guardian, Il Giornale dell’Architettura and diverse dailies and websites in several languages, I realize that I have covered the whole spectrum.

In the last couple of weeks alone I completed two texts of the first variety for the Architectural Review: one on the Banquetting Marquee at the Restaurant ‘Les Cols’ in Olot (Catalonia, Spain 2011) by RCR Aranda Pigem Vilalta certainly one of the most inventive and moving spaces of contemporary architecture; another on the new Louvre at by SANAA (Lens, France 2012), a work with architectural qualities and faults. On the other hand, the excesses of the star system and pretentious theorising have provided numerous targets in recent years, all the way from the disastrous City of Culture by Peter Eisenman (Santiago de Compostela, Spain, incomplete), to the ‘poisoned mushrooms’ of Jürgen Mayer (Seville, Spain 2011) which destroy and privatise an urban space. One of the functions of critical journalism is to challenge the structures of power and to reveal scandalous operations behind the scenes, for architecture is not created by architects alone and architectural results should be in the public interest.

Whatever the ‘mode’ and whatever the outlet, I attempt to balance up the various factors which influence form. The critic also has the duty to communicate ideas clearly in prose that catches the attention of the reader. This means that nine tenths of what is produced by academia fails to pass the test, being mired in obscurantism and the private codes of irrelevant cabals. Architecture is a complex phenomenon which touches people on many different levels. Buildings may fuse together ideas and forms, images and materials, function and structure, social myths and poetic spaces. They occupy time in complex ways, crystallizing a present, transforming diverse pasts, anticipating unknown futures. Architecture is concerned with power but is never a direct expression of an ideology: it is an idealization of social and political processes and of institutions. Architecture is rooted in society but possesses a reality of its own. That said, the critic needs to be alert to the contradictions inherent in the architectural programme, and to ways that architecture can mask hidden political agendas.

‘Good poetry communicates before it is understood’. Maybe this maxim of T. S. Eliot can be transferred to say that ‘Good architecture communicates before it is understood’? The evasive poetic order of a work of high intensity pervades the whole at the level of space, light, geometry, material and movement. The primary themes are reiterated at smaller scales. The meaning is embedded in the deep structures of the work and exists on several levels, some of them hidden. There is no substitute for this resonance which takes on the character of a visual music touching all of the senses. Architecture has the power to alter perceptions of reality and to heighten the sense of the natural world. We are talking about masterpieces of course, buildings of a high order, but these are very much the business of the architectural critic even if they are in a strict minority in any period. For they establish a level of aspiration which may never be reached. This is why a piercing critical culture must be nourished by a strong appreciation of remarkable buildings from both the recent and the distant past. Let Chartres Cathedral, the Mayan ruins of Uxmal and the Parthenon be our witness; let the Robie House, the Barcelona Pavilion, the Villa Mairea and the Parliament in Chandigarh never stray from our minds.

For me the architectural work itself is the central subject of criticism as against the theoretical rationalisations which are so often deployed as promotional rhetoric by architects themselves or by their supporters. The critic needs to treat pre-rationalisations and post-rationalisations with the same sort of scepticism that a psycho-analyst would use to decipher the ‘reasons’ a patient gives for behaviour. As a historian and critic I am interested in penetrating to the anatomy of intentions within a work, the structures of thought, and the ways in which the architect translates multiple realities through the language of architecture itself. What architects create is more important than what they say, and I insist upon the direct experience of buildings themselves. Works of real interest transcend movements and ‘isms’ and possess a unique order of their own. The critic must remain open to fresh innovations, while retaining a sense of history and of what is fundamental in the art of architecture: a vision of what counts in the long term. I am interested in qualities which carry well beyond transient fashions. There is nothing more provincial than the present.

Nothing can replace the first hand assessment of buildings on their sites, with people in and around them, with unfolding vistas, with materials, textures and details under changing light. No photo or drawing can supply the feeling of moving through spaces of varying intensity. Judging buildings on the basis of reproductions is extremely risky. There can be unpleasant surprises when one sees the real thing. One needs to be on the alert for collisions between form and function, between overall image and day to day use, between the aesthetic obsessions of the architect and common sense. The critic has to grasp the generating architectural ideas of a work, their internal hierarchy and the conflicts between them. There is no substitute for the deep reading of a building. There is an art to penetrating beneath the surface to underlying structures of thought and revealing transformations of earlier examples from the history of architecture. It is especially important to do this at a time of spurious theorising which asphyxiates architecture with clouds of jargon. It is crucial just now to debate the past, present and future of architecture. It is always good to be surprised by fresh new ideas, as long as they are substantial and not just marketing tricks in the media game of fashion and promotion. The critic needs to approach recent work undogmatically, to let the architecture speak for itself.

There are no short cuts and there is no single single key to the architecture of the recent past. This has been a confused and pluralist period covering a very wide range of production in an ever wider field of global practice. At one extreme are the much discussed ‘iconic’ buildings, often linked up with real estate capitalism, cultural marketing and the branding of cities in the networks of investment and tourism. At the other are works of such immense subtlety and topographical sensitivity that they almost disappear although they touch all of the senses and reveal something about the spirit and history of places. You have only to stop for a moment and compare the Dubhai phenomenon on the one side with a lone wolf figure like Peter Zumthor on the other to see what I mean. In these circumstances one cannot speak about a dominant tendency or about any obvious canon. The critic has to be on the alert for interesting or awful work in many shapes and sizes. As usual quality transcends style; so does the lack of it.

While the last ten years has suffered from architectural excesses and from a thoughtless process of frantic urbanisation (especially in China and the petroleum states) it has also been a period rich in new creative directions and it will take some time to discern the overall shape. One has only to think of the vast range of recent production to be struck by the diversity of approach, all the way from the spatial gymnastics of the Guangzhou Opera House (China 2010) by Zaha Hadid to the restrained and understated Folkwang Museum (Essen, Germany 2011) by David Chipperfield; all the way from the spatial inventiveness of the Fundacao Ibere Camargo (Porto Alegre, Brazil 2008) by Alvaro Siza to the elegance and tranquillity of the New Media Lab at MIT (Cambridge, Massachusetts 2010) by Fumihiko Maki; all the way from the urban presence and restrained monumentality of the Bocconi University (Milan, Italy 2007) by Grafton Architects to the Kahnnian echoes and local memories in the Mosque in Chittagong (Bangladesh 2007) by Kashef Mahboob Chowdhury. This is to speak of only a few recent works of interest.

None of these are ‘masterpieces’ but each develops new expressive territories while extending strands of earlier modern architecture. The situation is like a delta with many streams, or even like an archipelago. There are diverse ‘cultures of architecture’ today many of them still enriched by spatial concepts flowing from the modern architecture of the last century and from the more distant past. Architectural prizes such as the Pritzker can be misleading. A figure like Renzo Piano who has produced subtle interventions such as the Beyeler Foundation near Basel (Switzerland 1997) can also produce a disaster such as the Entrance Pavilion and Convent at Ronchamp (France 2011) which effectively undermines a world masterpiece. The Ningbo History Museum (China 2008) by the Chinese architect Wang Shu shows all the signs of being a deep work fusing several traditions, but one would have to visit it to be sure. These days quality sometimes manifests itself in modest, almost invisible buildings – one thinks for example of the Water Organ and Steps in Zadar (Croatia 2005) by Nikola Bašić which combines the rhythmic sounds of waves in tubes, with a harmonic geometry and an understated social theatre in well crafted Istrian stone.

The critic has the duty of approaching each work with an open mind but an acute sense of value. Unfortunately much that passes for critical writing consists of lining up buildings and making them fit into preexisting categories which are deemed either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. We live in a period of pluralism and this makes the task of the critic even more demanding, for he or she must discern quality without the props of a unified doctrine or style. A critical map of the recent past has to be developed which avoids being either arbitrary or dogmatically exclusive. Of course, there are those who say that anything goes, that everything is about equal and that we are floating on the surface with trend following trend in a series of ‘isms’ like changes of clothes. Fashion and the flux of consumerism go hand in hand with a cynical denial of the possibility of depth. In this scenario, there is no room for human considerations, for meaning, social engagement, continuity or principle. About the only thing that counts is access to the media and the ability to advertize different phenomena, whether museums, cities or businesses. This position often hides behind the star sytem by reducing architecture to lists of famous names and prizes. It is the vanity fair of architecture.

On the other hand are those who pretend that there is an avant-garde in touch with a supposed zeitgeist and that everything else is marginal. They promote ‘parametricism’ as the true ‘architecture of the times’ as ‘a new global style’. The argument recalls the determinist propaganda of the modernists of the 1920s who ignored the real variety of their time. Today this approach smacks of empty rhetoric especially in a period when there are so many different approaches flourishing. Moreover does ‘parametric’ refer to a method or a style? If it is a method there is no reason at all that the forms should end up with complex geometry. If it is a style there are many ways of achieving complex geometry without any single method. The links in this ideological fiction are rather loose. Anyway the real question for the critic is this: do the results succeed as architecture. One has to keep coming back to buildings themselves in real space not just to seductive virtual images. There is a weird ‘scientism’ today that peddles the fiction that machines can somehow ‘generate’ forms. Mathematical tricks on the computer screen are no substitute for substantial architectural thinking, a rigourous architectural language and a culture to back them up.

Architectural judgements must be based on architectural results and not deflected by passing intellectual fads or transient images. Architecture speaks its own language and that is what we have to react to. It is not the function of criticism to try to ram individual buildings into simplistic categories. Where ‘parametricism’ is concerned one needs to discriminate between mediocre and quality results. Putting it simply: there are complex curves, folds and irregular geometries which mean something and which add to the stock of authentic architectural inventions; and there are others (too many in fact !) that are meaningless and arbitrary, that are ugly to look at , hell to live in and destructive of their setting whether in landscape or city. Many of the buildings that fly the flag of ‘geometrical complexity’ are in fact rather simple minded and have no staying power. On the other hand a knee jerk acceptance of ‘simplicity’ and ‘restraint’ as antidotes can be equally misleading especially when defended with a messy mixture of moralism and phenomonoligacal jargon about place, landscape, and re-grounding in tactile experience. Minimally correct architecture can camouflage a host of architectural sins and often lapses into merely pleasing shape making without underlying content.

Once the smoke screens of ‘innovation’ blow away, one is left with some uncomfortable comparisons. Is there anyone around today who can equal the sculptural power and symbolic resonance of the shells of Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House? Or who can match the haunting presence, multiple meanings, spatial and geometrical sophistication of the curved side chapels in Le Corbusier’s Monastery of La Tourette? Or who can produce the equivalent of the topographical richness and layered associations of Aalto’s curves in the Villa Mairea? In these cases the curves are embedded in the deep order of the building itself and in the mythical structure of the architect’s creative universe. There is a huge difference between an abstraction which distills experience and content, and one which ends up with mere shape making for the sake of shape making. The latter results in empty gestures: a vapid formalism. Then there is what might be called the ‘theoretical fallacy’, the naïve belief that buildings can be evaluated by their supposed adherence to intellectualised nonsense referred to charitably as ‘philosophy’. In this scenario, technological mystification is often combined with smokescreens of theoretical jargon.

There is no single dominant trend in recent architecture but there are some shared territories of investigation. There are problems that are ‘in the air’ partly because society and the condition of the world require that they be solved, partly because the discipline of architecture itself is searching for generic solutions. Take for example the question of the natural and its relation to the artificial. This has led to a rich range of work in recent years embracing both architecture and the larger scale of landscape architecture. The work of RCR Aranda Pigem Vilalta (for example the subterranean winery at Bell-Lloc near Pamplona, 2009) is deeply involved with the definition of a new middle landscape between an abandoned agriculture, the new commercial spaces, and raw nature. There is an engagement with a local landscape and with a Catalan tradition but the means used are universal. RCR could not be where they are without both Ando’s Water Temple (Awaji, Japan 1991) and the traditional Zen gardens of Kyoto, not to mention Mies van der Rohe and Richard Serra. They rely upon a resonant abstraction and an intense materiality in their work.

All around the world new paradigms are emerging dealing with a host of issues from the redefinition of the skyscraper to the reformulation of cultural identities. There is more continuity than is often admitted and in contemporary architecture there are many fusions of the local and the general, just as there have been from the earliest days of the modern movement. There are constant cross polinisations from one place to another. Take recent architecture in India or in Mexico which continues to excavate rich national heritages in search of fundamentals while fusing lessons drawn from cosmopolitan influences. Or take the case of Finland. A younger generation is emerging that is open to recent develoments internationally but attempts to maintain a critical distance from fast track globalized image production. There are substructures to do with landscape, light, materiality, fragmentation, the abstraction of nature etc which are inherited almost unconsciously from earlier generations going back to Aalto and beyond. Does this mean that there is a specifically Finnish architecture? I do not think so but there may be a specifically Finnish way of occupying the space of international modern architecture. Years ago the Mexican painter RufinoTamayo suggested that ‘Art is universal, the accent is local’.

Works of architecture do not reduce themselves to ‘positions’ or to theoretical slogans. They are not there to fulfill academic agendas. Buildings speak to us directly through space, form, material, image, detail and they touch us on many levels mentally and physically. Many works that are proposed as radical innovations fade away because they are transient, without formal presence or underlying content. One must maintain the long historical view. Needed is an undogmatic approach which is open to the fresh inventions, to buildings which add something substantial to the place where they are built and which reveal new dimensions of social reality, while also contributing to the general culture of architecture. Outstanding buildings have a way of combining the unique with something more universal, but one should never forget that architectural ideas are of a special nature, different from for example theoretical ideas or mathematical ones. The ultimate test is the finished work whatever the processes which led to it.

Works of any depth fit into time in complex ways and on different wavelengths. The first is that of the contemporary: the building addresses issues of its time. The second wavelength is longer: it is the level of the middle distant past which is liable to include the inheritance of some strand or another of modern architecture. The work reflects unconsciously spatial structures and architectural concepts, but the architect also makes his or her reading of key works of the modern tradition which is anything but monolithic. The third is a very long and slow wave motion in the history of forms and may even engage with issues basic to the medium of architecture itself. It is the level of the longue durée which can take us back over centuries or engage with certain archetypal situations. At this level there may even be an engagement with constructs of ‘nature’. ‘Nature’ is not just a matter of sticking green salad all over façades to show that one is being ecologically responsible. It is a matter of understanding the types and variations of natural design, and their reasons for being. As Goethe implied, and both Wright and Aalto asserted each in his own way, art may aspire to the qualities of natural creation, not through imitation, but through abstraction and transformation.

Whatever the obsessions of an architect they have ultimately to be translated into an architectural language which can then be used to create individual works. At this point a whole new set of conditions apply. We are in the realm of architectural ideas not just ideas about or around architecture. There is an absurd ‘neo-avant gardism’ in many universities today that sets up a false opposition between contemporary architecture and tradition, whereas in fact all architecture evolves from earlier architecture on some level, even when in opposition to what has come before. When wearing the hat of the critic I do not abandon that of the historian and here the same rigour has to apply in judging the works of our time against great works of the past. The best of the modern incorporates ancient wisdom in new forms and spatial concepts adjusted to contemporary reality and technology. The word ‘radical’ comes to mind as it implies being revolutionary and returning to roots. I have always rather liked the observation of Aulis Blomstedt: ‘If you wish to create something new, study that which is ancient’’.

William J. R. Curtis is a historian and a critic who has taken a firm stand against excesses of the star system and the theoretical pretensions of academia.


The critics’ tour starts from the core of the welfare state, the school. The design of the Saunalahti School, which is based on a winning entry in an open design competition, arouses enthusiasm. The large size of the school, however, also brings up some doubting voices. The experts are Paula Holmila, cultural journalist, Tuomas Rantanen, civil activist and politician, and architects Esa Laaksonen, Director of Alvar Aalto Academy, Riikka Kuittinen, freelance journalist and designer, and Jorma Mukala, Editor-in-Chief of Arkkitehti.

architects Väinö Nikkilä, Jussi Palva, Riina Palva, Ilkka Salminen
Brinkinmäentie 1, Espoo
gross area 10 500 m2
completion 2012

The first impression of the day care centre, situated in a low-rise residential area, is bewildering, and the street-facing facade is considered inhospitable. The well-lit interiors gain the panellists’ approval and they consider the courtyard particularly inspiring.

architects Jyrki Iso-Aho, Jari Frondelius, Tapani Lehtinen, Jaakko Keppo, Juha Salmenperä
Tillintie 23, Espoo
gross area 1 285 m2
completion 2012

The office buildings of four major companies are nearing completion at Töölönlahti. The row of offices that is now taking shape receives no applause from the panel. The significance and functionality of the entire Töölönlahti area as a public space becomes the focus of the debate. What has been the outcome of a hundred years of planning?

Davidsson Tarkela Architects
address Töölönlahdenkatu 3, Helsinki
gross area 18 655 m2
completion 2014

Helin & Co Architects

address Alvar Aallon katu 1, Helsinki
gross area 15 800 m2
completion 2013

JKMM Architects

address Alvar Aallon katu 3, Helsinki
gross area 20 000 m2
completion n 2013

Ernst & Young
Verstas Architects

address Alvar Aallon katu 5, Helsinki
gross area 20 380 m2
completion 2014

According to designers, criticism should be justifiable and challenge us to think. Interview with Pentti Kareoja, Anu Puustinen, Jenni Reuter, Antti Nousjoki, Ola Laiho, Jyrki Tasa and Ilmari Lahdelma.

illustration Tuomas Kärkkäinen

According to London-based professor Jeremy Till, scarcity is the starting point for architecture. His position is deeply political.

The architect Jeremy Till is known for his sharp commentary and critical writings. The one building usually associated with him is his home, the experimental Straw House in Islington (London 2001). He designed it together with his wife the architect Sarah Wigglesworth, whose practice it also houses. Till had been head of London’s Central St Martins College of Art and Design for a few months, when I interviewed him in October. Previously he had headed the University of Westminster’s and Sheffield University’s architecture departments. Since 2010 he has been sharpening architecture’s conceptual toolkit through Scibe (Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment), a research and education project involving four European universities.

Till’s office is on the recently opened campus at King’s Cross-St Pancras. What were once Victorian warehouses have now been turned into a magnificent culture factory, which art and design students from around the world already seem to treat like home.

Professor Till likes to talk – and write – about how futile it is for architects to pretend they are above politics. Architecture depends on politics in any case, and to build is always to wield power. Till elaborated on these ideas in Architecture Depends (2009), which was loved and hated and awarded the RIBA prize for outstanding research. Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture (2009), co-written with former colleagues from Sheffield Nishat Awan and Tatjana Schneider, is a kind of handbook of alternative architecture.

Scarcity and revolution

Sustainability is no longer adequate as a starting point for architecture, Till feels. He is fascinated by the notion of scarcity. It is something very real and yet produced by the social system. The concept of scarcity is also far removed from the fashionable politics of austerity. ”The important thing is that scarcity forms a bridge between economy and ecology”, he says.

The July 2012 issue of Architectural Design that Till edited together with Jon Goodbun and Deljana Iossifova focussed on scarcity and on the implications of dwindling resources for architecture. The issue insists on acknowledging some frightening truths: the chronic shortages of oil, metals, food and water we are facing, a polluted world. Its contributions are a call for bold and revolutionary thought, and they demonstrate that this work has already begun. Till himself believes that impending scarcity will offer good opportunities for architects in particular to grapple with the world’s difficult problems.

Does his belief in new opportunities specifically for architects arise out of the way they already grapple with such complex problems? ”I don’t think they do, actually, but they could. In the 2000s, the profession was derailed – except maybe in Finland where things are probably different – into producing really shiny objects for the high end of the market and very efficient construction at the low end,” he notes. Architecture could, however, offer something far more valuable: in addition to being good at understanding complex spatial relationships, architects are also able to see them as social and ecological relationships.

Till makes the case through an illustration from the early 1970s: Jaime Lerner trains as an architect, becomes mayor of Curitiba in the Brazilian state of Paraná, sees an appalling infrastructural problem and applies spatial thinking to it. Lerner’s concept of space was not limited to the physical infrastructure, and the result was an innovative rapid bus transit system, which has been copied in dozens of cities around the world. It could be characterized as a street-level metro system. ”But it’s fifty times cheaper”, Till points out.

The issue of Architectural Design and the book, Spatial Agency, contain many other interesting cases. In addition to relatively recent examples, the book also presents ideas born of the politicized atmosphere of the 1960s and 70s. One that Till recommends looking into, is Supports, John Habraken’s proposal for integrating mass housing and community design.

Nothing is self-evident

Till is under no illusion that the challenges the world faces are grave and difficult. Visions of impending doom should not, however, automatically lead to cuts and technocratic package solutions. We need to think much more creatively. ”We have to ask, what do we want and what are we capable of”, he says.

An enthusiastic tweeter, Till rummages around on his mobile for some catchphrases. “If you hit a dead end with your problems, then you have to change the questions”, he says, drawing on Ezio Manzini. “You can see users as problems but you can also turn them into solutions.” Till appreciates the fine way that Manzini, like the economist Amartaya Sen, highlights the significance of capacities. “As architects we are also good at seeing capacities, capabilities, opportunities.” For Till, nothing is self-evident though: “If you approach users as part of power relations and as environmental and social relations, they immediately enter a dynamic. And you have to listen, you have to be alert to time.”

Time is also seamlessly related to scarcity, which is about limits. It is clear that endless growth is impossible. “Architects define themselves through designing buildings. New buildings add stuff to the world. And that, de facto, produces scarcity. So it would be better to ask whether the situation requires a new building, and that is different from increasing efficiency.” As an example of an architectural practice that does not respond to every spatial problem by building more, Till often cites 00:/, based in London. Their solution to lack of space at a school, for instance, was simply to intervene in timetabling. Till adds that the growth in material things is driven by our desire for novelty. In a context of scarcity, however, we should be redistributing things, not adding to what there is already.

We must acknowledge the political

How could asking the right questions or making creative use of existing capacities be taught? Till does not have an easy answer to this, although the question is both familiar and important. He explains that he has tried to teach about the way an architect’s work goes beyond producing a building, in other words, an object. As he talks about teaching he admits he may sound like he hates architecture, but he immediately adds that it isn’t so. He should not be teaching if it were. “I still think this is a fantastic discipline!”

Till has often claimed that the built environment is dross. However, it is not architects who are mainly responsible for this, since the design process is no longer really in their hands, but in those of a project manager. “Because a project manager only understands market values, he sees things as quantitative problems. All the architect does is decorate. And nobody asks important questions.”

The latest Venice Biennale did, Till admits, give hope. Amongst horrible, really awful things, he also found playfulness and a radicalism that one might well compare to the counter-ideas of the 1960s and 70s. “They have never had a profound effect. Our situation now is much graver than it was then – those possibilities are still available”, Till reminds us.

He wants to be optimistic: when you expand the thinking, practical possibilities will follow. “It’s a classic neoliberal act to claim that you can only operate through the market, that making cuts is the only way. Economically it’s rubbish and socially it’s disastrous. Why not ask whether the way you are setting up the problem is just wrong? Maybe lack of growth is not the problem, maybe it’s the solution.” To back up his ideas he mentions Tim Jackson’s book, Prosperity without Growth (2009, Earthscan).

Till admits that his position is deeply political, but he is fed up with apologising for it. For example, in winter 2012 he addressed the Occupy camp outside St Paul’s cathedral, which was an ambivalent experience – not everyone was that happy to welcome the esteemed professor. Normally his critical stance raises eyebrows. Then again, to be uncritical is also to be political, he points out. “Conservatives typically claim that they are not being political but rational. And the same goes for the so-called apolitical architect: ‘I’m not political, I’m just working out a rational solution, blah, blah, blah’”, he mocks.

Till has arrived on an early flight from Hong Kong that morning, and after an hour he begins to show signs of fatigue. He glances up at his yellow cycling jacket and wishes me a pleasant rest of the evening.

PhD Eeva Berglund is an anthropologist who received her degree from Cambridge University.


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