words Edwin Heathcote
Most years I’m asked to write a piece on up-and-coming young architects for the dead period between Christmas and New Year, “ones to look out for”. Filler. I try to wriggle out of it now because I seem to have been writing the same article for about seven years. Architecture is just so slow. This year’s Venice Biennale reveals the same list of young digital radicals, from Greg Lynn to Hani Rashid, all now entering middle age, juxtaposed with Zaha and Coop Himmelb(l)au, who seem to have been doing the same kind of thing for my entire adult life yet still appear as the avant-garde.
That avant-garde is now about 30 years old; the difference between then and now is more powerful processors. This causes a problem when an author such as Kieran Long, formerly deputy editor of icon, now editor of the Architects Journal, comes to announce the next set of bright young things. Their work already seems familiar. This is not due to the speed of the internet (radically useless for architecture), nor with the ubiquity of magazines (which have been promoting a similar avant-garde since the 1920s) but with architecture itself. So slow. And that, of course, is why we need Biennales, so young architects can actually get stuff built.
Long has ways of dealing with the problem. The first, and best, is that, unlike a huge tranche of recent books, he is not concerned solely with architecture generated inside servers. In the rather sinisterly titled “Hatch” you will find New Spartans, Basics, you will find Whisperers and Retro-Post-Post-Modernists, Post-Building theorists. And photographers.
The author’s take is an omnivorous graze through a dense, diverse and international milieu. The book’s format is essentially Taschen: many pics, little text, big worldwide market. Its gold title on a strange, aesthetically-inclusive collage of architectural bits is designed to simper giftness from the shelves. The book’s upside is an impressive contents list in which even the most jaded of us cannot avoid finding something new and unfamiliar, the downside is taster menu frustration: I see something good, I want more.
Where Long’s youth and perceptiveness as a critic mark him out is in his unwillingness to differentiate between architects who build and those who do not and between those who look at architecture from outside and photograph or interpret it. Certainly the diversity of approach is enthralling. One group, represented here by Dow Jones, 6a, DRDH, Patrick Lynch and others, is committed to making, to the effects on material and space of the process of construction and the tradition and cultural background of a particular place. They are in extreme opposition to the other side of modernism, that which is happiest with rapid prototyping, in which a thing emerges from a Hirst-like aquarium fully formed. Yet there seems to be little animosity between the camps. The whole intellectual and cultural atmosphere around architects is worse off for a lack of conflict and argument; no-one is asked to justify anything and bullshit is given a free ride.
You will also find those who use architecture to reveal deeper truths about the way society functions. Eyal Weizman is here, so too Markus Miessen, Textbuild and Joseph Grima. The recognition that architects are choosing to write, to acknowledge that the architectural impact of a text can be far greater and more widespread than that of any building, is a big step. And then there are the photographers; perhaps Long’s editorial background makes him more acutely aware of the impact of the visual on architectural culture.
This book is not a milestone, and it is not in-depth. It is, effectively, a doorstop magazine and Taschen/ Wallpaper mongrel. Nevertheless it is a useful survey of international practice at an intriguing moment and at no point does Long claim to have “curated” any part of it. For that alone we should buy it.
Hatch: The New Architectural Generation, Kieran Long, Laurence King, £24.95www.laurenceking.co.uk