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Who do they think we are? Perceptions of Architects in Twenty First Century Britain

Part 2 Dissertation 2004
Angela Hatherell
Oxford Brookes University Oxford | UK
Who do they think we are?Who do we think we are?**Although I am not legally entitled to call myself an architect, for the purposes of this study, which in effect forces a ‘them and us’ situation, I feel, after six years of study, having been indoctrinated with the language, ideals and points of reference of an architect, that I am now more architect than not. However I do not wish for this to come across as a paranoid exponent of a conspiracy theory against architects. A ‘no-one likes us we don’t care’ attitude fails to enhance anyone’s reputation (unless you are a Millwall fan) but if architects are found to be distant and aloof, with a ‘take us or leave us’ mentality then it does seem that they (we) are going to be ‘left.’Who knows, perhaps we will discover the opposite to be true, however I doubt that. I can only make judgements based on my personal experience of calling the RIBA for the purposes of researching this project. I was told by the receptionist that unless I was a member I couldn’t speak to anyone and should instead ring the premium rate (50p / minute) information line. Architects? Aloof and elitist? Well superficially their (our) professional body shows clear signs of being just this, so what about the members? And what does everyone else think about architects? Do non-architects care about architects? Do they know about architects? And what is this knowledge based on and informed by? Personal experience? The media? Fiction?
Angela Hatherell

Architects rarely recognise the picture others paint of them. Why is this? Angela’s dissertation set out to describe and understand the ‘image of the architect’. The research was underpinned by theories of identity, self-image and image-perception (Goffman, Giddens, etc). The methodology consisted of a number of discrete investigations into scenarios where the public experience architects including film, television, novels, inherited memory and personal encounter. Additionally, small creative vignettes added a humorous artists commentary. The major findings of Angela’s dissertation, firstly, that the public’s ‘image of the architect’ is constructed from multiple sources and secondly, the identification of a heroic / new-man image dialectic both within and outside architecture, provide the profession with significant new insights.

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