Should Architects Resign From Bad Projects?


Written by Peter Barber in response to CABE Chairman John Sorrell. Building Design Debate, 27 November 2009


It’s tricky not to sound sanctimonious in supporting this view but I firmly believe John Sorrel’s right.

Picture a sixties sink estate… patches of grass, concrete, disused garages, burned out cars, buildings scattered in haphazardly laid out public space, dead ends, blind corners, a ghetto. Think of the thousands of people whose lives have been blighted by this place and of future generations who will have to endure the hardship of living there. And picture its most vulnerable residents…elderly people, women, racial minorities, so intimidated by the place, that they are frightened to leave their homes.

Finally imagine the planner, the politician, and the architect who through laziness, incompetence, complacency or misplaced idealism were complicit in visiting this hellish environment on them, picking up the shilling and returning to their cosy villas in leafy bourgeoisville.

We have responsibilities way beyond our paymaster/clients and our bank managers to the countless people who live with the buildings we make.

And of course, though it’s not a decision to be taken lightly, it may be necessary to refuse commissions or to withdraw from projects being derailed by greed, incompetence or dodgy politics.

I have great sympathy with the principle counter arguments…namely the ‘bread and butter’ defence, and the ’well if I don’t do it, someone else will do it worse’ line. In extreme situations though, these don’t wash…this was what the concentration camp guard said.

Each of us has a line we won’t cross. These are ethical choices tempered by our beliefs and conditioned by our personal circumstances. Choices we make as human beings as well as professionals.

Peter Barber