Gordian Knot

How Architects need to change how we work

In 333 B.C. Alexander marched his army into the Phrygian of Gordium in modern day Turkey.  In the city, he found an ancient wagon, its yoke tied in several knots all so tightly entangled that it was impossible to see how they were fastened.  An oracle had declared that anyone who could unravel the knots was destined to become ruler of all of Asia.

More on that story later.

I believe that architects are in a Gordian knot. We find ourselves in the position of having responsibility without control or influence, working in a flawed system that results in tragedies such as Grenfell. We are marginalised to the point where there is no architect on the new Housing Quality Board, or on the Grenfell Panel. Even our own institute is no longer led by an architect. Yet we remain nervous about challenging the structural issues that have the gravest impact on our ability to do our job. This marginalisation has helped to create an underlying belief it is pointless to attempt to change the system. That we are on our own, and the RIBA will remain broadly ineffective and continue to elect presidents with woolly, unachievable platforms that in trying to solve everything, solve nothing.

It is small wonder that 80% of the membership don’t bother to vote.  All they see is the vast and impossible Gordian knot that the RIBA and many of its Presidents have woven but show no will to unravel. We must draw those non-voting members back into something that makes practical, immediate sense to them, giving them adequate incentive to vote. It can only make us stronger.

Back to Alexander.  Instead of trying to untie the Gordian knot, he declared ‘it makes no difference how it is loosed’ and simply cut through it.

We cut through the knot by starting with one, clear focused issue from which everything else can flow in the right order and at the right time.  The issue is procurement. If a nation can work together to restrict a pandemic, we can work together to reform this most fundamental of structural problems. Trying to resolve the issues that concern us without reforming procurement is like trying to steer a boat without a rudder.

An effective system can create a bolder, more confident profession, giving responsibly with influence, to prohibit tragedies such as Grenfell, and also lay the foundations for a prosperous future.