Lately there has been growing discontentment with the way our cities are shaping up.
Matters reached a head over the past week when the Lilongwe City chief executive officer (CEO) John Chome let out his frustrations about the situation in a letter to the Malawi Institute of Architects (MIA) whose contents got leaked into the public domain.
In the letter, the CEO laments the lack of creativity and imagination, monotonous designs, inadequacy of advice to developers, disregard for city standards and certification of shoddy work on the part of architects as leading to a proliferation of ugly buildings in the city of Lilongwe.
The CEO further lambasts so called ‘fly-by-night’ architects, unscrupulous individuals purporting to undertake the work of architects, albeit, illegally.
The quality of contemporary works of architecture, not only in Lilongwe, but also in other cities indeed leaves a lot to be desired.
Some architectural artefacts, such as school buildings for instance, have attained such a pure form of ugliness that they have become a linguistic standard of measure on the ugliness scale of buildings.
The status quo can be attributed to a number of factors. To begin with, it would appear that there is some kind of static, if not retrogressive, thinking that is prevalent amongst the architect folk. This would possibly explain why certain age-old architectural artefacts in the cities are perceived highly than their contemporary peers. This thinking passes for a lack of creativity and imagination.
The monotonous architectural works might be down to the MIA’s current paradigm of operation, at the core of which appears to be protectionism of the profession, albeit overly.
There appears to be more effort directed towards preventing others from practicing than promoting quality of design and growth of the profession. Their membership, at about less than thirty, might be seen to be prohibitively monotonous for a country with a population of 17.5 million.
A city ought to be an embodiment of diversity and for the architectural profession, a living canvas where this diversity is set forth. Where a few individuals actively seek to maintain the monotonous membership of the profession for economic gain or otherwise, there is little chance that diversity would be allowed to manifest within the living canvas.
And with this, would come the death of the spirit of competition and peer review leading to laxity which manifests as the ugly buildings.
As the architects are overstretched, it is no surprise that they would be unable to adequately advise their clients. This would also explain the disregard for the city standards in the dash to meet deadlines. It is this inadequacy in architect numbers that has also led to the proliferation of the ‘fly-by-night’ architects who, somehow, manage to obtain certifications for their shoddy work from within the membership of the MIA.
While the CEO is concerned about the ‘fly-by-night’ architects, many of them are to be found right within the city council.
Moving forward, the council authorities must crack their whip, rejecting poor quality submissions without fear of antagonism from developers while ensuring that there exists no potential of the latter bribing their way back to approval.
They must also ensure that all such individuals in their fold engaging in the illegal practice of architecture are prosecuted. The MIA would do well to open up and allow their membership to grow in a way that allows more diverse input and constructive competition in working the living canvas that the City is.
A work of architecture must be a totality consisting in a search for both the intelligible and imaginative universals, a search for the truth and symbolism, a search for the angle and the angel. Handicraft, on the other hand, is devoid of any poesy and metaphor, at best, only seeking the pursuit of the intelligible, synonymous with the ugly buildings.