Why don’t architects celebrate consultants?

4 June, 2019

I’ve been looking at a lot of architects’ websites recently and something has struck me that I’d never really noticed before – the lack of credit for consultants.

The client always gets a credit, obviously. But if you’re the engineer, landscape architect, lighting designer and lord forbid the poor old CDM co-ordinator- forget it.

But maybe this is no surprise.

Credit in architecture is a fraught subject and for most of its history, authorship has been given to a single person. This applies most obviously in practices where the credit goes to the firm and not the individuals who have poured heart and soul into the project. This in turn has perpetuated the idea that great buildings are produced by individual (male) geniuses when in fact architecture is almost always collaborative and extremely slow.

As someone who has written about architecture for a long time, I am also guilty of having described buildings as ‘by Rem’ or  ‘by Gehry’ when there’s a good chance that neither of those two architects have been exclusively involved in the design. But even if they had, so too were dozens of other architects and teams of consultants who never get mentioned.

The awards system shores up this myth. Perhaps the most famous example of this was the Magna Centre, Rotherham, which won the Stirling Prize for Wilkinson Eyre in 2001. In fact the building’s drama (and the thing that most wowed the judges) was its lighting scheme by Spiers & Major.

The following year Wilkinson Eyre won again – this time for the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. Does anyone remember the name of the engineer? I certainly didn’t – it’s Gifford ( now part of Ramboll) – and neither is the engineer mentioned on RIBA’s website. Would the bridge have won without Gifford’s input? Who knows. But it is churlish not to credit the engineer equally.

We know that things have shifted – but not by much. 3-D design software and more collaborative working has forced architects to acknowledge the engineer’s role but as the list of consultants gets longer on every project, so too does architects’ resistance to crediting them.

This year’s Archiboo Web Awards has a category for consultants including engineers, landscape architects and cost consultants. The judges are Cindy Walters, Walters & Cohen, Phil Coffey, Coffey Architects and Julian Lipscombe, Bennetts Associates.