The almost universal extra-professional unpopularity of architects (what other Royal Institution could the Prince of Wales put the boot into with such sure expectation of applause?) is no new phenomenon. Distrust of the man who knows what you want better than you know it yourself goes back at least as far as the 17th century. Roger North, an amateur architect whose only substantial extant work is the gateway to the Middle Temple, wrote a treatise on building in the mid-169Os. It trenchantly affirms amateur virtues: 'where a man builds for his owne use, none can contrive well but himself. I exclude not councell ... but the owner must pronounce.' He complains of the inability of 'surveyors' to keep control over work in progress and observes that they will 'practice their owne whims, at your cost. They having viewed many fabricks, in life, and in draught, with the ornaments of the antique and moderne invention, have a world of crotchetts of their owne ... all which they have an itch to put in execution, and it is miraculous if they doe it not the first opportunity of building they are employed in. And lett a man arme himself what he can, they will argue and perswade him beyond his intentions.' North conceded that great undertakings were not to be left to amateurs, but his belief that a gentleman with a little enthusiasm and education could build as well as a professional makes architecture seem complicated, but not mysterious.
LRB 6 December 1984 | PDF Download