When one thinks of craft you think of the handmade, beauty and the artisan not something made by a machine. Since the dawn of civilisation the art of building has been a very hands on practical affair and one that can be demonstrated throughout the ages. Rooted in the lexicon of Ancient Greek you find the idea of the Architect being the ‘arkhiteton’, a master technician or a “chief craftsman”. Yet today, developments in mass production, prefabrication and 3D printing have reduced the need for apprentices, which has resulted in the loss of trades and has arguably made the process of building less humanly ‘practical’.
Arguably, we live in an age where handmade items are becoming a rare commodity and the digital world is taking over. I believe buildings of our age have become increasingly uglier and we can start to explain this by many strands including the modern world becoming more scientific, innovation, or even globalisation. I believe the abundance of designing and building something by hand has stopped contemporary society from practically using their eyes, ears and hands. But more importantly it is beginning to eliminate the transfer of knowledge.
Ultimately we cannot ignore the world we live in however, the importance of craft and the knowledge gleaned from generation to generation cannot be underestimated. In essence, knowledge is information that has been adapted to a purpose. It provides solutions to problems, and can only exist with creativity and criticism. If knowledge is partial it can be improved so that we learn new things and refine ideas.
I question if today’s architecture strives to be the ‘best of the best’ and ‘the first to invent’ where is this exchange of knowledge? Arguably, it means we cannot create buildings that are durable as they lack the knowledge of tried and tested techniques. For centuries experience and knowledge has guided our society and enabled our human activity to grow and thrive. I fear, that as we increasingly neglect this practical approach to life and become reliant on digital solutions, it is to our detriment.
I see the removal of craft being the start of forgetting the knowledge we have gleaned, and question if we can really afford to lose this.
Clay model of the column capital designed for the new portico at The Oval cricket ground in London, modelled upon the Prince of Wales's three feather badge, which is also shared by Surrey Cricket Club.
By Robert Cox, ADAM Architecture