Architects should leave exhibition design alone

Recent articles, letters and leaders in your magazine have been very stimulating on the subject of interdisciplinary activities, in particular museum and exhibition design. They have also addressed the pros and cons of such activities being designed by non-specialists such as architects and interior designers. Lynda Relph-Knight seems to support cross and interdisciplinary activity. All this has sounded very reasonable and full of creative possibilities.

I disagree fundamentally with most of it. This is not from pettiness or preciousness. Nor indeed is it out of a jealous need to preserve all the work of my own discipline for its members.

If your doctor suspects you have a brain tumour, will you ask him to send you to a gastric surgeon? If your electricity fails, will you call in a plumber? If your cat falls ill, will you take it to the nearest stables? I somehow doubt it.

So why are the specialisations within the area of design any less special?

The one word that is almost entirely missing from all the discussions that have taken place is the work “public”. Everything designers and architects (who are, of course, designers) do is not for themselves, nor for their clients, nor solely to make money. It is for public use, consumption, enlightenment, enjoyment and quality of life. We may not be public servants and we may well need to earn a living; however, a designer’s role in any field is to be a formative part of today’s vastly speeded up evolutionary process in the public’s relationship to the things we make and use.

Architecture is a wonderfully broad discipline. There are countless types of buildings to be built, acres of materials to be explored. What is the need of this few to try and do everything themselves without reference to other specialists and to dive unaided into other areas of design? And, when they do, why is it only the form or style of their work that is commented on and not the function?

Perhaps they are considered to be artists and not designers like the rest of us. They are, of course, special, but so are journalists, nurses, lawyers, shopkeepers, dustbinmen and even politicians. They are no better, no more or less necessary to advancement or quality of life than anybody else.

Giles Velarde

Pett Level

East Sussex TN35 4EF

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