Architects must become more entrepreneurial, warns Levete

Thursday 7 June 2018

© Agnese Sanvito

Architects have been wilfully ‘sleepwalking’ into a position where their powers are eroded and project managers have usurped their role, so must instead regain some ground by becoming more entrepreneurial.

So said Amanda Levete as she responded to questions after giving the NLA Annual Lecture to a packed audience at the Royal Geographical Society last night.

Levete, who took the audience through her main projects such as the nearby V&A courtyard scheme, and MAAT in Lisbon, said that architects’ role had diminished and perhaps the future should be more about being entrepreneurial, as her team had demonstrated through producing Tin Can, a pop-up restaurant specializing in tinned fish in Soho.

‘There are new ways that we can begin to explore, and I think that the role of the architect now is to be more entrepreneurial’, she said. ‘And by that I mean: can we, together with this incredible network of consultants that we have, identify the unmet need, find the site, put together the funding and then do it? Because there is so much money out there and I just want to have a little bit of time to really draw down how we might go about that...For me, that is the future, and if you take that position it will allow smaller practices to get off the ground.’

Levete added that architects were compliant in a resource-hungry competition system that has also led to a loss of respect for the architect, and that project managers sometimes come between architect and client, often meaning that a direct relationship with the client is lost. ‘Suddenly it becomes more of a transactional and contractual one and a much more defensive one.’ It was important to try to break down preconceptions of defensive relationships because contracts are set up to be adversarial. ‘It’s a wrong way of beginning so you have to overcome that hurdle. In the end, it comes down to personal relationships, and you have to invest in it’.

Levete also described the ideal client as being one who challenges and takes forward a project in some way. ‘For me the idealized client wants to go beyond, to advance the debate in some way. That I think is reallyimportant.’

Earlier, Levete showed how the V&A project had signalled something of the end of the era of building as icon through being ‘the polar opposite’ of the Libeskind proposal for the site before. ‘We wanted to create something that was about the iconography of place, rather than building as icon’, said Levete, altering the relationship between the museum and street by opening up the Aston Webb screen. ‘We have taken the street into the museum and the museum out onto the street.’ MAAT, meanwhile, was a project that ‘speaks of a very visceral relationship between geography and architecture, between the water and the building, helping to root it in its place.’ The practice worked with a Spanish firm to produce bespoke ‘crackle glazed’ tiles to pick up the nuance of the changing light in Lisbon, while at the V&A the firm worked with tiles again, ‘flattening’ a pattern of the structure to rationalize into six tile types produced in the Netherlands and creating a non-slip, heavily researched but subtle glaze in the tile’s grooves that would relate to some of the V&A exhibits. ‘We became very obsessed with ceramics’, said Levete.

Levete spoke too about future projects, including the Galeries Lafayette (‘to restate what it means to be French’) and a conceptual/strategic thinking competition to work on the setting and iconography of the Eiffel Tower, as well as a forthcoming project to revamp Paisley Museum – and its identity - in Scotland.

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ

Images from the event can be viewed here.

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NLA Annual Lecture 2018 Amanda Levete CBE


This year’s Annual Lecture is one of the highest profile events in the NLA calendar and a headline event of the London Festival of Architecture in June.