What are weeks for?
Lower-case weeks are calendrical formulae and triggers of folksy chant: Wednesday's child is full of smack, Thursday's child is trying crack, Friday's child is in rehab, and so on. Weeks that begin with a majuscule, however, are PR exercises that come with the authoritative force of having co-opted one of the most basic tenets of our (post-) Christian culture.
Political systems come and go, and their measures of time go with them. We always revert. There is a village near Neubrandenburg whose volkisch houses are inscribed Jahr I, Jahr II etc: the first year being that which followed the Machtergreifung of January 1933. The names of Jacobin calendar months proscribed by Napoleon in 1806 were elegantly graphic: Pluviose, Ventose, Germinal, and so on. It existed for a mere 13 years – or perhaps "Years".
Do "Weeks" achieve anything? Or are they, like most PR wheezes, exercises in hermetic self-regard and institutionalised vanity that hardly impinge on the consciousness of the public for whom they are supposedly intended. I say supposedly, because the real (if covert) purpose of PR is, of course, to flatter the client. Thus although Naturist Week may have sought to expunge the idea held by "textiles" (the clothed) that there is more to that peculiar hobby than performing what the tabloids coyly call "disgusting sex acts" on the beach at Studland, its paramount aim was presumably to make naturists feel good about themselves. In the case of Architecture Week, the client is the architectural profession in the guise of the RIBA. There is no harm in preening, in massaging collective self-esteem. The interest, to an outsider, resides in observing how the profession addresses itself and what it deludes itself into seeing when it looks in the mirror.
Obviously the architectural profession is no longer on the defensive, as it was for so many years. New buildings don't trigger the fears they did a couple of decades ago. The very word "architect" has ceased to be a sort of defamation. An entente has been achieved between the profession and the public, not least through the sympathetic – you might say uncritical – mediation of such magazines as Icon Blueprint and Wallpaper (which are, admittedly, for the converted) and increased broadsheet coverage. It sometimes seems rather too rosy to be true.
The very word ‘architect’ has ceased to be a sort of defamation; an entente has been achieved
Architecture Week's programme manifests confidence and openness. Here is a profession with no secrets. Let us show you where and how we work. Let us lead you in Ralph McTell's wake through the London streets and celebrate our illustrious forbears. Let us give the kiddies toilet-roll inners and cereal boxes to workshop the model of a better future. Etc.
These are commendable projects, even if some don't take into account the truism that we are always surrounded by buildings: a "festival" of architecture is, necessarily, different from one devoted to a more occluded endeavour. If everybody knows what an architect does, the profession is devoid of mystery and peculiarity. Hence The Week's eagerness to promote the notion that the making of buildings is only part of the job.
This accords with the tenor of the recent Architectural Biennale in Rotterdam, which was devoted to transport. You don't have to be a seer to discern a naggingly worrying tendency. The architects of the mid-20th century set themselves up as social engineers and prophets with results that we are all too fully apprised of. I wonder if we're witnessing the beginning of a new era of a kindred hubris, of history repeating itself as the farce of "consultancy".