Will Alsop was teaching in Vienna while his practice was being sold off. So what lessons did he have for his students about the cruel facts of an architect's life?
Will Alsop's career has been tossed around on fortune's whim more carelessly than most. Last week's surprising and eventful sell out to the acquisition-hungry SMC Group turned out to be no different.
As you might expect when the independence of one of the country's most free-thinking architects is at stake, the talks were tumultuous. During three days of negotiations last week, Stuart McColl's SMC Group went from looking a cert to buy Alsop to being in a race with another buyer. Everything from a total sell out to a 50/50 deal was on the table. In the end it was a total sell-out in cash and shares.
So it was a bit of a surprise that despite his future being at stake, Alsop chose to stand well clear, pack up his Benson & Hedges and fly 800 miles to teach his students at the technical university in Vienna. Yes, that's right, Will went walkabout.
Was this Francis Drake-style cool in the face of adversity - after all, he got back for the day of the final deal? Or was his decision to honour his teaching commitment the action of an architect who wants nothing to do with being a businessman?
He could be forgiven for feeling the latter. Over the past two years, Alsop has had to roll with the punches when it came to business dealings and, in a sign that he doesn't want the responsibility when it comes to such matters, he still blames others for the collapse of his firm in 2004.
Alsop is someone itching to do what he does best: think about design, talk about design and do design. He almost certainly connects better with his students in Vienna - all hope and idealism, no doubt - than he does with the money men. It's a blind spot, but one he has in common will many architects.
So, as he digests the second deal in less than two years to keep his practice alive you wonder what lessons he might have for his young Austrian charges about the the muck and bullets of modern architectural practice.
With the practice going for just £1.8m, together with 45% of profits above a certain amount in the first three years, the first might be that reputation is not the route to riches.
The second might be to avoid clients that are more talk than trousers. In 2002, just as the practice seemed to be re-inventing every northern town, Liverpool decided to invest in its own version of the Bilbao Guggenheim: an Alsop-designed blob on the Pierhead called the Fourth Grace. Pretty quickly it began to go wrong. Like snakes in the grass, these clients can be hard to spot, but if Alsop had looked he would have seen that Liverpool council has a poor record on development.
The capricious councillors cancelled and a project that could have reconfirmed Alsop's reputation a decade after it was made with 1994's Grand Bleu in Marseille, turned into an albatross around his neck.
It was a bit of a surprise that despite his future being at stake, Alsop chose to stand well clear, pack up his Benson & Hedges and fly 800 miles to teach his students at the technical university in Vienna
A third lesson can be drawn from the way the firm stretched itself too far by drawing up one speculative plan after another for eager councils who had no idea how to deliver them. In 2004 staff were laid off, the receivers were called in and Alsop and his partners sold 40% of the business to R Capital, which I understand took majority voting rights.
Finding work in the UK after that implosion proved tough. Despite winning the Stirling prize for Peckham Library and being shortlisted again in 2005, Alsop struggled to qualify for some competitions because, post-receivership, he didn't have a three-year financial record.
There was a lot of "I told you so" whispering among Alsop's detractors in the profession, particularly those who found his architecture nothing more than attention-grabbing tricks. He was ridiculed for concepts such as turning Barnsley into a Tuscan hill town and for the SuperCity exhibition at Urbis in Manchester. This showcased his urban ideas - vertical farms and the like - but it puzzled more people than it delighted.
But working with the new shareholders didn't help, either. Never mind that venture capitalists chew up and spit out far more robust companies, the fact is that outside investment in architectural practices doesn't seem to work, whoever the investor is. So lesson four: steer clear of outside investors. Architects need to be self-funding if they are to remain financially stable and remain true to their design ambitions. All eyes will be on SMC Alsop to discover how Alsop's approach is forced to change for new employers. The first clue will be the size of the SMC on the letterhead.
The demand for a regular dividend is like a red rag to a bull for most idealist architects. Since many would rather commission an all-oak model for £20,000 than take their family to Spain on holiday, you can hardly expect them to be focused on providing dividends for the people in pin stripes.
Alsop is partly a victim of circumstance and his story is echoed by other less famous designers. The way that the development and construction industry works means that architecture is bound to be a risky business. Success depends on investing resources in winning competitions, but there is no safety net and if you make a mistake it is hard to rebuild your reputation.
So the message from Alsop's troubles makes grim reading: don't fail. Play it safe, otherwise you'll end up like Will - tied to the stock exchange and without the independence that great architecture demands.
I hope he proves me wrong.
Rob Booth is a freelance architectural journalist and former editor of Building Design