Private property affords security and piece of mind to those living in a capitalist society. But nowadays nearly all UK property acquisition is based on debt, in an economy labouring under the impression that it has the means to support those who want what they cannot afford.
We first see the hypocrisy of this looking back to our childhood. Being told that we can't have a certain toy or magazine because we haven't saved enough pocket money, only to later drive in a car still owned by the dealer, back to the house that our parents could not buy outright. The security that families like mine were lucky to enjoy was built on debt, and the understanding that as long as the system holds up, and that we don't default, we would be alright.
The editors of the essays titled 'Real Estates, Life Without Debt,' have put the message out that the problems with the world can be traced back to the privatisation of property, leading to the wider exchange of ethical standards for credit ratings as the new moral currency. Real Estate's contributors argue that this is a product of 20th Century Neoliberalism, and while I agree that we have recently seen the dramatic fallout associated with mismanaged debt, I would argue that this problem has existed since the dawn of civilisation.
"Credit must be viewed as far more than a financial arrangement, for it is nothing less than a fundamental dimension of our society, and in effect a new ethical system." - Jean Baudrillard
This quote, used by Jack Self in his essay Derivative Architecture, was originally penned by Baudrillard in 1996; pre-millennium, pre-global financial crisis, pre-all the things that we are currently getting angry about. Self's proposal of using a bond-style financial model for funding his fictional project 'The Ingot,' is genuinely interesting. The argument for it being that tying investors to sites over a longer period is one way to mitigate short-term speculation. Self also proposes the idea of architect-as-financier, linking occupants to investors and ensuring that debt is managed to produce best outcomes.
"[Architects] must leverage the power of property in such a way as to become both the monetary fixer of debt and its moral evaluator." - Jack Self
With the dominance of the financial services industry what it is today, and the risks and sums attached to a project even 1% of the value of The Ingot, to convince an investor that an architect with no financial training is both competent and morally equipped to coordinate this funding process is, for me at least, a bit far-fetched.
The broader question is, what do we all believe the role of the architect is going to be in the future?
Self is clear to state that his architect-as-financier (and moral arbiter) model works independently from the idea of architect-as-developer. His aim is to elevate the architect above the entire development profession. This I believe is selling architects incredibly short. I agree that the architects role is best understood as a facilitator of the construction process, but our skills span further than arranging funding, and we should relish the opportunity to involve ourselves in such a holistic process, because seeing a complex project through is one of the great perks of this job.
In my view, the best mechanism for combating neoliberalism is active business enterprise. I do not believe that architects should be discouraged from engaging in so-called 'architect-as-developer' ventures. As Self himself writes, "any proposals for post-neoliberal architecture must come from within the existing ideological, juridical and fiscal frameworks of neoliberalism itself." I do really like the idea of converting the property market from its over-inflated bubble-like state to a long-term bond system, as this would remove the volatility and profiteering that Self decries. But how else are architects to have influence on the market if we remove ourselves from the process of actually delivering buildings?
Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime (London:London Verso, 2008) [ref. taken by TH from JS Essay]
Jack Self, Derivative Architecture from Real Estates, Life Without Debt (Bedford Press, 2015)