Theory and Criticism
Is architecture a cultic profession?
How one can explain the peculiarity of architecture thinking and teaching, the eccentricity of the persona of many architects, and the oddness of some architectural products that are highly valued by us as architects. I tend to agree with the views that architecture is becoming a cult or a (cultic) profession.

Some characteristics that define a cult summarized as follows:
1. It isolates its members.
2. It believes to hold the absolute truth and the (others) are misguided.
3. It refuses to accept scientific evidence and reason.
4. It has an auto-referential philosophy (or we are different).
5. It creates its own language, unintelligible to outsiders .
6. It has its own revered deities and gurus.
7. Last but not least, almost always cults are destructive.

Some argued that most characteristics perhaps fit architecture discourse and teaching quite well. So, is architecture a cultic profession?
Faisal Hamid
Is architecture a cultic profession?
You make some interesting points, however points 3 and 7 seem a bit far-fetched with regards to architecture. Here, I think you are on weak footing.

An opposite argument would be to say that cults are secretative and rely on initiation to enter, the profession of architecture is feed by an increasing number of schools and accessible to almost anyone who has the means to education. Cults are usually held together by a dominant leader, the profession of architecture, while having its stars, is not dominated by a single personality or ideaology. Still, an interesting premise.
Shiraz Allibhai
Is architecture a cultic profession?
Shiraz, regarding the two characteristics that you think a bit far-fetched, I may add the following:

I don't think anyone can claim that architecture is a discipline of science. A scientific discipline is continues endeavor to achieve advancement in objective knowledge and the application of that knowledge in practice. The current architectural discourse and methods of teaching (A)rchitectural design dont fit the accepted scientific logic and methods.

It can be argued that two of the main sources of objective knowledge are; the shared experience, as shared subjectivity is a type of objectivity, and knowledge attained by objective research; current architectural discourse rejects both. One of the Bauhaus slogans was (let start from zero). Architecture teaching methods and discourse still based on the dogmatic model of teaching and thinking of the early 20th century represented by the Bauhaus and the writings of figures such as Adolf Loos (Ornament is a Crime) and Louis Sullivan (Form follows function)..etc... You can count on one hand those architectural schools that question this dogma!

Think about this Shiraz; almost every building that is really good, people identified with, like to enjoy and care about built before formal architectural training! Is it not the building context of hundreds of years (even thousands) represents a body of objective knowledge that should form one of the main reference points for creative architectural design? How could we reject learning from this body of knowledge?

As for knowledge attained by objective research; there is very little effort invested in architectural research, and what is available is largely ignored. The leaders and gurus of architecture thinking today are drenched in the architectural dogma of the early 20th century. Why do they need scientific research if they believe to hold the absolute truth? Every design concept must starts from zero, and consequently every building is a prototype! And this fact that every building is a prototype lead us to the other characteristic of the cultic profession, which you object to, Shiraz, that is the destructive power of architecture.

The real and metaphorical destruction to the built environment can be seen everywhere, some are evident and well documented in the history of modern architecture, and some are debatable. From radiant city to deconstructivism; from Pruitt Igoe to Seattle Central library.

Now, Shiraz, I may comment on your opposite argument. Not all cults are secretive, they don t need to be secretive when hold sway and we can think of many examples of that. As for the issue of initiation; I think it is as rigorous in architecture as any cult. Schools of architecture, at early stages of architectural study, throw out any student who doesn t conform to the dogmatic doctrines of modern architecture. Students are thrown out not because knowledgeably failings, but because they refuse to change their world views to the (isolationist) cultic views. Unless a student confirm to the (usually abstract) esthetic values and references of modern architecture, he or she has no chance of taking the first step on the ladder of the cultic profession. Is this initiation or not? In regard to your last point on leadership; I can think of many cults of multiplicity of leaders and gurus, but I will not go into this as I already prolonged and may stop at this point for now.
Faisal Hamid
Is architecture a cultic profession?
Faisal, the short answer to your Topic question is "yes". A longer answer to follow shortly.
Frank John Snelling
Is architecture a cultic profession?
Faisal, I was most interested to read your topic because every establishment profession can be classed as a cult or self-reflexive entity which serves itself before serving other people.

[1] I use the term `establishment profession` because once any profession becomes established (and any activity which is established can be called a profession) there is a tendency to ignore and then deny the existence of knowledge outside the system. Eventually the established system of a profession becomes the final arbiter because when bureaucrats control the system they tend to maintain the Status Quo of the system (and by accident or design, ignore the original creative intention). In other words the need to control becomes more important than letting people be creative.

Note: In fact any establishment system can become schizophrenic (delusions with disconnections between thoughts, feelings and actions) because of the conflict caused by the diametrically opposed agenda of (a) Dynamic: or the need for creative change, and (b) Static: or the need to maintain the Status Quo enchanged.

[2] The Victorian saying "Knowledge is Power" was used to describe the purpose of Public Libraries, where knowledge was freely available to everyone; but every organisation within every establishment profession is similar to the Guild system of Medieval times which operated upon the basis that `the withholding of knowledge was power`. Every Medieval Guild had a special knowledge of various formulae, processes and techniques and because this knowledge was a closely guarded secret known only to the Guild Masters, this `withholding of knowledge` allowed the Guilds to survive.

In fact, the subversive behaviour of `withholding knowledge to gain power` becomes the invisible weapon of choice for those who see life as a never-ending war; and bureaucrats or those who are there to maintain the systems of organisations, tend to withhold knowledge because this gives them power over other people which would otherwise be denied to them. So by definition, a bureaucrat is anyone who gets a warm and ahppy feeling from saying "No" when there is no reason to withhold knowledge.

And like anything negative in intention (because it is always easier to negate than to create)`the withholding of knowledge` is a much easier way to have power over other people than through the constructive process of giving knowledge; because the more knowledge you give to other people, the more they think and are able to think for themselves without needing you and this means you lose your control of other people.

[3] The other reasons why people tend to `withhold knowledge` are: Confusion, Ignorance, Incompetence, Prejudice, Malice and Fear.

(a) Confusion: about the knowledge asked for and therefore `withholds knowledge` to hide the fact they are unable to think and answer clearly.

(b) Ignorance: of the knowledge asked for and therefore `withholds knowledge` to hide the fact that they are unable to answer because they do not know the answer.

(c) Incompetence: about the knowledge asked for and therefore `withholds knowledge` to hide the fact that they do not know an answer that they should know.

(d)Prejudice: may know the knowledge asked for but `withholds knowledge` to hide their unwillingness to answer.

(e) Malice: may know the knowledge asked for but `withholds knowledge` to hide their hatred of the person asking.

(f)Fear: may know the knowledge asked for but `withholds knowledge` to hide their fear of the person asking and their need to control that person.

[4] Technology and Hard Science is based upon the principle of firstly teaching, secondly learning and thirdly practicing; because this process and sequence means both that the work is done right and preventable hazards are avoided. But architecture is able to bypass `teaching, absorbing and applying` because injury and death from not knowing how to work is an unknown in drawing and design offices.

In fact, architecture education is misnamed because not having the above reality, there has developed the erroneous, elistist belief that "(a) Either, you have talent and you do not need to be taught, or (b)If you do not have talent, then you cannot be taught."

Therefore, without the guidance and structure of principle and process, architecture education falls prey to the subjective and arbitrary behaviour of the tutors, which means favouritism flourishes and advancement is not upon ability, but upon whether or not students agree with the tutors, which means mediocre students become the favoured few by obeying these tutors who have the power of academic life and death, a situation only possible where there are no principles, etc.

Furthermore, the behaviour of tutors is subjective because without any principle or process, the tutors are a law unto themselves and because their subjective critieria are almost always unexplained (or perhaps unexplainable) and therefore unknown, their evaluations appear from nowhere and being without principle are outside rational judgement and debate.

However, the most probable explanation for the arbitrary and subjective behaviour of tutors in architecture education is that because they were not taught the principles of design and aesthetics, obviously they cannot teach what they themselves were not taught. Therefore, through a complex mishmash of confusion, ignorance, incompetence, prejudice malice and fear they `withhold the knowledge` of what they do not know from their students and therefore cannot teach the principles of design and aesthetics and this closed loop of illogic will repeat `ad infinitum` until the end of time, even when someone such as Faisal Hamid dares to question the unthinkable.

In conclusion, given the complexity of the reasons for `withholding knowledge` it may be difficult but not impossible to understand why Faisal Hamid has put forward the idea that `the profession of architecture is a cult`. Because without definable, verifiable and teachable principles either of design or aesthetics then the profession of architecture automatically reduces itself to the status of an art cult. QED
Frank John Snelling
Is architecture a cultic profession?
Faisal, Does my post above answer your question?

For myself there have been too many assumptions in architecture for too many years, such as the assumption that no one is allowed to ask questions or debate questions.
Frank John Snelling
Is architecture a cultic profession?
Frank, this is a very thoughtful post, and I will come back to the discussion soon.
Faisal Hamid
Is architecture a cultic profession?
Faisal, Thank you, I will await your next post. :)
Frank John Snelling
Is architecture a cultic profession?
The bottom line is that much of modern architecture looks like something made by aliens from another planet, as these designs are totally disconnected from both culture and context, as though disrespecting culture and context is something to be admired rather like the Punk Rock Groups of the mid 1970s who used foul language and foul gestures including spitting on their audiences.

And given the timelapse, the generation who grew up in this Punk Rock era are now young adults who see no problem with designing architecture similar in intent to these intentionally repulsive Punk Rock groups.
Frank John Snelling


This site is adjusted only for landscape mode. Please rotate your device for properly using
We are sorry, we are still working on adjusting for Metro IE. Please use another browser for the best experience with our site.