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Tom Thumb and the seven-league-boots
In architecture, Dubai boasts about its thousand meters high tower and architects like Foster, Jean Nouvel and even Koolhaas with his 'Big Motherfuckers', seem to have left smallness behind. Unless it's big, it's invisible. Just not interesting or not interesting enough. 'Small is not going to pay the bills.' Design studios have grown into giants and a diet of crumbs will not feed them. To top it all, young architects and students jump on the bandwagon, and create endless renderings of buildings that will never - or at least not in the near future - get off their drawing board. One thing is clear: young architects and graduate designers should stay well clear of this pool. Cute and clever visualisations might well provoke some cheap applause, but one should concentrate instead on architecture of the first thirty square meters.

The Belgian model

Whichever way you look at it, architecture has a bottom range. That is architecture! Below that point, it's not. With simplified planning applica­tions, or in Belgium a defined free-for-all zone - of thirty square metres, a 3m high cornice and 4.5m for the ridge - this line becomes a firm line. Once you cross that line, it's worthy of architectural input. Below it, the architect has been released of all responsibility. Verandas, car ports, storage units, balconies, kitchen extensions, garages, greenhouses, swimming pools, pet houses, terraces become outlawed. No one's responsible, therefore, within the limits of permission-free planning, the user, is abandoned in a vacuum. As a result, the client doesn't know what to do with his space, looks around, and finishes up copying next door's extension, veranda or garden.

It is a fact that regulations and the lack of interest from architecture, created a vacuum that soon gave rise to the success of fast-track economic models, such as do it yourself log cabins, saunas, verandas and timber terraces.
In other words, when the simplified procedures suddenly permitted every­thing, nothing actually happened in terms of design. The result policy makers longed for! Because to claim that simplification would make way for an ocean of possibilities, was no more than an alibi to mask the real motivation: a reduction in the number of planning applications, in order to concentrate on what seems to be essential in architecture and town planning: the main building, the street, the facade. A case of watching the front door like a hawk and leaving the back door wide open for a veritable army of prefab log cabins.
Distinguished architects lead the way for young arhitects and students. Blindfolded by trust or respect, Into the woods of desired construction sites.At the end of the line Tom Thumb spreading architectural crumbs, convinced of finding his own way!
Reworked illustration of Gustave Doré.
The commercial model
Apart from the birth of a vacuum, we can also see how it has allowed for a substitute, which can teach us things. The crumbs of architecture were subjected to the usual commercial processes. Large-scale manufacturing was the order of the day, at realistic market rates. Offer and demand come face-to-face. It was no longer about a single project requiring an individual architectural solution, but a search for answers to a whole set of requirements. Price and marketability were what counted. The crumbs of architecture that architects brushed to the floor, were ready prey for manufacturers.

A lack of aesthetic input is the unfortunate consequence of this economic, purely pragmatic way of thinking. The do it yourself log cabin, the four uprights and a sheet of plastic roofing making a carport of sorts or the lean-to aluminium veranda; For a long time they represented success and wealth!
Of course the opposite - a world full of tasteless anonymity - would be closer to the truth. Despite the huge advances in manufacturing made possible with Technology and IT, products have not
evolved nor has their design impro­ved. Lack of progress! The ubiquity of these products is the very reason why nothing has really changed in a world that lacks all aesthetic and formal quality. Mostly anonymous mass pro­duction abounds. Such constructions still remain the only answer on the market. Why are there no new solu­tions? How long past its sell-by date must the life of a product be to finally be written off financially? Where is a new generation of creative architects?

Let's not close our eyes any longer to the rubbishing of the private space. Let's have a look at these products that have been assimilated by the market. Architects and designers should take up their responsibility. Design must be about large-scale production and quantity must not be replaced with limited editions - of which there are too many examples, just now. We must look at serial production and grow laterally. We must explore design for serial production and use technology to make each product unique.

Just like a table, chair or lightshade could form a design collection, a living room, kitchen, bedroom,
balcony or terrace can do so for architecture. Young architects must develop a set of tools that will need to grow with them. Not fighting the windmill of one large building project, but experimenting with small-scale problems that require solutions in proportion of its complexity.

There is a demand for small scale architecture. We must teach our students and let young architects and designers fly! Policy makers have simplified planning procedures, and the construction market has eagerly occupied the space. Nothing should stop young architects re-discovering those crumbs like Tom Thumb and use his seven-league boots to storm the architectural fortress.
Don't aim for the one thousand square meter architecture prize candidate, but for the small scale no-man's-land which is now under total control of the construction and do-it-yourself industry. Go for functionality, go for those additional needs!

bv