Public criticism, at times outrage, at the state of our built environment often gets wall-to-wall coverage in our media.

Finding fault with those who cry foul will get us nowhere. For we must pull up our socks and take immediate stock of the situation.

Such dismay is both quantitative, related to the (lack of) organisation of buildings/spaces and over-construction, and qualitative, where aesthetics and quality synonymous with good architecture are sacrificed. While local planning policy is targeted towards regulating the former, there is something missing when it comes to achieving the desired quality of our built environment.

The late Philippe Daverio, a renowned art historian and writer, stated: “We’re all victims of the architect. Architecture is the only art that you can’t help but feel. You can avoid paintings, you can avoid music and you can avoid history. But good luck getting away from architecture.” In my opinion, a statement like this perfectly encapsulates the responsibility, and impact, of our profession’s practice on society.

It is about the practice of architecture that I, as a practitioner in the field, intend to write. There is a dearth of such writings. I feel that, often, the discourse surrounding our local built environment is limited to planning policies and policymakers, with little regard towards the practice of architecture.

Our role, as architects, should be that of guardians of our profession and professional practice. Finding refuge in flawed planning policies is shifting the buck unnecessarily and shortsightedly. There is a tendency that policies are only criticised, and possibly revised, after their negative impact becomes evident and results in an outcry from the public.

Given our training and education, architects should be trailblazers in this regard and the first to mark new paths in an industry which is both a pillar of the economy and social well-being. There is no doubt that attempting to optimise planning policies should be at the forefront of the government’s agenda, together with regulating different facets of the building sector, as it is constantly being demanded by Kamra tal-Periti.

Notwithstanding, it is high time that we give architecture (not buildings or planning) the importance it deserves.

We create beauty or eyesores- Clive Borg Bonaci

I do not have clear-cut solutions to the problems faced by our profession. It would be presumptuous to assume that. My attempt is to initiate a discourse on architecture which, I believe, is lacking.

It would be shortsighted and wrong to belittle the importance of the construction and building industry to our economy. It contributes handsomely to our economy and employs thousands of people directly and indirectly.

But its faults are many and crucial decisions are needed – they can no longer be postponed. As is often the case, change should come from within. There is the tendency, since time immemorial, that the focus is on planning policies. It is about time that we start talking about a policy for architecture. And, by this, I do not imply a set of boxes to be ticked, as often is the case with other policies. I believe that we need to start devising an action plan for elevating good architecture and quality in our built environment.

The architect’s responsibility in making buildings that inspire is of primary importance, which is often overlooked. A policy for architecture can be an important tool for promoting an awareness, understanding and the demand for high quality in architecture.

We create beauty or eyesores. Both shall last, the latter often gets the limelight, as should be and which is why we must give architecture policy its much needed importance. Nobody shall do the job for us. It is us, architects, that must be the guardians of our profession; what we create bears our signature – ours, alone.

Developers have their priorities. We give birth to their ideas. But we must take pride in what we do and that means learning to say no. Professional ethics are key in what we do and deliver. Take that away and the results are public eyesores followed by justified public anger.

It’s time to put back the word ‘pride’ in our profession and this should be supported by a knowledge-based decision-making environment.

It is not too late.

Clive Borg Bonaci is an architect.

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