I know……….let’s do something interesting!

Can you imagine the medieval stonemason at work, high up on his precarious timber scaffold?

Monday: chip, chip, chip.
Tuesday: chisel, chisel, chisel.
Wednesday: hammer, hammer, hammer.
Thursday: only 14,678 blocks to go.
Friday: only 14,677 blocks to go.

But what was he thinking about while he was working? What’s for supper? No doubt. Presumably he had learnt to whistle a tune or two.

Monday: chip, chip, chip.
Tuesday: chisel, chisel, chisel.
Wednesday: hammer, hammer, hammer.
Thursday: an interesting thought enters his head.
Friday: he can’t shake off his novel idea.

Monday: he starts to act on it.
Tuesday: while no one is looking, he carves his errant figure.
Wednesday: whistle, whistle, whistle.
Thursday: chip, chip, chip.
Friday: chisel, chisel, chisel.

OK, I'm not saying that I know the actual story of the mason who carved that figure in the stonework above the entrance portal of a French abbey way back in the 11th century. And it turns out that at the time, the monks were in dispute with the bishop. So maybe there was some, more organised, dissent at play.

But whatever the real story, I’m confident that it is this little figure that, time and again down the centuries, has intrigued and amused observers, like me. Regardless of the abbey's overall magnificence, it will be this little figure. The work of one person working creatively. A small, personal contribution that makes a big thing more interesting.

In the world of modern architecture there is little room for individual expression like this. The builder is just meant to do what he is told. The trades have de-skilled themselves. Designers specify everything to death. Things are over-regulated, de-risked and value-engineered. We have automated, modularised and pre-assembled.

No-one is trusted.

In architecture, for the most part, we have lost the richness and humanity that comes when individuals are allowed to bring their skill, intelligence and wit to bear. As a result, modern architecture rarely connects with the people.

Let's hope that the next generation of technologies will allow us to re-introduce that freedom of expression. Let's hope that 3D-printing, smart materials, nanotechnology and the rest will allow us to re-establish that connection. 

Let’s hope that we can learn to collaborate better.

Let's hope that we can allow ourselves to do something interesting again.

Image via @chesterarchsoc via @martinshovel (Abbey of Saint Foy, Conques, c1050)