Architecture is shipshape – again

The RIBA Journal’s November issue is messing around with boats. Columnist Will Wiles talks about the salvage of the Costa Concordia (this piece seems to have been written before the gruesome discovery of the final missing body) and riffs on the Poseidon Adventure, an early and scary disaster film. He talks about the chaos and danger that ensue when a familiar world is turned upside down and our natural medium, air, is replaced by water. And about the artifice that film producers employ to create this sensation.

Elsewhere in the issue Stacy Sinclair writes about the hazards of being an expert witness. In this case any drowning is purely metaphorical but in describing the need for rigour and knowledge, she cites a dispute over a failed yacht and the  role of the expert witness, of who the judge said damningly ‘there is no explanation which exonerates Mr Smith of incompetence’. This is a phrase likely to put off any architect toying casually with the idea of undertaking some expert witness work as a way of getting easy money.

In a way it is of course coincidence that both writers have focused on boats. But they are a subject close to architects’ hearts. Many sail (as if earning a living as an architect were not hard enough, they then choose an activity famously likened to tearing up 100 dollar bills in a cold shower) and steal bits of the technology. They use the rigging and paint in their buildings and some, such as Norman Foster, even design them. The appeal I think is that form really does follow function, that unless the boat is a floating gin palace the client can do little to disturb the clean lines (we’ll forget vulgar cruise ships here) and that, compared to buildings, they are just so controllable. Until they sink, of course.

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