Archi-speak – why, just why?

17 Mar 2021

We recently pitched for a project that included a half hour presentation followed by Q&A from a panel. After the presentation we were praised for our down-to-earth and ‘real person’ presentation style and vocabulary and how refreshing that was. For years we have joked about archi-speak and architects fear of using plain English and here was a prime example, from a potential client, of how there was truth in the joke.

This is a true story - We were presenting at a planning committee a few years ago (pre lockdown so we were in the council chamber waiting for our turn). The scheme before us was a quite nice residential block. The architect who presented the scheme was asked about the look and they replied (word for word genuinely true):

“We evaluated the surrounding contextual architectural language and so developed a proposal for a masonry based materiality.”

For those who don’t speak architect:


Why do we archi-speak?

Partly, we think, because of how we are taught in University. The crit - stand at the front and present your project to the tutors. Tutors who, some, not all but a lot, are academics who read and write and speak academia. Who themselves like archi-speak to show they are not just in practice but also in academia. We are taught to speak like that as it somehow gives our projects more intellectual depth or some sort of philosophical meaning. At University we sort of get it, in the real world though?

Then in practice. Maybe it is some sort of hanging on to being a Royal Institute ‘profession’, somehow more intellectual than the rest of the consultant team. As our place in the construction industry has been steadily eroded over the years maybe we are using this pseudo academia speak and jargon to try and hang on to our position as the project leaders. Maybe it is a lack of confidence in our projects – the constant need to imbue our schemes with a high intellect deeply profound concept that doesn’t really need it.

But here’s the rub – most people we interactive with, most clients we present to, most planning committees, most consultant team members and builders just think we sound ridiculous. Saddest of all is that it doesn’t sound genuine.

In our practice we have a rule that we are not allowed to do archi-speak. We banned the use of materiality (what is wrong with just saying plain old materials?). And juxtaposition. And contextuality. We pride ourselves on being down-to-earth plain speaking good architects who care very deeply about what we design and build. We don’t want to hide behind intellectual mumbo-jumbo and we are finding, as our recent experience showed, clients don’t want us to either.