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Emily Priest and Dylan Radcliffe Brown on The Hybrid Practitioner
1 August, 2023
To: Caroline Voet; Eireen Schreurs; Helen Thomas; combined editors of The Hybrid Practitioner
We attended The Hybrid Practitioner book launch at the office of architects Henley Halebrown in London, as part of their Dialogues lecture series in April this year. The launch included talks by Yeoryia Manolopoulou and William Mann, who framed the book through their own experiences of hybridity. A question was posed that evening and left unanswered:
What does the idea of hybrid practice mean to a younger generation of architects?
Neither of us had a clear answer at the time, and have since discussed our initially vague but jointly unsettled feeling toward what we understand of the book’s position. This letter is offered as a first response in what we hope can become a wider conversation, strengthened by more voices from our generation.
Reading The Hybrid Practitioner has made us become increasingly aware of the gap between ourselves and the preoccupations of the authors involved. Beyond years, we think the book presents a professional disjunction between established, and (what we call) young practitioners. Many of us – as young practitioners – associate ourselves with the term ‘hybridity’, but not only in the ways represented in the book.
We should start by saying that young practitioners are relatively naive. A lot of us haven’t edited a book, nor have we directed a practice. Yet to us this naivety mirrors the very balance required of the hybrid practitioner as set out in your book. The introduction terms hybrid work as ‘self-conscious practice’ (The Hybrid Practitioner (HB) p.12.). This augments the knowledge of an ‘exacting professional reality’ with an abstract academic perspective. Much the same, if indeed the inverse, the young practitioner arrives in practice equipped with a theoretical arsenal and attempts to integrate their academic knowledge with ‘fiscal and legislative responsibility’ (HB p.11) as they become project architects, consultants or otherwise. So, despite our naivety, the hybrid approach is as much a part of our diction, albeit used a little differently.
How we read hybridity from the book
With a shared framework for hybridity in place, we begin to consider what the scope of hybridity might be. Looking at the book, we noticed that academia, rather than practice or architecture-adjacent fields, was foregrounded (HB p.11). Of those included:
● ⅓ work in academia
● ⅓ work in academia and have their own practice
● ⅓ work in academia combined with other occupations (publishing, editing, curating, consultation)
We speculate: Does working exclusively in academia render hybrid practice? If so, couldn’t an architectural worker practising multiple modes of work be equally hybrid?
Hybrid practice in the book appears to stem from the production of architectural artefacts (both the ‘built object’ itself and the writing that accumulates around it). At the symposium titled The Practice of Architectural Research, prior to your book, Hilde Heynen suggested that the profession might be too inwardly focused on ‘drawing, sketching, tracing, arranging, configurating, materialising, constructing ’ to the detriment of addressing the social and political. For us, the book appears to fail on the same grounds.
An ontological focus might critically appraise the reality of constructed artefacts, or the materials that arise around them, but this can stunt the recognition of the systems facilitating them, or those they contribute to. Frequently caught in the precarity of such systems, young practitioners become literate in the social and political dimensions of practice and (again naively) might approach these subjects critically by being hybrid. In fact, given the scale and significance of some challenges present in architectural culture, hybridity – or reaching outside of traditional practice – seems like the opportune mode to review the forms of knowledge essential to keeping our profession relevant (i.e., toward systems thinking over artefacts). Another reason why we think the voices of young practitioners should be shared.
A discussion around hybrid architectural practice should not only be about the fruits of labour, but about labour itself. We should talk about the opportunities of hybrid work. About its shortfalls and the disparities it creates. About the complexities it generates for employers and employees alike.
The book speaks to long-standing professional positions, with contributors ‘looking for a relationship to history, not as a timeline, but as a layered landscape’ (HB p.12). The book’s ‘operative’ character does not engage with a postmodern surface-reading of history. Instead, they transfer historic knowledge productively, to inform and locate contemporary practice. However, the book often frames this productivity as ‘becoming part of the constellation… that constitutes the architectural canon’ (HB p.11) or ‘providing continuity to a personal oeuvre’ (HB p. 20). The perspective which centres the hero-architect as author and participant in the canon is already under deconstruction. Architects do not operate as individuals, they are part of a system that includes assistants, manufacturers, builders and citizens, etc. Without acknowledging this, we fear that practitioners remain esteemed individuals, in direct conflict with the notion of hybridity.
We both come from offices which start with what already exists, but find the traditional canon sparse in lessons for today. Given the ecological, economic and social injustice in which we work and live, perhaps we should reform our knowledge from what has been produced, to better address what is required now and tomorrow. Like Heynen, we propose to foreground these ‘the social and political’ aspects of the hybrid practitioner.
How we read hybridity for ourselves
The book prompts a review of the structure of hybridity; its resources, demographic and principle intentions. It makes us wonder whether hybridity is a professional choice, or a need. And we question the extent that hybrid practice benefits young practitioners.
To rephrase the question from the book launch, our question is:
How do young practitioners practice architecture?
To start this discussion, we reflect on the relevance of hybridity for the young practitioner in three modes:
A vehicle for social justice:
Architecture is an unequal profession in an era of biodiversity loss and climate change, and the impact of unstable geopolitics is set to only increase this. Here, hybridity acts on an urgency that is yet to be seen in ‘traditional’ practice. It encourages newly collaborative forms of work, alters existing practice structures from within, and aims to make the profession more accessible and diverse. The profession may need to dissolve its positions of power to create more equitable structures. And the nature of work might need to grow from tasks and deliverables, to research, collaboration and testing.
Architecture intersects multiple disciplines and modes: we draw, communicate, build, write, teach. Books such as this, expound the benefits and joys of this hybridity, where ‘the entanglement of practice and academia enrich the toolbox of research methods…’ (HB p.13). We agree this is a strength of our profession. It enables us, much like the operative worker, to engage with other theoretical frameworks, texts and media. Being able to locate our work within a larger referential spectrum means that we can enjoy and be in conversation with it through our current work.
A financial (un)necessity:
Architectural practice can be precarious. Salaries rarely compensate for the amount of work and time put in. Some of us work multiple jobs for multiple incomes, different levels of security, and professional benefits. Others move to more lucrative, architecture-adjacent work. At the opposite end, young practitioners wanting to do hybrid work may struggle to find a stable part-time job, or a visa without committing to a full-time position. Or start a practice without a privileged network. Or gain a teaching position without knowing someone in a given institution. It can take time to construct a balanced hybrid work pattern. Considering this, and in a time of precarity, hybridity runs the risk of being exclusively accessible to those who have a certain privilege such as financial security, geography, nepotism, gender or race.
These are the modes of hybrid practice that we think are relevant for young practitioners today. Crucially, they expand the scope of the book to acknowledge a more socially grounded picture of hybrid practice. They all have short falls, frustrations and opportunities which we’ve only just begun to unpack.
We hope this letter reframes and opens the conversation to younger practitioners, hybrid or otherwise, to reflect on the meaning and realities of hybridity today.
Emily & Dylan