Architectural Blatherations

The Favored Circle

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The Good Oil on Garry's Final Book

The Favored Circle was Dr Garry's last book, in both senses of most recent and final. That was twenty years ago! He's not writing any more books. The book was a sociological study of architects, architectural history and architectural education. To catch up on what has happened since, you should read Paul Jones' The Sociology of Architecture (Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 2011).

Published way back in 1998, it was republished and translated several times. Various portions are still widely used—and have become—standard readings in North American and British architecture schools in courses about the profession, its ethics, and its education.

Those who do not wish it consigned to perdition, regard it as the most sophisticated analysis of the architecture profession ever done.

Here the doctor justifies the book, vents his spleen, raves, and fulminates. All rather fruity, but then what do you expect from Dr Garry?

About the book

A lot of the empirical material in this book comes from my twenty years of student and teaching experience at the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Sydney (boy, did I stay there too long!). If I say so myself, the book is a lot more sophisticated and a much better analysis of architects than anything done before. But that's just me. The book did extremely well and stirred up quite a lot of heat in the professional press.

Publishing history

The Favored Circle was first published by The MIT Press (Cambridge, MA) in hardcover in . They later published it in paperback in 2002. A Portuguese edition by Editora da Universidade de Brasília, was published in 2004. Very many thanks to Dr Sylvia Ficher who took upon herself the unthankful task of translation, all because she thought it was a Good Idea.

Cover of Favored Circle
First American edition, The MIT Press, 2002.
Brazilian edition, Círculo Privilegiado, Editora da Universidade de Brasília, 2004.

The book's theoretical basis

Pierre Bourdieu doing what he did best: argue
Pierre Bourdieu doing what he did best: argue.

Much of the analysis is derived from the decades of work by the French sociological mega-guru Pierre Bourdieu, a man I never met.

Now that he is gone, I regret that. I threw myself right into the deep-end of Bourdieu's work by first reading his Distinction, recently voted one of the ten most influential works of sociology of the 20th century. It was heavy going. I had a masters in the sociology of science, but at least I had teachers to guide me through the literature. With Bourdieu I was on my own.

His language was difficult and Baroque, but the ideas were brilliant. Distinction completely transformed my understanding of architecture and architectural education. I continued reading him for eight years, and applied his theories to my own original occupation. The result was The Favored Circle.

The reviews

The Architects' Journal said it was full of barely suppressed rage. The AIA Journal thought that it was splenetically resentful. Architecture Australia said it was all healthy food, but cooked to stick in the throat. Metropolis chortled that it was wonderfully bilious. Others have called it dangerous, mischievous, subversive and offensive. Quite a collection of adjectives, eh?

Naturally, I think it's great. Most of the architectural academics I talk to see its greatest value in its analysis of architectural education. Andrew Seidel, editor of one of the most prestigious journals of the field, JAPA, said that:

You can't prove any of it, but it just rings true.

A great review

One of the best reviews I had was from Jim Mayo, in the Journal of Architectural Education (54/1 Sep 2000, pp.58-59). Professor Mayo has a long history as an architectural activist in the political sense. In a discipline that has always been basically to the Right of the political spectrum, with the odd but uneasy dalliance with the Left when it is fashionable, Jim has always been a stalwart of political activism. I don't know Jim, but I think he did a grand job. But I would say that, wouldn't I?

A bad review

The most rabid review I ever had was penned by Professor Andy Pressman, an architect and award-winning teacher at the University of New Mexico, published in ARQ (3/3 1999, p.2). Prof Pressman hated every damn word. He hated its layout, its style, its digressions, its language:

What is at first blush an intriguing and timely work is actually a progressively irritating mosaic of commentary, incomplete and idiosyncratic analysis punctuated by digressions of non sequitur proportion... As for evidence, as for analytically illuminating much less provocative material, there is virtually nothing. The only thing that [Dr Garry] has succeeded at is insulting the intellectual and professional integrity of every possible group of readers.

Prof Pressman had many other epithets for the book: near comic, stunningly naive, allegedly novel, puzzling and annoying, a dubious retrospective, thin veracity, awfully glib. Not good, is it?

My own reading of his review was that I have not given him and his occupation the unctuous adulation that he so clearly feels is his and his occupation's irrefragable due.

I am always wary of award-winning architectural teachers, as Andy is. Good on him for his educational skills and his enthusiasm! My own experience is that the great architectural educators—of which no doubt Prof Pressman is one—are also the most humourless prigs.

Make a light jest of their calling, as they are fond of referring to it, and you might as well be making risque pork jokes about the Prophet to Osama bin Laden.

My own attitude is that each and every profession is a pompous balloon well worth pricking. From what I saw of his review, Prof Andy Pressman was a devotee of the ancient Anglo-American school of the sociology of the professions, a body of work that he takes me to task for ignoring. True! I ignore it completely! I think there is little of worth in it, much of it being simply a justification of the professionals' view of themselves as superior human beings.

Prof Pressman also attacked me for ignoring the notion of [community] service that the highly paid professions use to justify their paychecks. Again, very true! I think that is self-serving crap. When the architect or the doctor or Prof Pressman holds himself or herself out as an altruistic benefactor of humanity, they do so only to justify their condescension to the construction worker or the medical aide who, they claim, only grubs for money.

An inept review

I've only had done review that I thought was completely inept, in a journal called ArchitectureBoston. Well, what do expect from an architecture mag that elides two words into one and puts them together backwards? I don't mind criticism (and believe me, have I had a bucket of it), but this was by a guy who thinks that Tom Wolfe's From Bauhaus to Our House was an affectionate jest of the Modern Movement, and who got bored with Favored Circle because it doesn't have any pictures of buildings in it. At least even this critic had to grudgingly admit it would become obligatory in every university library and establish its author as the world's expert on the subject. But I could have done without his saying it had the appeal of salted peanuts, and that it induced narcolepsy.

The cover

The Architects' Journal called it deceptively harmless-looking, and they're right. Many thanks to Jim McWerthy at MIT for his efforts. The design won a mention from the Bookbuilders of Boston in 2000. Congrats Jim!

The publishers have never seen me, but the cover is disturbingly close to my actual appearance. Spooky, don't you think? The white dots on green are eerily reminiscent of my normal complexion. But gee, guys, you could have spelled my name correctly: there are two r's in Garry, dammit. (How come two r's? For the same reason Harry, Barry and Larry have two, of course. Duh.)

Well, I suppose its better than the Chinese (mainland) ripoff of one of my books so expressively entitled An Excess of Technical Writing (sic) that incorporated some of my old stuff and named me as Gany.

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