A Voyage Of Discovery
The title of Vassilis Sgoutas’ book makes the startling claim of A Journey with the Architects of the World. The sceptic can immediately raise the question: Can this really be true? That scepticism is quickly dispelled by either surface reading or by engrossing oneself in the content of the book. Yes, it is true; it is a journey with the architects of the world from a unique and inside perspective. The humble and often humorous tone and underpinning to the text is impressive and creates immediate trust in every word. The author is an honest observer of and contributor to the architectural profession in its international operations.
The Greek-born Sgoutas was first schooled in Athens, then at Bishops Diocesan College in Cape Town. He graduated in Architecture at UCT and was awarded the Helen Gardner Travel Prize. He started his professional career with Doxiadis Associates in Iraq before establishing his professional practice in Athens. His practice has been responsible for projects in Greece, the Middle East and North Africa and has won numerous architectural competitions. In 2007, the Union of International Architects (UIA) introduced the “Vassilis Sgoutas Prize”, awarded to architects who have contributed to the betterment of living conditions in areas below the poverty level. Sgoutas was president of the UIA between 1999 and 2002. He has also served on various international committees and is an honorary member of 13 professional associations of architects across the world.
The book includes a selection of papers on diverse topics that Sgoutas produced over more than 20 years. The first part of the book consists of ‘Speeches and Articles’, while the second part is ‘A Random Diary’, comprising more personal observations.
The topics in the first part are wide-ranging and have been ordered into: Aesthetics, Heritage, Urbanism, Accessibility, Sustainability, Architectural Education, the Profession, and Views on the Future. It would be easy to say that, in terms of content in this part, what is gained in width has been lost in depth. However, I would caution against such a position as it would be a false perception. Mostly in life, the beautiful simplicity and directness of words and insights communicated can only be underpinned by deep-seated insights into, and a real understanding of, the subject matter. To state things simply, one needs to know what you are talking about – and Sgoutas does.
Part Two contains a series of observations, marked by dates and place names. They are more private and record Sgoutas’ reflections on places and people. Here the fullness and depth of the author’s personality and thinking is revealed in all its honesty and intricacy.
The book’s content is the background story to much of what is happening to architecture and to the architectural profession globally. It fills an obvious gap in our collective knowledge about the hard work being done to secure the role of architects and architecture for the overall good of mankind. Clearly, Sgoutas was a pivotal figure in this for many years.
The average architect might not pick up this book to read. Due to the nature of the contents, there are no illustrations in the book. Nothing to lure the lazy eye and the equally lazy mind. In contrast, the serious architect would pick it up to read, study and re-read on their own voyage of discovery, joining all the other serious architects of the world. These architects will be richly rewarded. Sgoutas’ insights and words will assist them to find their own place in history because they will understand the world of architecture so much better.
1 2017: Berlin: Jovis Verlag GmbH. 429 pages.