Architecture Depends

Jeremy Till reintroduces architects to the real world


Table of Contents

Re-imagining architectural practice
How, in the future, will we solve problems to which architects are currently our best answer?

This post is part of the series, Re-imagining architectural practice

What architecture is

The passage of years has seen an extraordinary decline in the number of dinner party invitations that Jeremy Till receives from other architects. Having not so much stuck his neck out, but rather pulled the tide out, he has exposed the nudity of a number of his peers – not the ideal dinner guest!

I jest of course, but who knows?

Architecture Depends is likely a difficult read for many architects but an eye-opener for those passionate about architecture. Till emphasises throughout that the practitioners and the practice are not the same. Architecture is framed as a socio-cultural institution as much as a profession. Therefore, reimagining architecture itself means going to the heart of its social production. To paraphrase his theme – the clash between what architecture is, and what architects want it to be.

In Till’s world, the architectural profession is inverted. Architects, while tasked with defining the inclusion of physical space, are rather preoccupied with a sort of escape room-style game – to get out of the ‘annoying’ contingencies such as the passage of time, socio-political concerns and real life in general, towards a goal of revealing ‘pure’ architecture.

Naturally, there is no escape, and this is the root of the problem. Architecture ‘depends’.

Reimagining architecture itself means going to the heart of its social production. To paraphrase his theme – the clash between what architecture is, and what architects want it to be.

Architecture as a verb

Till’s heroes are evident, and in some cases explicitly admitted – Zygmunt Bauman, Henri Lefebvre and even James Joyce - towards an architecture that is social, political, and lyrical. In one example, he presents the possibility of the architect weaving lived time with the built environment, analogous to Joyce’s temporal literary devices in Ulysses. It is a fascinating idea, but far too abstract to be retained and carried over into everyday practice. An isolated example to be certain, but characteristic of the challenge that the author creates for himself – how to build that bridge back to what architecture actually is.

Even though Till nudges architecture from the realm of nouns to verbs (plan > to plan, plot > to plot etc), he is somewhat hamstrung by being wedded to the idea of the architect as designer/author rather than the architect as doer. He gets close with the attention that he gives to lo-fi architecture, but somehow dares not cross the line. So many of the issues identified, are, negatively, rooted in architecture’s denial of life’s contingencies (or ‘externalities’, as a neoliberal might put it); or say the application, positively, of situated knowledge, are addressed head-on by the architect getting out of his chair and getting his hands dirty. The architect here 'builder', doer – or more specifically, architecture then resembles a vertically integrated undertaking. It implies a direct engagement with space, with people and the various contingencies and realms of knowledge therein.

An uppercase ‘A’

At the outset, our author takes aim at the prevailing culture of architectural education, with depictions of studio life combining the austerity of an army bootcamp with a follow-the-leader passion of a cult. In the world of architectural education, Till identifies a conflation between “radical thinking” and “radical making”, in which we are seduced by the variation in form from school to school or era to era, and deluded into believing that this is directly proportional to underlying variations in values. He convincingly argues that this could not be further from the truth.

Till strikes gold when he identifies the positive potentials of architectural education when seen through the lens of architectural intelligence rather than architectural knowledge.

It is a frame also employed by the likes of …

I could go on, but the picture painted here is of an architecture without an uppercase ‘A’, and perhaps something that might not be called architecture at all.

Till strikes gold when he identifies the positive potentials of architectural education when seen through the lens of architectural intelligence rather than architectural knowledge.


Architecture Depends repeatedly skirts along the edges of salvation – in which the architect is liberated from his responsibility as individual ‘designer’, and architecture from its lofty position as a ‘profession’. Till, perhaps accidentally, goes to the heart of the various problems identified in the book that result in architecture’s detached “black box”. Salvation lies in de-professionalisation.

Unfortunately for Till, at the time, he headed up a multidisciplinary design school, Central Saint Martins, where his students were laying down hundreds and hours and thousands of pounds every year, towards the goal of becoming that very ‘professional’. Had he advocated for de-professionalisation, it would have been a bit awkward at the office.

Architecture also depends

A London architectural duo running a “research-based practice” recently gave a talk that included an interesting project in Australia, where they flew out to work on it for months; and a bold, self-funded development in the UK. If we put design questions aside for the moment, we are left with quite fundamental ones. While they were away for months on end, how did they pay the rent or mortgage? How did they eat? Was this one long-distance project enough to sustain them? Clearly, there was a very significant part of the story that was not being told.

Or a celebrated collective, building award-winning projects straight out of university. How did they pull that off? If this is broadly achievable for graduating students at large, then surely gold is to be found in their story, regardless of the creative awards. We assume they weren’t hungry or living on the street as they started up. Have they been able to sustain that early idealism, or must practices like this eventually revert to more traditional models? Can their youthful idealism survive the social and financial demands of a house purchase, a pregnancy, or a marriage – in short, real life?

Architecture also depends on these contingencies, it's just that they are awkward and un-romantic to address. They also should not be ignored.

Architecture is the most elite profession in the UK, with 73% of its members coming from privileged backgrounds. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining so many of the practice stories that do not get fully fleshed out.

The future is blight

If this book’s arguments could be condensed to a single line, an excellent candidate would be the one that appears roughly midway through: “Remember who you were before you were branded an architect.”

So where are we now, more than a decade after publication? If you thought the detachment of architectural photography was bad, now we have generative AI. If you thought the detachment of generative AI was bad, today we have the metaverse. But wait, we may even have generative AI in the metaverse!

Good luck, Jeremy Till. You certainly have your work cut out for you!

Author: Jeremy Till
Year of Publication: 2009

UK residents can support their local bookshops here

Disclosure: If you buy books linked to our site, we may earn a commission from, whose fees support independent bookshops.

Behind the scenes, building an architectural tool for everyone!
The future of architecture is not what you think! Let’s rebuild it from the foundations up so that it is accessible to all, and make it relevant for the 21st century while we’re at it.

Enjoyed the read? Now watch the films.

SpatialArtificial IntelligenceDe-professionalisationFuture of workBooks

amonle Twitter

architect | thinking in systems | building a serious game that builds