I first came across Paul Shepheard through my first university reading list, his 1994 What is Architecture? a typically widely recommended text for the architectural novice. On venturing into my second year of architectural study, I was also recommended The Cultivated Wilderness, another reliable resource in the what, how and whys of making architecture, landscape and strategy, published in 1997 (both MIT Press). Both texts provided a timely insight into the wider existential questions I had for architecture and that I still continue to brood over, three years later.
Next to his earlier texts sits his most recent book How To Like Everything: A Utopia in a skinny flexible bind and bold yellow cover. Much like his earlier writing, Shepheard continues to actively engage the reader through his combination of narrative and anecdotal quips interwoven with history and theory. Through an account of a trip he took to the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam (I took a similar at this time last year) his notion of utopia is about living in the present- ‘the actual world’. He recounts a trip to the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam in which he questions us to reframe our stance to the world around us.
Shepheard’s reference to reframing the dialectic between criticism and creativity bears particular relevance. He talks of ‘criticism for use and creativity for making’. When he explains the dilemma of ‘artists bogged down by critical practice’ and not longer able to act- this echoes thoughts on the result of my own undergraduate training in architecture. Shepheard adds, ‘architects- who carefully placing their bricks on top of each other- are not making contexts, they are making pieces of the world itself.’ Writers on the other hand, in an attempt to understand the world- utilise narrative and select from everything there is, ‘that’s what writers do, they make contexts.’
When ‘architecture’ seems to conjure all sorts of messy connotations about building and shaping the world, Shepheard offers a fresh narrative and room to think.