Chris Brown, igloo, on planning - 'Planning is dead, Long live Localism'
The reaction of the profession to Localism appears to divide into three categories.
There are those who embrace the zeitgeist and throw themselves into working with communities to develop plans for sites and neighbourhoods, in the great tradition of architecture as a public good.
Then there are those who feel that pro-bono work at community level undermines the value of good design or is simply non-commercial in today’s era of austerity and increasing unemployment in the profession. They actively turn away from it.
And finally there are those for whom Big Society and community planning is a complete blank in their world view. Either they aren’t listening or they are too busy jetting around the world winning work in more buoyant economies, the strategy which, after all, saved and indeed made a number of major practices during the last recession.
I suspect this reflects the reaction of wider society and that the take-up of Localism will be patchy unless it is centrally imposed.
In times of substantial market disruption there are inevitably threats and opportunities. Professions tend not to react to these, made up as they are of individuals and companies that react to markets. Professions are usually followers. And in the architectural profession, there are many disruptive forces at work at the moment.
Funding for projects is changing dramatically in areas such as schools and affordable housing. Debt finance for speculative commercial development is virtually non-existent. We are in a time of adjustment and transition from debt to equity.
At the same time there is every chance that the balance between new build and refurbishment will change fundamentally as environmental retrofit becomes a significant industry – potentially one from which architects will be substantially excluded.
Structures and expectations around design quality are also changing. National bodies (such as CABE) and national standards (HCAs, for example) are out, and local decision-making is in.
And finally, government is implementing a concerted strategy to push power, and, to an extent, control over assets and funding away from government (national, regional and local) to local communities in towns, villages and neighbourhoods.
In this environment, I would want to be organising my business, and my profession, to at least place a bet on these trends being followed through. At the very least it would be a sensible hedging strategy.
So what does that mean in practice? People will have different ideas, but understanding and engaging with community-level environmental retrofit, community planning, local design standards and design review, and reaching out to a new set of smaller, equity-rich clients would all make it on my to-do list.
And I would wish for my professional body to be embracing these changes too, in the hope that architecture can emerge heroically in a new, successful, popular and prosperous form.