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Leader - Design Review Panels

You will almost certainly face a design review panel soon, writes Kieran Long. This is a good thing, as long as their panellists are diverse and the scope is specific.

In the not-too-distant future, a good proportion of you will find yourself up in front of a design review panel, explaining your project and facing architectural criticism of the kind you may not have dealt with since college. As Max Thompson explains on pages 12-14, a multitude of committees are being
created up and down the country in an attempt to make up for the chronic lack of trained architectural judgement exercised in most planning departments.
These panels are on the rise – we counted at least 40 that we know exist today across the UK, at national, regional or local level – and the obvious question is: who is going to populate the council chambers and committee rooms around the country that will host them?
The vital thing, beyond having a majority of design professionals and a sprinkling of historians, is that the panels are at least partially composed of individuals with a broader purview than the area that they are judging projects in. That has to be the point of these panels. If the judge can’t draw on
examples from elsewhere of exemplary best practice, your town will get what it has always had. If you only know about how it’s done in Stoke-on-Trent, you’re unlikely to find a way forward for it.
That’s why it may be single-issue design review panels that have the most success. CABE’s schools panel, for instance, or John Callcutt’s proposed network of housing design review panels, which he proposes in the Callcutt Review of Housebuilding Delivery. These will be able to compare likefor-like across the country, not broaching any local excuses for lack of ambition.
The great thing about architects is that they are used to a borderline abusive level of criticism about their project (remember those aggressive critics at your final jury). Design review panels should therefore hold little to fear.

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