By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

Bad design - an arrestable offence in a world full of commissions

It all started the day when Thomas Muirhead announced that he had decided to set up the Thomas Muirhead Commission for Architecture.

'Architects can send me round their projects, and I'll let them know if they're any good or not, ' Muirhead explained.

Now, whether by coincidence, or triggered by RIBA president Marco Goldschmied's announced intention of raising his own regiment of design commissars, this proposal by Muirhead marked the beginning of a global takeover by that hallowed Beaux Arts architectural tradition, the design review, or 'crit' as it used to be called.

And for a profession already regulated and advised to the gunwales by institutes, boards, preview and review committees, peer group probings, callings in and rulings out, foundations and trusts, and of course the antics of toothless-but-timeconsuming 'design watchdog Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment', what could have been more timely than the overwhelming flood of single-person design commissions - all as fanatical about eradicating bad design as the Taliban militia is about eradicating Buddhas - that followed where Muirhead had led?

The first organised unit - A Company, the First Battalion of the London Good Design Division - went into action in the autumn of 2001, only days after their personal commissions had been set up. As a boy I remember seeing them march by in close order beneath banners emblazoned with their divisional motto: 'We knows where you live.' As the serried ranks passed by in their snappy regulator suits, every man and woman proudly carrying their Independent Commissioners Field Service kit - a podium-style desk and two lightweight collapsible chairs for combat consultations on design quality - the crowds lining the pavements cheered them to the echo.

What followed is already history. At a prearranged signal the force of design commissioners split into two and sealed off Oxford Street at both ends. A building-to-building search followed and although the bad designers thought to be in residence had already fled, caches holding hundreds of bad designs were unearthed and passed to the commissioners so they could write individual reports before publicly destroying the items.

At nightfall commissioners withdrew to regroup, but the following morning, reinforced by a company of the Middlesex Minimalists, they advanced again. This time they enjoyed more success, skilfully encircling a nest of notoriously bad designers who had practiced their evil trade from offices in London's Covent Garden. By midday, after a bitter hand to hand struggle involving the use of mobile phones as missiles and much desk-top fighting, it was officially announced that no fewer than six bad designers and three suspected bad architects had been captured.

'Flying columns' of commissioners continued to round up fugitive bad designers for several days in London and the provinces afterwards, but the taking of Covent Garden - swiftly followed by the burning of the Cambridge Holiday Inn - marked the end of all organized resistance.

Within a week the commissioners were able to organize a victory celebration to commemorate the purging of bad design and the dawn of a new era of liberation in which the ambiguous term 'design' would be banned and replaced by the positive term 'good design' in future.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters