Don't gloss over city plans when serious matters are at hand
Parliament is considering proposals that seven British cities should get their own appointed mayor. This raises the prospect of seven local architectural elites each racking their brains to come up with ways of channelling some of the mayoral budget towards architecture. All eyes will be on the riba's London division, which has risen to the challenge by asking London's 50 biggest practices to donate £2000 to fund a policy on architecture for London to be submitted to the mayor. One hundred thousand pounds is roughly equivalent to a week's hire-out cost of an architect from each of these 50 practices, or the amount a single architect in one of these practices could expect to earn over four years. It's a serious commitment, so let's make sure the money is spent well.
What we don't need is a glossy brochure outlining a 'broad sweep' policy for architecture in London. We don't need it because it's already been done. Anyone who feels the need to wax lyrical about the social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits of architecture, and the importance of architecture-friendly government, can simply borrow the document which Scotland's culture minister, Rhona Brankin, published last September. Save for the occasional mention of the new parliament, most references to Scotland can be replaced with London, or Birmingham, or any other British city. Proclamations such as 'Scotland's built heritage is a tangible and visible record of the history of Scotland and its people' are infinitely flexible, and inherently unobjectionable. Replace the glossy images of Scottish buildings with photographs of buildings from the appropriate region and you have the perfect feel-good brochure: an advertisement for local architects which reaffirms that good design, debate, education and innovation are good things and ought to be encouraged.
Thanks to Brankin, the rest of us can skip the fluffy stage altogether. Architects have to work out what they want, what they can reasonably ask for, and what they are prepared to trade. If the riba London division gets its £100,000, let's hope it doesn't use it to produce anything which looks or sounds too nice.