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Dumbing down does not work


The bbc may have 'dumbed down' a bit; Round Britain Quiz, despite the corporation's claims to the contrary, is scarcely what it was. Some people (not me) will never accept that jazz is appropriate for what they still think of as the Third Programme. On the other hand, the first-rate overall quality of corporation output, particularly on radio, must be sturdily defended against criticisms from profound thinkers such as Alastair Campbell, the prime minister's poodle-pitbull, who dislikes hearing anything that does not accord with His Master's Voice. It is not for those who live by the soundbite and the 24-hour smear to accuse others of having a 'dd' mentality.

One accepts that there would be economic efficiencies, and no doubt less bureaucracy, were the news to be dictated from New Labour Towers, but the relationship between cost and dumbing down is not a simple one, and nor is the outcome. It would be useful for the construction industry if it were. After all, what has the Gadarene rush towards certain types of design and build been but a dumbing down in the face of the recession? You procure buildings more cheaply by buying cheaper materials, building in repair and maintenance costs which the sucker client (or user) will pick up later on, and by forcing fee bidding on the consultant team (thereby ensuring that a first-rate service will only be provided courtesy of long- standing notions of professional pride, and voluntary donations of time and resources).

The only way to achieve real savings in our industry, without dumbing down the end product and its contents, is via design brain-power. A client who wanted to save 30 per cent on total building cost without sacrificing quality should pay the architects and contractors enough money to ensure that they made more profit even though the building cost less. In reality this never happens. You have to work harder to receive lower income. The results, alas, are all around us.

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