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editorial letters

Learning to love new buildings - and wider urban design

What's your favourite building (apart from your next)? And what's the one you most hate (apart from your next)?

These kinds of questions (without the parentheses) are being asked rather a lot at the moment by the press, Radio 4's Today programme, and the RIBA. Parliament is in recess, when harder news goes on vacation. But the Nick Hornbyesque list culture has never percolated down to buildings before. So why now, and what do these beauty parades tell us? Clearly, these lists provide easily compiled 'content'to feed the appetite for the sound bite in the age of the short attention span and mania for nostalgia. And buildings and architects are getting unprecedented exposure, due to the Lottery boom, a strong economy in recent years and a shoal of TV makeover shows.

But the buildings chosen tell another story. Today 's poll had a Modern building, former RIBA president Owen Luder's Brutalist Tricorn Centre, as the one most wanted demolished. Its concrete cousin in London (some argued), Royal Gold Medallist Lasdun's National Theatre, was both lauded and loathed, with Durham Cathedral toppling young upstarts such as the Eden Project on the loved list.

Tate Modern and Stansted completed the favourites - and they are all grand gestures, big buildings with generous spaces open to the public for them to use, mostly free of charge and in their leisure time. Notably, in the context of the tall buildings debate and another proposed for the space above Victoria station (see page 4), no tower appeared on the 'most hated'shortlist.

The RIBA is also polling MPs, who say they love the Houses of Parliament but hate the Dome. But where on the hated lists are the average units churned out by volume housebuilders, ushered through by planners who go into 'minded to refuse'mode the moment a single faintly Modernist house is put to committee? Where the bland office blocks? The identikit shopping malls?

If next month's Urban Design Week does anything, it must get across to the public that unsung buildings - the hospital, the petrol station, the hotel, the private house - are equally as important as those of the big institutions or the big Lottery winners. And for them to work, the spaces in between must also strive to be loved, not loathed.

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