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editorial

LEADER: Now is the time for architects to take to the open road

How much of the government's promised investment in transport in likely to make its way to architects? Roughly a third of the £180 billion that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions intends to spend over the next 10 years is earmarked for roads.

Architecture is not high in Whitehall's priorities when it comes to road planning. In truth, architects are not exactly clamouring for the privilege of joining in the great road jamboree. It doesn't sound like fun - in any case, projects of this type do not sit easily with the conventions of practice. Architectural education offers few clues as to how to represent an architecture of networks and 'incidents', especially when the incidents may be several miles apart. Such schemes demand particular presentation techniques: simulations that zoom through featureless stretches of roadway but slow down to demonstrate points of interest; drawings that can accommodate shifting scales so vast distances and detail can be conveyed side-by-side.

But architects can do it and they have proved that they can do it well. It is now five years since the Department of Transport commissioned Birds Portchmouth Russum to develop architectural proposals to run alongside an improvement programme covering a 5km stretch of London's A13 trunk road (AJ 15/22.8.96). The practice produced a scheme that combined poetic and playful sculptural elements with measures relating to noise reduction, lighting, signage, road crossings and safety.

An exemplary demonstration of the way in which architects can add utility and delight to infrastructure schemes, the project was abandoned on the basis that it would 'take too much time', raising the unthinkable possibility that improvements to the stretch of road leading to the Greenwich Peninsula would not be finished in time for the opening of the Dome.

Free from the tyranny of the millennium, and at the start of a new term of office, there is no excuse for panicking about deadlines. A little more time on planning and construction is a small price to pay for a result that will benefit countless users for generations to come.

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