Gordon Brown's announcement of vastly increased public-sector spending looks set to provide the biggest boost to the construction industry since the launch of the National Lottery. Unlike the first generation of Lottery money, the increased expenditure will not go towards capital projects alone, but an additional several billion pounds will enter the construction industry.
Many of the monuments to the first generation of Lottery spending - new stadia, rebuilt theatres, refurbished museums - were designed by British architects who had previously been forced by recession and native philistinism to establish their reputations abroad. Now these British architectural stars are held in higher esteem in their own country than at any time in living memory. But the £1.5 billion per year to be added to the NHS'capital programme will create wholly different kinds of monument, calling for very different skills. In many ways this will be a more telling test of the ability of the current generation of architects to transform society for the better.
Our leading architects are going to have to fight hard to prove that they are better able to provide value for money than those with a more obvious knack for keeping costs down. To justify design fees to a suspicious public, architects have long argued that their work is useful not only in creating forms which add value to property, but also in making economical use of land, materials and energy. Competence in the latter will be essential in ensuring that architects remain at the forefront of the design of public-sector buildings, in the face of fierce competition from a range of nontraditional procurement routes.
It may seem unrealistic to expect internationally renowned architects to relish the task of refurbishing hospital wards. But if they do not wish to be remembered just as sculptors with huge budgets, our architectural stars should now apply themselves to the less glamorous - but equally important skill - of husbanding resources and organising space efficiently. If they do not do it for local authorities and NHS trusts now, the chances are they will end up doing it for design-and-build contractors in the future.