Our lead story reveals that Ken Livingstone is to be advised by a panel of international architects. The news is entirely in keeping with the current consensus that the way to achieve quality in the built environment is to trust the opinion of an elite group of enlightened experts. The notion of mass consultation seems as hopelessly outdated as the idea that architecture and urban design should be left purely to market forces. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment has demonstrated that a small advisory committee can be speedy and effective, avoiding the unwieldy bureaucracy of consultation, while acting as a guard against the devil-may-care philistinism of the market.
But a culture which accepts the supremacy of a minority is open to charges of abuse. Richard Rogers - who is a member of Livingstone's mayoral cabinet and is responsible for selecting the panel of architectural advisors - will have to be particularly careful to ensure that the advice of his committee is seen to be entirely independent of the fortunes of his practice. It is a near impossible task given that the status of the Richard Rogers Partnership means it could reasonably expect a steady flow of high-profile projects, irrespective of Rogers' political career.
When David Rock introduced his idea of 'town champions' he warned of the dangers of perceived or actual cronyism and argued that the solution was to award the post to an outside architect.
Involving foreign architects in London's architectural policy has many advantages. It is a sign that the UK perceives itself as an international player. Input from those who have been subject to a different set of influences will, hopefully, challenge existing preconceptions and encourage an imaginative approach to architecture and urban design. But the most important thing about offering key positions to foreign architects is simply the fact that they are, literally, outsiders. They have established networks of their own, and their welfare is not dependent on securing major commissions in London. That, and the fact that everybody is ready to see some new faces at the top.