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IT CONJURES UP AN IMAGE OF A NATION OF CRITICS - YET THEY ARE IN SHORT SUPPLY

EDITORIAL

In its formal response to Kate Barker's Review of Land Use Planning, the RIBA argues that design-review panels should be used by every planning authority and that 'properly empowered' design champions should be appointed at every level.

The notion of a nationwide network of constructive peer review rests on the assumption that there is an abundant supply of volunteers ready and willing to rise to the task. CABE gets by on the goodwill of talented volunteers attracted by the standard of debate, the profile of the projects and the organisation's prestige.

But how does an area with only a handful of decent architects hope to pull together a panel which is both impartial and informed? How do less-elevated panels avoid becoming the preserve of the over-important or under-employed?

The RIBA conjures up an image of a nation full of critics, yet critics are in short supply.

Or rather they are lurking in journalism and academia, curating exhibitions or writing books, divorced from the nitty-gritty of engaging with current planning policy and assessing current work. As a rule they have emerged, not from schools of architecture, but from arts and humanities. They are products of an education system which views architecture as strictly vocational and academia as distinct from practice; which views criticism as something which is done - as opposed to taught - to students; and which all too often assumes that architectural theory can be reduced to a desultory historical overview.

Consciously or otherwise, the RIBA is calling for a professional structure based on an entirely different approach. The gulf between practice and theory limits the potential for constructive discourse between the two. British architecture is in need of critics versed not just in theory and aesthetics, but in the technical, practical and financial aspects of design.

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