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Profession hails Dimbleby's RIBA sustainability challenge

Broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby last week called on architects to recognise their 'daunting responsibility' to the future - and won the applause of the profession. Dimbleby was delivering the first RIBA annual lecture at its Portland Place headquarters last Wednesday.

The Any Questions presenter addressed a packed Jarvis Hall - despite the threat of May Day riots - with his talk, 'Confessions of an optimist'.

Dimbleby's observations, in which he urged architects to do more for sustainable development, were welcomed by the audience - although not all of his criticisms.

Sir Colin Stansfield Smith said the speech was 'worthy' but also reassuring and full of good intentions, 'with all the messages we want to hear'. But, he questioned a number of Dimbleby's assumptions, including the accusation that architects blame the client for their failure to design more environmentally sensitive buildings. 'He assumes we have control and we don't, ' Stansfield Smith said. 'To an extent we are powerless.'

But Stansfield Smith acknowledged an inherent contradiction within the profession that speaks of its commitment to environmental sensitivity while applauding buildings that are wholly unsustainable. While Marco Goldschmied was raising the flag for sustainability as president of the RIBA, he said, the institute awarded the Stirling Prize to Future Systems' Media Centre at Lord's Cricket Ground.

'It's a contradiction in all of us, ' Stansfield Smith said. 'While the Media Centre is a building I like, it goes against the principles of sustainability.'

CABE commissioner Richard Feilden also applauded the 'well-balanced' presentation, although it got 'fairly close to the bone at times'.

'I think he has a breadth of vision that comes from his work in the third world and an understanding of the wider issues, ' Feilden said.

'We've got to get real about this. We've got to demonstrate how we can add value to issues of global importance. People now pay lip-service to sustainable development. It's just not good enough.' Feilden added that he supported the assault against mediocre architecture.

In his lecture, Dimbleby identified the real challenge, not with high profile iconic buildings but in the 'creation of the routine' - schools, hospitals, colleges, factories, offices and the houses in which we live: 'These are the architects who design our habitual urban and suburban landscape, and, I think, do far more to shape the communities in which we live than their more celebrated peers.' And he proposed the architectural equivalent of the hippocratic oath - 'a clearly defined set of green criteria to which architects of repute would pledge their collective allegiance'.

Read Dimbleby's speech at www. ajplus. co. uk

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