On Monday Selina Mason was officially named as the new director of architecture and design review at CABE. The former head of the commission's enabling team, she replaces Peter Stewart, who stood down earlier this year to set up his own planning consultancy. Before joining CABE in 2001, Mason had stints at Long & Kentish Architects and Kohn Pedersen Fox.
She also worked on the Falmouth Maritime Museum and the Institute of Midwifery in Brighton.
Is this a big step for you?
I dealt with some significant issues in my previous job, but design review does have a very high profile. It's going to be challenging. Peter created the job here and he set the benchmark.
Have you been involved in design review before?
I've never had the pleasure of submitting a scheme for design review myself, but I've been acting director since April and I joined CABE when there were just 18 people here.
Do you mind having to be tough on people?
To some extent I've already been doing that at CABE for some time. I believe the sooner things are on the agenda, the better. It's a short-term pain for a long-term gain. It may be a hard message, but I will be more than happy to communicate it. Design reviews are all about dialogue.
Should design reviews be made open to the public?
It's important that the design review remains much as it is.
We can't invite the public because it's most important that architects can bring their schemes in confidence. If panel members were explicitly mentioned in the press, that would have a negative effect on design review.There are misunderstandings about the design reviews system, but hopefully we will be able to show people what we do at our event during Architecture Week.
Do you have plans to review more schemes than you do at present?
I don't think expansion is really on the cards. We only have a finite amount of time as a team and a panel. If there are changes, they will be about making tough choices - such as where design review matters and where it can be most effective. We already look at the significant schemes, but there are a lot of schemes that never hit the headlines, and we need to shift our focus.
Is the value of the design review process hitting home yet?
The message is getting through, and local authorities are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the design review process. Perhaps we need to make housebuilders more aware though.
What's next in terms of design review and CABE?
CABE is five years old and I feel the commission has reached an important point.
We have come so far and spent a lot of time showing people in government that good design adds value. After five years we have amassed a lot of information to demonstrate that. We need to start talking about beauty again. We should not be embarrassed to spend time discussing beautiful places and spaces.