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Turning talk into action in fight against architectural elite


Will Alsop's disparaging comments about regional architecture have prompted letters pitting Paul Hyett, as champion of the regions and the small practices, against Alsop, as the arrogant epitome of the self-satisfied, starobsessed, metropolitan scene. The correspondence surrounding the issue can be read on our website. As we have been inundated with letters, the bulk of correspondence which relates to any of our ongoing debates is published on our online Discussion Forum, to which readers can add their own views.

London-centrism is an all too familiar subject, but it is interesting that that the debate has crystallised around two high-profile characters.Both have institutional weight: Alsop, as chair of the Architecture Foundation, and Hyett, as president of the RIBA. Both have found a mouthpiece for their views as columnists for the AJ (where both, incidentally, have adhered to the view that a good columnist stirs up trouble). The fact that both men are so outspoken brings the issues sharply into focus. It also means that the debate is liable to descend into little more than a pantomime brawl unless the strength of feeling can be harnessed to a positive end.

So far, Hyett is proving adept at tapping into his broad support base. His recent pledge to push the UK government into making it a legal requirement to commission an architect for planning and listing consent is a case in point.While ostensibly a measure to benefit the profession as a whole, it is likely to redress the balance between the workload of the small practice and the superstar: Alsop and his ilk are unlikely to end up working on the sort of project which would traditionally have been cobbled together without any architectural input at all. From the profession's point of view it is a no-lose situation. And while the public might not see it that way, we have to take the stance that it stands to benefit from the move. Politically, Hyett has chosen his mission wisely, and he has already shown that he can mobilise support. Now he needs to prove that he can turn talk into action by ensuring that the proposed changes in legislation actually see the light of day.

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