When the capital's in crisis, Lord Rogers' presence is an irrelevance
'Fury as Ken appoints Rogers at £1,625 a day, ' shrilled the London Evening Standard a couple of weeks ago. Then last week it tried again with: 'Sex has its place in public: Lord Rogers'.
No doubt Lord Rogers, back on the winning form he struck in Bryan Appleyard's 1980s biography, will make further appearances in the news section of the newspapers (instead of the op-ed pages he used to occupy before he became a full-blown celebrity), and no doubt he will edge towards the front page as he does so.
But why is the news media interested in him and not the even more gifted architect Lord Foster of Thames Bank? Because while both of them are famous, only Lord Rogers is a public figure in the sense that newspaper readers understand.
Like Steven Norris or Jeffrey Archer, Rogers is a man who dares and double dares instead of backing away when he appears to have gone too far.
As a bemused representative of the protest group 'Transgressive Architecture' confessed to the Standard after Rogers'broadminded remarks about busking and public sex: 'I didn't think he would be so radical as to make such a declaration, considering his political roles.'
And here we reach the nub of the Rogers phenomenon. What are these political roles for? Outside politics, Lord Rogers is the figurehead of an architectural practice that is the sixth-largest fee-earner in the country (nearly £13 million last year), even though it is only 35th in the number of architects it employs. His wife is the figurehead of one of the best-known restaurants in London, and one of his business partners has been president of the RIBA for the past two years.
Inside politics he is a 'working Lord' who has been closely identified with the Labour Party since the 1980s, and with the mayor's office ever since it was created. He is paid £130,000 a year to be London's 'city architect' and has negotiated a consultancy rate of £1,625 a day for up to 80 days a year as chief advisor on architecture to the Greater London Authority.
Rogers' collection of well-paid jobs alone is sufficient to arouse the animosity of some, but inside the contract culture it is regarded as reasonable.
What perhaps seemed less reasonable last Thursday, when 80 per cent of the London Underground was closed down, the mayor was in the process of seeking a judicial review of the privatisation of the network, traffic was at a standstill and the buses were swamped, was precisely why so much advice on architecture is needed when London's transport crisis is infrastructural.
No doubt Lord Rogers has some knowledge of civil and transport engineering and an insider's grasp of the tragedy of the underground, but is he a specialist in any of these areas?
Surely not. His architectural advice must, in general, be confined to design issues relating to the new, high-density, postindustrial London that he has written about so enthusiastically over the years, with its towers and boulevards, joined-up open spaces and other treats for the tourism industry.
Tourism is, of course, a subject in itself, but in this connection two things about it are indisputable. It is decidedly not part of the transport solution, but part of the transport problem, and even if it attracted a record 20 million visitors a year to London its 'earnings' would still be conspicuously less than the sums spent by Britons overseas.
According to the Corporation of London, the tube strike of 29 March cost £100 million in lost days' work, production and commerce. Important and wonderful though it is, architecture is not the Big Issue.