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2010: The year in news

AJ news editor Richard Waite on cuts, tuition fees, ‘suicidal’ bids and how the government turned its back on the profession

The first few months of 2010 ran smoothly; the architects we spoke to were upbeat, unemployment was down and we reported on resurrected projects including Land Sec’s ‘Walkie Talkie’ by Rafael Viñoly and Richard Rogers’ Leadenhall Cheesegrater.

Then the wheels started falling off.

The arrival of disgraced banker Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin at RMJM surprised us all. As did the first pictures of Anish Kapoor’s Olympic sculpture (pictured), which was described by Ken Shuttleworth as ‘the Wembley arch after a design review with King Kong’.

But the fireworks began when the coalition government was formed. Our coverage turned to ditched schemes such as Denton Corker Marshall’s Birmingham Courts – an early victim of the emergency budget. The profession then met a new nemesis: education secretary Michael Gove.

Michael Gove

Michael Gove - architects’ nemesis

Prior to his ministerial appointment, Gove had attacked the profession for ‘creaming off cash’ under the £55 million BSF programme.

The AJ was still learning of practices bidding for school work when, in early July, Gove effectively binned the programme. More than 700 schemes were stopped, with only 150 sample schools and academies given the chance to restart.   

The ministerial merry-go-round span fast. Anti-Brutalist/Modernist architecture minister Margaret Hodge was out and was replaced by AJ friend Ed Vaizey. A day later he was gone, and unknown John Penrose was in.

We continued to fill pages with the profession’s own personnel churn, breaking stories on key staff leaving RMJM and Carey Jones (later renamed), and the departure of the ‘talismanic’ Bill Taylor from Hopkins and Cecil Balmond from Arup.

Thankfully for the hundreds of staff at architectural giants Archial, Canadian firm Ingenium were on hand to buy them out just days after it went into administration in September, owing thousands of pounds in tax.

I interviewed a jubilant Zaha Hadid after her highly-acclaimed MAXXI in Rome won her this year’s Stirling Prize. Jean Nouvel’s Serpentine Pavilion was not as well received but news, broken by the AJ, that Peter Zumthor was to design the 2011 structure, was welcomed.

Architects were cutting each other’s throats, with ‘suicidal’ fee bids

Then came the double issue of fees. The AJ revealed architects were cutting each other’s throats, with ‘suicidal’ fee levels dropping to as low as 1.8 per cent and hourly rates falling for the first time in a decade (from £75 to £70). The volume of comments recieved was proof we had hit on a huge problem.

In education, the government voted to up tuition fees, architecture students demonstrated and we exposed a bid by the RIBA and SCHOSA to persuade the government that Part 2 should be exempt from the tuition fee overhaul.

In October, we broke the news CABE was having its funds axed as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review. Despite negotiating two rounds of cuts, the commission now relies on a merger with the Design Council to survive.

As part of the government’s Localism agenda, the prospect of increased planning fees set by the local authorities reared its head. As did working for free on local schemes.

But as the year closes, the number of projects on hold is dropping and optimism, according to the RIBA’s Future Trends Survey, is growing.

Though the Localism Bill promises a big shake-up, the minutiae of what it means has yet to emerge. But there is no doubt the National Planning Policy Framework will be the most important government document in a decade and the fallout, good or bad, will fill the
AJ next year.

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