Call to arms: ‘Save Design for London’
A host of high-profile names have issued an impassioned plea to the Mayor of London to save Design for London (DfL) from disappearing
Last week, the Mayor’s Design Advisory Panel member Terry Farrell sent a letter to Boris Johnson urging him to safeguard the development-enabling body, describing DfL as ‘the very best creative planning and urban design team in the entire UK’.
Farrell is just one of a growing chorus of supporters, including a raft of small practices which have won work with DfL, demanding the survival of the organisation which faces an uncertain future following the government’s decision to pull the plug on parent body the London Development Agency’s (LDA).
The move means that the Greater London Authority, led by the Mayor, must battle for financial scraps from central government and cobble together a reduced working budget to take in-house both DfL, which costs around £1.5 million a year to run, and £56 million-worth of the LDA’s committed projects.
The 18-strong DfL has garnered almost unanimous backing from the profession.
Richard Lavington of Maccreanor Lavington Architects, praised its role in helping small practices to win public contracts. He said: ‘DfL has been a very enlightened aspect of the client side of procurement processes that they have been a part of and have argued for the importance of looking at skills of individuals, rather than the track records of large companies.’
He added: ‘DfL is great for promoting a wide range of opportunities for smaller practices to contribute, particularly to public sector work.’
Jeremy Grint, divisional director of regeneration and economic development at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, said working with DfL helped the council achieve ‘more profile than we would have traditionally [received],’ adding ‘[They] helped to introduce us to new designers who at the time we may not have considered using.’
Jonathan Sergison of Sergison Bates said: ‘As someone who lives and works in London the thought of DfL going is depressing.
‘We should protect it, it’s an unusually brilliant organisation. I can’t imagine it getting smaller and being effective – the work it needed to attend to required a team of at least the number of people there now.’
Roger Madelin, another design advisory panellist and joint chief executive at developer Argent, said he had ‘no doubt’ DfL had provided economic benefits to the capital, adding: ‘Without DfL and with 33 London boroughs doing a variety projects I think we would look back in five years’ time and say that was a bloody lost opportunity.’
Michael Howe, partner at Mae, said the loss of DfL would leave London ‘with an enormous hole’, adding that the body had been a key player in explaining the importance of design to politicians who still saw it as an ‘add-on’ and ‘didn’t understand how it generates everything from good health to money.’
He said: ‘What we stand to lose is a sense of direction and ambition that is over and above the ambition of the boroughs.
‘Now that CABE is no more, that role becomes even more important.’
In the experience of Paul Monaghan of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, DfL had been instrumental in easing the wheels of progress by boosting a council’s confidence in a scheme. He said: ‘Politicians were really encouraged that DfL supported our scheme. Their support was always helpful to move a project forward.’
Planning officers and small practices which rely on DfL’s services are also concerned about the organisation’s possible death. Vincent Lacovara of AOC and a senior urban designer at Croydon Council, said funding cuts and planning office redundancies would make the challenges local authorities face greater. He said: ‘It’s fundamental to have that service, it’s hugely valuable to be able to set a policy framework.’
Mark Brearley, head of DfL, declined to comment on the negotiations, but said: ‘We are busy as ever, helping London to shape a better city. We can’t stop ourselves looking forward with optimism.’
Daniel Moylan, chair of the Mayor’s Design Advisory Panel, responded: ‘The Mayor is facing a difficult financial situation not of his making [and] it isn’t possible at the moment to say exactly what DfL’s future will be.
‘However, DfL has played a very valuable role and the Mayor’s commitment to design is absolutely total.’
Moylan made clear that the Mayor’s Design Advisory Panel would continue to operate irrespective of DfL’s fate.
However, former RIBA President and Design Advisory Panel member Sunand Prasad said: ‘What DfL has been doing is incredibly valuable and in effect far in excess of what it costs. The Mayor’s Advisory Panel has relied on that support and something very close to it is needed.’
Read letters sent to the Mayor by Terry Farrell and Sarah Ichioka, director of the Architecture Foundation
Liza Fior of Muf architecture/ art
Design cannot be separated from the wider political landscape and from discussions about what is cut, what is sold, what is precious , what can go, how hard to replace things once gone and finally what is of value.
In a time of minimal public investment, when local authorities need any £ of a 106 and yet when Crossrail will be thundering through East London it is even more important to “up the ante”, to give planners and others support and when what is spent must to be done with even greater care. To lose the body of work and trust relationships that have been built up over time would be an extraordinary waste.
Patrick Lynch of Lynch Architects
Design for London are the only people actually thinking about the spaces between buildings rather than simply about objects. They are the only body concerned with how you experience the city as much as what it looks like.
DfL are also the only body made up of professionals dedicated to enabling inexperienced local authorities to act as better clients. DfL is something like a City Architect, or rather, City Client Representative, promoting and supporting good design whilst everyone else from CABE to planners are involved instead in ‘Development Control’ or ‘Quality Assurance’ or whatever other term you can use for ‘rubber stamping’.
DfL are involved on behalf of good design itself, and they operate as some sort of conscience in lieu of the gulf of credibility that exists today for the other organizations that purport to enable design but which have become instead discredited by the taint of cronyism or institutional paralysis…. We all know that good design can’t be guaranteed on a project and that a good product requires a good client. This is why it is so important that Design for London is seen as exactly what is; ‘for London’, not for architects or for clients to manipulate, but something that acts as a corporate conscience on behalf of a profession that so readily sells its soul to the lowest bidder…
The RIBA believes London deservesthe best buildings, communities and the environment, andis working to ensure that the high quality of London’s new buildings and places does not diminish as a result of the proposed abolition of the London Development Agency, as outlined in the government’s recent Local Growth White Paper.
The RIBA believes that Design for London, amongst other pan-London agencies, has deliveredessential work to ensure the highest quality architecture is created in the city, whilst providingvalue for money,and that momentum must not be lost.
The RIBA strongly believes that vital design services and mechanisms for raising design standards should be provided for in any future plans as they are a key part of delivering successful communities and great places both locally and strategically.
We will continue to make the case for the importance of high quality design to the Mayor of London.