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Gove: Richard Rogers won’t design your school

Michael Gove has singled out Richard Rogers in his latest unprovoked outburst against the profession

Having twice already claimed architects working on the BSF programme represented a waste of taxpayers’ money, the education secretary has again targeted the profession in relation to profiteering from schools building. Gove also took a swipe at other ‘award-winning architects’ and vowed to deny them them any role in the growing, government-backed Free School movement.

Taking informal questions at a Free Schools conference on the weekend he said: ‘And we won’t be getting Richard Rogers to design your school, we won’t be getting any award-winning architects to design it, because no-one in this room is here to make architects richer.’

Chris Romer-Lee of Studio Octopi, who has designed a scheme for the Bolingbroke free school (pictured) which is planned for a former hospital site in south London and who has also won an AJ Small Projects award, said: ‘His comments suggest that he may not fully understand our industry. More frightening is the fact that he appears to not even be prepared to engage with architects that have been building schools over the last ten years. It’s tragic that this award winning expertise is simply cast aside.’

He added: ‘These are complex projects. We hope the government can find a balance where realistic fees are paid in return for good urban design and architecture’.

Pascale Scheurer, director at Surface-to-Air Architects, attended the conference. She asked: ‘Why is he singling out architects?

‘I would be very happy to join [Michael Gove] in a private discussion or public debate about it. I’ve been involved with BSF since 2003 [and] have publicly denounced the waste in the programme, even prior to the Election.’

Shortly before taking office Gove said architects were ‘creaming off cash’ under the £55 billion BSF programme and in June last year he said schools money should be spent more efficiently on ‘front-line services’ and ‘not on consultants, architects or bureaucracy’.

The RIBA previously issued a stinging reply to his comments, with Ruth Reed claiming the education secretary was ‘purporting a myth’.

She said: ‘It is the system that created waste, not those that delivered to it.’

Richard Rogers was unavailable to comment.

A Department for Education spokesperson was unable to comment on Gove’s response, but said: ‘The Building Schools for the Future programme was wasteful, needlessly bureaucratic and behind schedule. It would have been inexcusable to have continued with the programme.

‘Ministers have been clear that the end of BSF is not the end of school rebuilding – that is why the Government has launched a comprehensive review of all capital spending in schools so that investment is focused on areas in the greatest need – those schools in most disrepair and to deal with the urgent demand for primary school places from rising birth rates - a problem we cannot afford to ignore.’

Readers' comments (12)

  • Dear Mr Gove,

    I am reading your statement sitting abroad in a country in Africa, where the work of British architects is highly valued as it is common ground we can bring something to the communities nobody else can. That's why our education takes that long and many years pass by before an architect is able to say, 'I have done a building'.

    Your comments are a disgrace to the profession and as many of my colleagues have suggested you should seriously engage with architects to understand the design process and the long way to establish well balanced good-quality architecture, which reflect the need of contemporary life, client ambitions and financial constraints.

    I can see no other way then either to apologise in public for your outrageous, unjustified and politically incorrect comments about the architecture profession or to resign from your post with immediate effect. Alternatively legal actions may be necessary to stop the profession from further damage caused by your unacceptable and unprofessional behaviour.

    Henrik Rothe, MD
    leit-werk ltd

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  • Maybe the RIBA should actually issue a press statement to the general media that gives the average annual wage of architects (at various levels) to finally dispel the myth that our earnings are up there with lawyers and doctors! Even my family and friends don't believe me unless I give them hard figures, they think we exaggerate. Hourly rates may be an even better idea!

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  • Its reassuring to know that some architects might
    be wealthy, I wasnt aware that it was possible with public funded projects. Im sure we would all be happy to work with the pay package the government gave doctors.

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  • Well said Mr Rothe!

    Maybe Gove should try designing a school to meet all the interested parties needs, get it through consultation & planning, building regs etc and all the other stages ON HIS OWN, then he might understand the value of an architectural practice!

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  • What has Mr Gove got against design? Moreover what authority has he got in sensing what makes a happy learning space in the 21st century? Is he not be interested in all the satisfied Heads who have over the last few years successfully commissioned architects to add new facilities and help effect a transformation in the entire educational environment, benefitting pupils, teachers and visitors. They have the authority to talk about the benefits of procuring good architectural design. The BSF system is over now, but the benefits to numerous schools around the country remain, and construction firms will cater more generically for the demanding needs of individual school communities and their sites. I thought the UK was renowned worldwide for its exceptional design skills (it is); I thought it was a key part of its USP, but here we have a government whose stance strongly suggests it doesn't care about that reality. Good quality design is essential for the furtherance and enrichment of society. We already have it as a necessity, and heaping professional abuse just shows how little the government really cares about communities and their needs.

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  • Perhaps we have an Education Secretary who doesn't actually care about children very much. It should be remembered that it is the children who will suffer from this deeply ideological approach.

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  • Mr Gove

    You can simply be described with one word.

    'MUPPET'

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  • Does Mr Gove not realise how many practices run at a loss during these projects, not to mention the free overtime put in. I agree not to give the work to the starchitect, but what is wrong with all the other practices? He proposes to give the design to the companies that make most of the money on all these projects- the contractor. I would like to know where the RIBA are in this, I have not seen any grand statements in the mass media from them. Is their function not to protect our profession? I am beginning to feel I have been missed sold my education and am studying towards a profession that might not exist in the future.

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  • Piers  Taylor

    Surely he needs to realise that Architects often win awards for school buildings where ingenuity as regards budget is one of the overriding concerns: isn't it MORE important that we have excellent and award winning designers for low cost schools?

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  • i'm not surprised at all....why should i be?...so the idiots who run this country, who waste millions of pounds of tax payers money, who formulate expenses and who cut all construction budgets because they dont have the balls to stand upto the banks (who lets remember are the reason all this is happening) dont understand the design process........no big surprise there (eg the dome, wembley)....money is wasted for one simple reason....the people making the decisions, dont have a clue...why?...because its the public sector.....need i say more?...

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  • Don't just moan about it here.

    If the RIBA won't stand up for architects and challenge Gove, then write to him and put him straight on the facts. Here's his email address:

    michael.gove.mp@parliament.uk

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  • Sadly, it is clear that Mr Gove has no regard for the value of good design.

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