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Paul Finch: ‘Design review is very fair-minded’

Before officially taking up his post in December, newly appointed CABE chair Paul Finch answers your questions about the future of architecture, Prince Charles and the commission’s policing style

Paul Finch

Paul Finch

Should CABE attend planning committee meetings to advocate its position or crucial applications?Graham Morrison, co-founder, Allies and Morrison
A very interesting idea. After all, CABE invites local planning authorities to attend design review meetings and to speak. From a practical point of view, it would further add to the design review panel’s burden, partly by introducing evening shifts, but also requiring time to assess which projects to speak on, assuming invitations were forthcoming. One for discussion.

CABE used to punch above its weight, but it seems to do so less as it has grown. Why do you think this is and what will you do about it?Chris Brown, chief executive, Igloo Regeneration
You could say the same about Igloo, but that would be unfair. I think it is also unfair about CABE. New organisations doing good work make a disproportionate splash; it is inevitable that repetition of activity makes them seem more routine. In fact, CABE has been quietly influential recently on minimum school design standards, Olympic design and the government’s World Class Places programme. The trouble is that perceptions, even if they are off the mark, are still perceptions.

‘New organisations doing good work make a disproportionate splash; it is inevitable that repetition of activity makes them seem more routine.’


Should CABE have the sort of power that the heir to the throne shouldn’t have?Amin Taha, founder, Amin Taha Architects
No. CABE is an advisory body which gives disinterested comments to architects, clients and planning authorities alike. It does not have a political role in respect of individual projects, but a duty to promote quality of design. What might be useful would be an obligation placed upon public bodies to show proposals to CABE if required.

In the light of recent revelations about Prince Charles, how can CABE help create a more acceptable public image for architects trying to innovate and express new design in sensitive, historic urban areas?John Lyall, managing director, John Lyall Architects
It would be useful to produce a new edition of the CABE/English Heritage publication on design in historic contexts. There are numerous examples of excellent work that has pleased local amenity societies, most of which are more interested in quality than in aspic.

How keen are you for CABE to support PassivHaus as a means of achieving highly energy-efficient buildings?Justin Bere, director, Bere Architects
The strategic issues related to low-energy, low-carbon environments are those in which CABE’s advice would probably be most useful. That is to say, how to switch much of our existing built stock to more virtuous power sources, and how to retrofit stock that will be with us for decades or centuries to come. This is not to downplay PassivHaus in any way - it is a question of working out priorities for long-term change.

Working for government organisations and local councils can be difficult for smaller and younger practices. Will promoting the benefits of working with young practices be part of your agenda?Agnieszka Glowacka, director, Glowacka Rennie Architects
Yes, in the sense that CABE’s general encouragement of good design cannot relate solely to experienced practices. Everyone starts somewhere. The charrettes that developer Argent and the AJ (AJ 04.09.08) have organised show what can be achieved. CABE could point to these in encouraging clients (for example, via the enabling programme) to include younger firms on competition lists.

Do you think the role of the architect should be returned to the position it occupied before project managers were invented?Will Alsop
The role of architects was defined by architects themselves in the 1830s. From the expulsion of the measurers, the splitting off of planners and, more recently, the apparent abandonment of project management on major buildings, the message seems to be that many architects are content for others to carry out activities that are not fundamentally about ‘design’. Neither CABE nor anybody else can disband project management as a separate discipline, tempting though that may be to some.

‘Major changes within CABE it will probably be as a result of new political attitudes to architecture’


What major changes do you see for CABE? And what would you like the epitaph of your involvement with the commission to be?Stewart McColl, chairman, Robinson McColl
If there are to be major changes within CABE it will probably be as a result of new political attitudes to architecture and the environment, which are currently difficult to predict. It seems a bit early for an epitaph, but I would hope that CABE will be regarded, at the very least, as being as useful as ever.

CABE’s design review panel has been an extraordinary success. At present, the regional equivalents are not as effective. Is it high on your agenda to increase the spread of review at the quality of the national panel?Roger Stephenson, director, Stephenson Bell
Broadly speaking, yes, working in partnership. This is a big subject that is not going to go away, and is partly related to the number of good people out there who are ready, willing and able to devote their time. Attention is being paid to this, and will continue.

How will you avoid the tendency in design review for architect assessors to push their style preferences and make the review process the promotion of the architectural establishment view?Robert Adam, director, Robert Adam Architects
Design review, in my experience, is very fair-minded. For example, Quinlan Terry’s new ‘classical’ infirmary at Royal Hospital Chelsea was supported by CABE; so-called ‘modernistic’ designs don’t win automatic approval. Of course, individuals will be enthusiastic about the sort of architecture they like - you try to find panellists who acknowledge skill in a scheme whose ‘style’ they dislike.

How can we get some of the extensive CABE design review knowledge into our planning departments, so that a similar quality of review can be applied to smaller schemes?Stuart Conner, director, Piercy Conner Architects
Partly through the publication of lessons learned, partly through work at CABE’s urban design summer schools, and perhaps by seeing if it is possible to encourage more architect-planners, or at least people with some design education in common.

Will it be your intention to extend the role of CABE into Scotland, and either partner or take over the role of Architecture + Design Scotland?Charles Smith, director, Archial Architects
I wouldn’t dare!

Readers' comments (1)

  • Actually, many local (and national) amenity societies are also interested on conserving what is good, too. Like the British Museum. Please do stop using the tired old cliche about aspic.

    But Mr Finch has a problem with conservation and has never understood it. This is why he was a really lousy choice for CABE Chair. He may pretend to change his spots, but under he will still be the same old Paul Finch, and few will trust him, no matter how much licking up to English Heritage he does.

    The problems with English Heritage are another matter.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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