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Coalition, classicism and design

Despite the political picture, the best designers will still attempt to make better places, says Simon Allford

At a recent lunch in London I was advised that we are coming out of the recession with indecent haste – and that the economic recovery was too good to be true.

At dinner I was informed that the classical tradition is alive, well and exhibiting rude health at the RIBA (Ben Pentreath, George Saumarez Smith and Francis Terry of the Three Classicists exhibion are pictured above). Later that evening at the bar, it was agreed that the coalition will change British politics and government. We just could not agree how.

We concluded that time will tell and history will be the judge. But we were being lazy. Whether the recovery is false, whether the classical tradition has ever been in poor health and whether this new political era is one of compromise or collaboration will remain uncertain long into the future, as new histories with new perspectives continue to be written.

Having listened to and learned from those I like, I have formed views that will last only until I find time to reflect and distance to develop perspective. So there will be an economic dip, but those who inhabit the particular and separate world that is London will be protected somewhat from the strictures of the new Budget.

Architectural style (and star) wars will remain as nothing more than an engaging diversion; it is the pursuit of excellence that really matters. As for the new politics, it will be rather different, but only just as it was when Margaret Thatcher came to power, when Tony Blair ushered in yet another new era and, indeed, when we last had a coalition.

So what does all this mean for architecture, construction and the built environment? Probably very little. I am certain of one thing: regardless of the political picture, the best of the dedicated designers and constructors will continue to play, despite the absurd hands they are dealt, in an attempt to make better places.

And this they will do regardless of their individual styles and personal politics. The rest will carry on doing a job. Is that too bland a conclusion on the importance of style and politics? I suggest not: as the great architectural inventor Baillie Scott remarked: ‘If in doubt, whitewash.’

  • Simon Allford was AJ practice columnist from January 2004 to June 2005

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