RIBA president Marco Goldschmied last week called for a return to the role of the architect-planner as the RIBA, CABE and key professional institutions in the building industry launched a rethink of the way urban designers are trained.
Following a government-backed meeting to set up a working party on skills training, Goldschmied insisted that today's urban designer must be trained in both architecture and planning if the quality of urban design in the UKis to be improved.
'Most of us are of the view that the design skills are already present in the different professions but they need pulling together, ' Goldschmied said.'It's about recreating the role of architect-planner which, before Margaret Thatcher, was the norm among local authorities. This is where we have the skills gap. Local councillors always had that resource to go to in the past, ' he said.He pointed to the four-year planning and architecture course at the University of West England which results in Part I qualifications in both architecture and planning, as an example of cross- disciplinary training.
The new working party will feature representatives from institutes for planning, surveying, civil engineering and landscape architecture as well as the Local Government Association, the Housing Forum, the Greater London Authority, the Urban Design Alliance and the Civic Trust.
CABE chairman Sir Stuart Lipton will chair the group, which has a dual purpose. It will promote a 'multi-disciplinary approach to training in design', as well as consider how local authorities might be encouraged to 'promote better urban design'.
Planning minister Nick Raynsford welcomed the formation of the group. 'With the publication of our design guide, By Design, we set out our expectations of higher standards of urban design and acted upon a key recommendation of the Urban Task Force, ' he said. 'However, achieving good design depends on the skills of the designer. Raising the skills base of planners, architects and engineers in the area of urban design was the concern of everyone at the seminar.'
Goldschmied also gave the group his support and described the atmosphere created by the new cross-disciplinary approach as similar to the adventurous spirit among planners and architects during the 1950s. However, he warned that urban design will only improve if clients increase their expectations of architects and this will be largely down to the government, which accounts for 40 per cent of the UK's annual spending on building projects.
The skills initiative follows comments from Lord Rogers earlier this month that architects need more intensive and longer training to lead multi-disciplinary teams on urban design projects.
Funding for the group has not been made available by Raynsford's department, however. The effectiveness of the working party may depend on the level of grant which CABE receives as part of the government's comprehensive spending review which was being announced as the AJ went to press.