Back in the 1970s, the fact that Hampshire had a county architect in the person of Colin Stansfield Smith - who was actually ‘interested in design’ - was news in professional circles. By the mid 1980s Hampshire’s achievements were attracting wider interest. While other local- authority departments were in decline, Hampshire’s was prospering - and under the control of a Conservative council. In due course, Stansfield Smith got the Royal Gold Medal (recognition, as he pointed out, of the work of the whole department) and, a more personal accolade, a knighthood. Now he is gone, after a post-retirement stint as consultant. Last year, his able deputy, Ian Templeton, also left Hampshire. The search for a new supremo for the 100-strong department, which employs more than 30 qualified architects, is now on.
Andrew Smith, who, as director of property, is in overall charge of the county architects, admits that it is the comparative affluence of the county council, notably its land holdings, which has allowed it to opt for quality and top up allocations from central government. Effective management of the property estate, Smith insists, is a vital foundation for the continuation of the Stansfield Smith tradition. It helps that Freddie Emery-Wallis, consistent backer of quality architecture in the 1970s and 80s, is back as council leader after a period of LibDem control. ‘The politicians, regardless of party, back us because they see us as good value for Hampshire,’ says Smith. Mark Fisher has already given the county a ringing endorsement from New Labour.
The workload is rising, with the department pitching for jobs outside Hampshire - it is currently building a three-phase fe college in Hackney, for example. Even the detachment of the cities of Portsmouth and Southampton from the county, under local-government reorganisation, has not dented the air of optimism. Hampshire has severe reservations about new housing growth within its boundaries, but significant growth seems likely - and that means new local authority buildings, in particular schools.
For better or for worse, parts of Hampshire exemplify the suburban landscape of the new Britain. Schools - the building type which effectively put Hampshire on the map - are increasingly community buildings, used heavily in the evenings and at weekends. Their role as cultural and leisure facilities puts them within the scope of Arts and Sports Lottery funding. ‘We are doing very well from the Lottery at the moment,’ says Smith.
Stansfield Smith spoke enthusiastically about the potential for a new critical regionalism in Hampshire. Although he made no secret of his own likes and dislikes, he allowed diversity to flourish and the assumption is that his successor will do likewise. A ‘house style’ has never existed. Just as occasional outside commissions went to a range of practitioners (including Hopkins, Cullinan and Robert Adam), so a range of approaches was countenanced, even encouraged, within the department, generating something of a creative tension. That, at least, is the theory. In practice, there is a ‘lively’ debate which verges, on occasions, on bloody-mindedness. Hampshire’s new architecture czar will need the ability to keep in balance fiercely conflicting views on the future direction of the work. He or she must build on a considerable legacy from the past, cultivate the local- government arts of negotiation and (sometimes) compromise, and create a climate for creative and innovative new design to blossom. It is this challenge, one hopes, which will attract the right person for the job.