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CABE Design Review assessed

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We gave some key commentators preview copies of the new CABE Design Review - a guide on how to evaluate quality in architecture and urban design (AJ 28.3.02). Here are their considered opinions and constructive criticism to take the debate forward This is a lively and sharply focused set of guidelines.

However, there are three important omissions.

First, it takes the identity of 'the client'as given.

Many recent Lottery projects have been bedevilled by a complete ambiguity as to who the real client is: the professionals who develop the scheme; the Lottery boards which hand over the money; or the end users, whose Lottery tickets and taxes paid for the whole caboodle.

Second, there seems to be no mention of 'postoccupancy evaluation': how else are people to assess whether 'commodity, firmness and delight' have been achieved?

Third, though reference is made to whole-life costs, surely in addition we ought to be requiring a coherent and costed maintenance regime built in to the contract - especially for public buildings.

Ken Worpole's new book on landscape, memory and death will be published next year by Reaktion Books This is yet another document that preaches good design - but to the converted. As such it will be as effectual as HRH'sA Vision of Britain , John Gummer's Quality in Town & Country and the DoE's Power of Place: The future of the historic environment .

Taxpayers'money would be far better spent at the quayside, enforcing quality through the planning system, the only legal avenue available.

Consideration of elements outside the site must be a legal requirement for consent, ensuring architects and clients look beyond the limits of individual sites.

How many speculative developers/housebuilders will commit to 'excellence on the part of the client'.

Profit is the commitment - quite understandably driven by market forces.

It also seems concerned solely with the urban environment with no reference made to the specifics of rural development.

Kevin Sutton is a partner in Davies Sutton Architecture It is refreshing that CABE's Paul Finch insists that 'it is possible to distinguish good design from bad design'.

However, good design cannot be praised in the abstract. CABE says a good client should have 'commitment to excellence', but what does that mean? Nor can good design be over-prescribed;

it is possible to imagine good design that wouldn't comply with CABE's criteria.

Some criteria would apply only to some buildings - should all design be 'flexible and adaptable'? Other criteria seem to be driven more by political imperatives than design concerns (such as 'use natural resources responsibly'). Vitruvius' guidelines seem more sensible: buildings should be fit for their purpose, be soundly built, and they should please the eye.

Beyond that, good design is probably better worked out in practice.

Josie Appleton is author of Museums for the People, Institute of Ideas,2002 Much in this document is good and we support the aspirations behind it. It would be helpful if it was backed by guidance on the management of the design review process - which projects are included, who should be involved, when, and under what rules of engagement, for example.

There remains the danger that the section on the role of the client as a patron could be misunderstood as implying that the client's job is to prepare a brief and then let the architect get on with it. Most architects don't have patrons, but have clients who are active partners in the process of design. The Egan philosophy of long-term partnership between design teams and clients, leading to continual improvement, is at the heart of the government's agenda and I am sure that CABE supports that principle.

Peter Crossley is managing director of Broadway Malyan It will be useful, particularly its list of warnings against problems such as the old trick of carrying out a context analysis but ignoring its conclusions during the design stage.

The guidance could be clearer. It explains the importance of urban design and tries to describe the qualities of a well-designed building. It also provides a further set of principles, some of which, such as 'integrity and honesty', are hard to define, and this is probably not the place to try. Most of it, though, is a rewording of the DTLR/CABE guide, 'By Design'.

The next edition should explain that there is one set of principles of design which works at every scale, from the general to the specific; from the externals to the interior spaces of buildings. It would be useful to have guidance on how developers can produce design statements that illustrate how their project builds on these principles on every level.

Robert Cowan is director of Urban Design Group

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