In a veritable merry-go-round of talent, Richard MacCormac is 'saving' White City in the wake of Ian Ritchie's departure (page 9), while Sheppard Robson is picking up the pieces after MacCormac's own exit from Broadcasting House. There is much talk of creative differences, grasping contractors and inept clients, but rather less of the inadequacies of a planning system that does little to defend either the architects or the buildings it purports to support.
It is three years since CABE published Protecting Design Quality in Planning in a bid to encourage planning authorities to proactively monitor projects in the post-permission stage, and their advice seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Would Ritchie still be working on White City if the planning officers who granted consent had followed CABE's advice that 'larger-scale drawings or samples of window and cladding systems details can give a post-approval check that the design intent will be followed through'?
The potential savings incurred by replacing Ritchie's copper panels with painted aluminium would have been offset by the inconvenience and cost of resubmitting the project for planning consent. The project's integrity would have been protected and one of the triggers for the 'creative differences' between architect and client would never have occurred. Similarly, if the breakout spaces and transverse structure newsroom were really integral to MacCormac's Broadcasting House scheme, why were they not explicitly protected by the terms of the planning consent?
The only convincing argument for leaving the precise conditions of planning permission deliberately vague is that it allows the creative process to continue after permission has been granted. In the commercial sector what that really means is that costs can be engineered, architects can be chopped and changed, and the consent itself becomes a commercial commodity, as opposed to a catalogue of binding constraints.