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Commission should have new roles

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The body which will replace the Royal Fine Art Commission later this year will have a difficult task - not least because within its remit the rfac has been pretty effective. One only has to contrast its sensible comments on the new Greater London Authority building with the hysterical nonsense unloaded on us by English Heritage to see the truth of this observation.

Let us assume that the new body will be called the Architecture Commission. Let us also assume that it will have commissioners based both in London and the regions. And let us assume that, broadly speaking, its function will be similar to that of the rfac but with the added responsibilities towards architecture currently borne by the Arts Council and the Department of Culture. How will all this be funded? The problem of underfunding is, alas, illustrated by what is happening to the Bristol Architecture Centre - part of the government-approved regional network. It need not be hugely expensive to finance the work of the new commission but it must be properly financed to have any chance of success.

Establishing proper funding levels is doubly important given the potential additional work of the new body, including its regional satellites. It should not merely react to proposals but provide proactive service whereby discussions on developments of design or geographical significance can take place with the client at the earliest possible stage. At national level the commission will need to monitor all the construction-related activities of government departments, including forthcoming legislation. For example, the act defining the work of the new regional development agencies should surely include provision for minimum design standards for buildings they help fund. Perhaps these agencies, as part of their budgets, could help to fund the work of the new commission's regional centres. Somebody should be promoting this now, preferably Chris Smith, upon whose shoulders responsibility for the new champion of architecture rests.

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