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Departing CABE head tells architects to resign from 'bad schemes'


John Sorrell, the outgoing CABE chairman, has urged architects to walk away from ‘bad’ schemes and challenged the profession to stop being the servant of poor quality development

Making his valedictory speech at Tate Modern on Monday (16 November), Sorrell said he wanted a new value system to emerge from the recession.

He said: ‘We need architects who offer more than just artistic direction. People with the confidence to challenge the client and influence the brief.  Architects who will resign a job if it is destined to create a bad building.’

During his lecture, Architecture in an Age of Anxiety (click here to read the full transcript), Sorrell also called for the Government to maintain its commitment to public spending and ‘use the emerging quality of public buildings as a springboard for the future’.

He added: ‘We need a shift in attitude and values….and a public sector epitomised by strength of character and sticking to what you believe in.

‘Localism for me means support for people working in public sector organisations and in local government. Not blaming them for the financial mess we are in. And certainly not demonising the very public servants who will need to deliver cuts, and who we need to do that job with great skill and shrewdness.’ 

Responding to the speech, Jo Wright, studio leader and managing partner at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios’ Bath office, said: ‘[Sorrell] is absolutely right that design quality is the issue but it’s too often well down the list of priorities in the tortuous and expensive  procurement routes we have to follow to win the work in the first place. Box ticking on Quality Assurance is no guarantee of actual design quality!’


AJ editor Kieran Long’s response

John Sorrell’s preachings on good design are out of touch with the real world.

John Sorrell, coming to the end of his five-year tenure as head of CABE, has given one of the the most bizarre speeches that
I’ve ever read by someone with authority and status in the architecture world.

In the middle of the worst recession for construction in generations, he said, during a speech this week at Tate Modern, that architects ‘should resign a job if it is destined to be a bad building’. This from a man under whom CABE has pretty often failed to display much judgement about what a bad building actually is.

Of course architects have a responsibility to the built environment, but to call on them to be some kind of moral arbiter for the construction and development industry is ridiculous, and that kind of attitude will further ghettoise the profession in the eyes of the construction industry.

How many of you right now have developer clients who would have a problem finding someone else to design their building if you walked away on moral grounds? And if you did so, would your replacement improve the scheme?

Sorrell is not living in the real world.

I get the impression with this speech that despite his five years at CABE, Sorrell has become terribly confused about architecture. On the one hand he says that we should all embrace the new modesty, take contextualism (whatever he means by that) as a cue. And then, the next minute, he’s praising the Architectural Association’s annual pavilion in Bedford Square, which is the very definition of a hermetic, technocratic and gratuitous architecture of the kind he presumably doesn’t like. As nice as the pavilions are, they are the result of exactly the opposite of the ‘lateral thinking’ Sorrell believes is important – they are autistic objects intended to demonstrate the potential of technological processes.

Read the speech online and see if you can make any sense of it. I for one will be glad to see the back of someone who shows no evidence of having read a book on architecture more recent than the eco claptrap of 1930s botanist Patrick Geddes. Roll on the Paul Finch era.


Readers' comments (11)

  • I couldn't agree more, for too long we have become 'yes' men to an increasing number clients who have been influenced by others who convince them that they can something for nothing yesterday. Problem is, we have to make a living and generally design taste & knowledge in our country is increasingly rarified - meaning fewer clients who are willing to pay for proper design & true quality.

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  • Just say "No".

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  • Quality of build should be important too - build things to last. Much modern construction is rubbish - 60 years is a poor lifespan. That means architects need to know more than just how to make things look pretty . . .

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  • Say no to your client. Then go back to the office and sack the students and 1 or 2 project architects who are now not required.. This is the kind of comment of man whos not been in the real world for a while.

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  • May I prescribe regular ingestion of 'How to be a Happy Architect' by Irena Bauman. It may help the unfortunate inflamation of that ego, better temper, a shorter X-List and even greater well being for us all.

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  • Michaela Sedova

    This is an interesting debate that perhaps and hopefully could be a beginning to some
    serious questioning of what is happening within the industry.
    I do agree good designs are sacrificed for money driven developments. Yes we do need to make the money but is this really THE EXCUSE? Think of Japan, good designs are being build without any excuses. Think again – it is more down to English conservativeness and being reserved to try out new and experiment.
    Could perhaps be a sign the profession does not pays well unless you sign your head to a devil?

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  • Talk about Japan, it's a different story. And you only see good works published.

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  • Is this like the pot calling the kettle black. Are CABE not quoted up and down the country as being in favour of bad design week in week out. Yes I agree with the sentiment, and better late than never but we in Liverpool have found CABE to be a complete handicap to good design. Helping to sign off the Terminal Ferry Carbuncle. The Three Black Grotesques currently under construction and the Oscar Niemeyer copy museum.....all in the world heritage site. http://liverpoolpreservationtrust.blogspot.com/search/label/CABE They are often far too associated with local RDA's and politics I have found. It is back to the drawing board for CABE for sure the only way foraward.

    Wayne Colquhoun

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  • http://liverpoolpreservationtrust.blogspot.com/search/label/CABE

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  • This is all well and good, but architects have to live - would CABE compensate me if I resigned from a job with an ugly client ? I think not. Perhaps John doesnt realise its cold out there ? .....this leads me beautifully into song:

    I really can't stay
    Baby it's cold outside
    I've got to go away
    Baby it's cold outside
    This evening has been
    Been hoping that you'd drop in
    So very nice
    I'll hold your hands, they're just like ice

    My mother will start to worry
    Beautiful, what's your hurry?
    And my father will be pacing the floor
    Just listen to that fireplace roar
    Now really I'd better scurry
    Sweetheart, what's your hurry?
    Well maybe just a half a drink more
    Why don't you put some records on while I pour

    All the neighbors might think
    But baby, it's bad out there
    Say, what's in this drink?
    No cabs to be had out there
    Oh, I wish I knew how
    Your eyes are like starlight now
    To break this spell
    I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell

    I ought to say no, no, no, sir
    Mind if I move in closer
    At least I'm gonna say that I tried
    What's the sense in hurting my pride?
    I really can't stay
    Baby don't hold out
    Oh, but it's cold outside

    I simply must go
    Baby, it's cold outside
    The answer is no
    But baby, it's cold out there
    Oh, this welcome has been
    So lucky that you dropped in
    So nice and warm
    Look out that window at that storm

    My sister will be suspicious
    Gosh, your lips look delicious
    And my brother will be there at the door
    Waves upon a tropical shore
    Oh, my maiden aunt's mind is vicious
    Ooo, baby you're so delicious
    Well maybe just one little kiss more
    Never such a blizzard before

    Oh, I've got to go home
    You'll freeze to the bone out there
    Say, lend me a comb
    It's up to your knees out there
    You've really been grand
    I thrill when you touch my hand
    But don't you see?
    How can you do this thing to me?

    Oh, there's bound to be talk tomorrow
    Making my lifelong sorrow
    Well at least there will be plenty implied
    If you caught pneumonia and died
    But I really can't stay
    Get over that old out
    Baby it's cold outside

    Ooo ooo ooo
    Hey, I gotta get out of here
    Come on, baby
    Come on what?
    Just give me five minutes more
    You sure know how to wear a girl down, don't you?
    Okay, okay, okay, okay

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  • Thanks for the information and I agree with John Sorrell that if the management is not proper emplyee should leave the company instead of working in that poor environment.

    Portable Storage,

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