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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)

  • 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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