My first assignment as an architecture student was to design a taxi driver's hut; a single-storey shed with the sole purpose of dispensing hot tea and fried food. Undeterred by the modesty of the brief, the solutions included tensile roofs, fullheight atria and folded planes. A full appreciation of architectural scale was yet to come.
Designing tall buildings invariably has the opposite effect. The response to this highly complex building type is to over-simplify.
Hierarchy of space is distilled into a simple distinction between public space at ground-floor level and something a bit f lashy at the top. It is deemed perfectly acceptable to repeat the same floor plan ad infinitum for the spaces between, with scant regard for any differences in use.
The environmental implications of orientation are overlooked; facades are designed to be identical on every side. Detailing and finishes are treated as an afterthought, mere tries compared with the serious business of reaching for the skies.
Yet design faults are magnified, not dwarfed, by scale. In its bid to counter such problems, CABE has decreed that tall buildings should leapfrog the outline planning permission stage; that all proposals should be accompanied by material samples and detailed designs before being considered at all. It is an ingenious solution.
Quality is implicit from the outset. Value engineering is discouraged by the corresponding cost of resubmitting a scheme for planning approval. Clients have little incentive to ditch 'trophy' architects since they are still obliged to deliver the project as it was originally designed.
Crucially, assessment of architectural quality is no longer an entirely different matter from exercising planning control.
Badly designed tall buildings have demonstrated the inadequacies of our planning system at a scale we can't ignore. But the advantages of CABE's solution could apply to any building type.