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Coping with the surreal world of architecture

Two stories have caught my eye this week. The first concerns the suggestion that English Heritage should assume new powers in respect of the exterior illumination of listed buildings, and buildings in conservation areas. Illumination rarely falls within the ambit of the planning system, unless it can be said to constitute a nuisance. This has of course led to highly inappropriate lighting schemes, carried out on a willy-nilly basis and without proper historical or architectural advice. Somerset House, for example, looks constantly surprised when illuminated at night, because the lighting is from below - the building was designed to be lit from above, by the sun or moon. The dome of St Paul's Cathedral has to suffer the indignity of harsh moonlight-effect illumination, as though clouds do not exist.

As for conservation areas, how much longer do we have to put up with residents who impose burglar-alert visual alarms, destroying the continuity of street frontages or, by permanent lighting, giving a distorted emphasis to the wrong buildings? Sir Jocelyn Stevens will have his work cut out trying to monitor all this, but a start has to be made before lighting madness overtakes us during the Millennium Year. The last thing we want is people deciding how buildings should be lit without appropriate professional help.

The second eye-catching story concerns unprofessional conduct. In retrospect, one should have anticipated that the Architects Registration Board would see criticism of its constitution and activities as a breach of its own conduct code, now revised to introduce this new offence. The old charge of 'bringing the profession into disrepute' has always been a catch- all to discipline the 'awkward squad' which forms the back row of most professions. As a consumerist body, the arb is by definition beyond reproach, and any suggestion that it is likely to increase registration fees in an irresponsible manner, without proper scrutiny by the Fourth Estate, can only come from the fevered mind of someone who sees April Fool fantasies in everything they read. Happy Easter!

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