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Empowering 'democratic' design in Wales and beyond

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The Royal Society of Architects in Wales begins its conference in Cardiff tomorrow on the subject of commissioning quality, something the Principality has had no small degree of trouble with in the past.

Now, though, things appear to be on the mend.The conference itself is in one of the better-designed hotels the UK has produced, St David's, and the programme of events promises to address housing, health, and those Design Quality Indicators, predicated as they are on getting the whole construction team talking the same language.Furthermore, one of the conference's key speakers, Richard Parnaby, is the head of the nascent Design Commission for Wales, currently seeking to bolster itself with a 'dynamic'chief executive after final interviews took place this week.Parnaby, profiled on page 22 this week, is on a mission to steer Wales away from a track record in bungling big building projects, such as the Cardiff Bay Opera House, towards better examples of construction programmes such as its 'replacement', the Wales Millennium Centre, or Foster and Partners'Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. If the design commission performs half as admirably as CABE has done so far in getting the message across - now given its wider 'urban green spaces'remit by John Prescott at the Urban Summit - it will have done well.

Projects like the vital Welsh Assembly could well do with a national design body's steadying arm in order that the process of shortlisting is not so obfuscated or the building programme so hit by delay after delay. It could even campaign with vigour for the reinstatement of Richard Rogers on the project he designed.

That scheme is about civic pride, and will stand through its building form as a metaphor for democracy.

In England the ippr, in association with the AJ, is also attempting to send a charge through civic, 'democratic' buildings, with the competition to design three town halls of the future. If they can be as open, airy and as light-filled as Southampton's Magistrates Courts (see page 26), then the actions within can be affected with the same sense of clarity.And civic pride can return.

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