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Government, architecture and regions

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The debate organised by the Arts Council on new arrangements for the government promotion of architecture produced more unanimity than I (as chairman) had expected. What many of those present wanted was a version of the Royal Fine Art Commission, carrying out an expanded role, but keeping that spirit of independence which characterises the denizens of St James's Square. I gather representations along these lines are arriving at the offices of the Department of Culture, along with support for the department's view that whatever new structure emerges, it must incorporate significant input from the regions.

Is it possible to synthesise this with a further official desire to expand the network of architecture centres, and to address the problem identified in a rather good response from the riba on, say, these matters, stressing the importance of 'civic architecture'? Perhaps it is. Consider this as a possible model: at national level you create something called the Architecture Commission. This would comprise a secretariat, a chairperson who is connected to architecture but is not an architect, and members along the lines of the rfac. In the regions, using regional arts board boundaries and over time incorporating architecture centres, there would be regional secretaries (full-time), and regional commissioners who would help fill the role of civic advisers envisaged by the riba.

There is much to be said for a separation of responsibilities between the regional architecture centres and the architecture commissioners, not least because of local collaborations/rivalries from which a commissioner should remain aloof. The commission as a whole should be aloof from the Department of Culture, because it may have to give advice, or criticism, which would be embarrassing were it seen to have come directly from the department itself. The hands-off relationship implies a separate address; preferably an example of the excellent contemporary architecture which a new commission would support.

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