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Government rethink on architectural patronage

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The Labour regime has signalled a major shake-up in its attitude to architecture by sacking arts minister Mark Fisher and planning a rethink of the Arts Council, Royal Fine Art Commission and the department itself.

Fisher, who fought in vain for publication of a cross-government architecture policy, cleared his desk after the reshuffle by Tony Blair. He and tourism minister Tom Clarke will be replaced by Alan Howarth, who comes in from the Department for Education and Employment, and former government whip Janet Anderson.

riba president David Rock said that architecture deserved someone higher than Fisher, alongside culture secretary Chris Smith, with 'teeth' to address key issues. 'He was just knocking on the outside,' he said. Rock was also commenting on measures proposed by Smith (see page 16) to set up a new body for architecture and cut down the amount of organisations which aim to improve standards.

Rock said it was heartening that Labour at least had a separate section on architecture but was at first amazed that the riba was not mentioned - but neither is any other institution outside government control. He applauded plans to create a 'champion for architecture', cautioning that he or she needs 'Cabinet status'. But he criticised the government's apparent belief that there exists a network of architecture centres and that architecture was 'only about reviewing designs'.

Rock was also concerned about the implication that there would be no public money to set up the new body. 'Government can't go on saying 'architecture's a bloody good thing but we're not going to do anything about it',' he said. He added that plans to shake up the rfac - 'an interesting extra' were welcome: 'It would be useful to rein them in'.

rfac chairman Lord St John of Fawsley, after an emergency meeting on Tuesday, said that he wanted the commission to evolve, by deepening, expanding and intensifying its role, representing the public with a lay chair 'with interest, knowledge and experience of architecture and the arts.' Reviewing designs would root the architectural champion in the reality of the foundations of architecture and 'avoid the danger of being a high falutin' voice bombinating in the void,' he said.

The commission will now set up five working parties to look at how to become more regional, play a wider role in education, look at art in public architecture, look at strategic studies and look to become a co-ordinator of other bodies, but said that it would need more than its current £700,000 budget to expand.

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