CABE's depressing report on secondary-school design ( ajplus 04.07.06) has a dreadful sense of inevitability. We may talk about design values, but our new buildings are still not good enough.
What could be more dispiriting than the description of 31 per cent of schools as 'partially good'? And the first wave of schools delivered under Building Schools for the Future (BSF) looks to be no better. This is no surprise, given the recent rumblings of discontent about BSF, which is aimed more at avoiding risk than at ensuring quality. Small practices have already expressed fears that there will be no place for them, and the whole set-up seems designed to stie creativity.
The mandarins at the DfES could do worse than to look at this week's AJ, to see that there is still room for imagination and risk-taking today. Rem Koolhaas' buoyant bubble pavilion (see pages 41-43), which opens this week, is the latest example of brave public patronage from the Serpentine Gallery. Only once has it overreached itself, with the proposed 'mountain' by MVRDV.
The Serpentine's version of caution has been to acknowledge the probable complexity of its projects and so to settle on and stick with Cecil Balmond, one of the most talented engineers around. Doubtless public procurement rules would preclude the DfES from doing likewise.
Glenn Howells' Savill building shows a similar level of canniness (see pages 25-37).
As Jay Merrick writes: 'A chance has been taken here, although there is no hint of this.'
The Crown Estate and the architect have used highly skilled people to deliver a still-evolving technology, and the concept has remained intact despite budget changes.
If those charged with delivering our schools fail to develop a similar level of courage, many of today's pupils will only see such decent design on days out. The message they receive about their own importance will not bode well for their engagement as citizens of tomorrow.