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Katherine Shonfield

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Could Stuart Lipton, the chair of cabe, be a closet fan of that perennial favourite of architecture tutors, Learning from Las Vegas, famous for the model of architecture as a 'decorated shed'? Lipton reckons architects should put their creativity into facades and public space, not standardised 'service elements'. The Las Vegas idea is that utilitarian functions can be repetitive and that the decorated facade acts wholly independent of function, in the same way as the advertising hoardings do on Las Vegas building frontages. While the 'facade as poster' notion has been around for some time, the implications are especially intriguing just now.

Facades require planning permission detailing their entire visual format. Hoardings only require planning permission on outline dimensions and position. Facades are subject to detailed scrutiny before the event: they are judged on the basis of drawings and models rather than reality. Hoardings are subject to control over their surface after the event: objections are dealt with by a government quango. Hoardings frequently stand their ground, continuing to outrage or delight the public, while surrounding buildings come and go.

We are currently in the middle of yet another boom that directly affects the built environment, and that is the amount spent on advertising posters which has increased in the region of 20 per cent in the past year. This is palpable in all our big cities: bang in the middle of London, opposite Centre Point, there is now a hoarding on a scale equivalent to the lower storeys of that imposing building itself.

The increased impact of advertising hoardings and the public's apparent acceptance of hair-raising imagery, projected at the scale of buildings - raises a number of uneasy questions about assumptions of what the public find 'visually acceptable'.

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