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Katherine Shonfield

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This is the season for the architectural classes to drift around in groups and ask themselves slightly wistful questions. One such question is why, ample supplies of Chianti and ciabatta notwithstanding, North London isn't a bit more like an outpost of Umbria. The following answers might do to be going on with:

Britain has a Department of Culture, Media and Sport, an unholy alliance forged by people with no possible interest in culture, ie those in media and sport, and with a phone number no longer listed by Directory Enquiries.

The Italians have a Ministry of Cultural Wealth and Activity.

We have a sad-looking Chris Smith, visibly lessened by ditch-your-principles syndrome.

The Italians have Giovanna Melandri, a cross between Sophia Loren and Catherine Zeta Jones and architectural champion rolled into one.

We can always comfort ourselves with the certainty that Italy is, of course, bureaucratic, corrupt and has an interminably long parliamentary process leading nowhere.

Despite this impediment, Minister Melandri is, according to La Nazione, making a certain amount of headway on the architectural front.

She has just introduced a law making it a requirement for all projects under the control of her own ministry, including new museums, to use ideas competitions.

The minister is also insisting on a fund to finance and support competition procedures initiated at local level. She is to review the commitment that 2 per cent of building costs must go towards financing art in public buildings, and a selection of artists will in future be made in agreement with the architect.

To cap it all, Melandri has announced her intention to introduce incentives for young architects to help them bear the cost of competition.

Over to you Stuart Lipton.

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