The Farrell Review’s online questionnaire, covering design quality, policy and access to the profession, is now online. Leading architects and commentators answer key questions from it. Merlin Fulcher reports
1.1. Britain has some of the best architects and designers in the world but that does not automatically mean that standards of architectural design in England are as good as they could be. Why is this?
Source: David Grandorge
Tony Fretton, Tony Fretton Architects
Local authority planning policies the UK are imprecise, reactive and open to subjective interpretation. Both officers and politicians are unlikely to value the reputation of the architect and will frequently be suspicious of good design. Their primary motivation is to represent conservative public interests which are not served by the mediocre architecture and urban spaces this arrangement produces.
Neil Spiller, architecture dean Greenwich University
Architects’ importance in design teams has been denuded through changes in contract status in recent years. There are many reactionist architects in the profession who cannot recognise that their skills are being outdated. We have a commercial economy where even the smallest detail is bound up in economic expediency. This dilutes creativity to a simple equation lacking the delight which architecture resides within.
1.2. How can the ‘everyday’ quality of our housing, public spaces and buildings be significantly improved?
Martyn Evans, creative director Cathedral Group
Our public finances are in the toilet, we have town centres in distress, job-creating commercial development is thin and housebuilding, particularly in our large cities, is a trickle of what it needs to be. Unless we private sector developers and architects work in partnership with local authorities and other public bodies to create schemes that regenerate town centres, create economic and social growth and include provision for new public services, it’s all over.
David Partridge, managing partner Argent
It is a question of designing buildings and places for tomorrow as well as for today. High quality design which will stand the test of time, requires substantial investment in its initial creation and in its on-going curation, in order to ultimately deliver enhanced value.
At King’s Cross, we are designing both the buildings and the public spaces to create a place where people want to be, to realise this value. Our vision is to create a dynamic and exciting place, with a diverse range of uses, knitted seamlessly into the wider area.
This process has involved a number of steps, from the macro to the micro.
Firstly, we needed to understand the bigger picture, to consider fundamental questions, such as, what are the characteristics of a human city? What functions do they perform? What makes them successful?
We also took the time to understand the site. We looked at its physical attributes and quirks, to understand how everything should fit together cohesively. Wide consultation returned a clear message that local people wanted a safe, clean, open environment which is why 40 per cent of the development will be public space.
We also approached urban design by prioritising public realm, because the activity between the buildings is arguably more important than the buildings themselves. The result is a large investment in the public realm, creating generously sized spaces that lend themselves to interest, play and relaxation.
This emphasis on ‘whole place-making’ has led us to explore a range of supporting initiatives. From the King’s Cross Filling Station, a restaurant in a converted petrol station, to site specific art programme RELAY. We also host a daily street food market, site wide wifi and bicycle pumps for public use. We are doing this to create layers of activity that help to build up a rich picture, one that will be evident long after development has completed. This is our vision of a truly sustainable and lasting, ‘human’ city.
1.3. Would having a formal architecture policy (as some European countries do) help to achieve improved outcomes? What might be the potential aims of such a policy? What might the benefits be and how they could be measured?
Jack Pringle, managing director Pringle Brandon Perkins Will
Yes a formal government architectural policy would improve public building outcomes. The UK government commissions 40 per cent of construction activity – It needs to exercise leadership and hoist the flag for the benefits of architecture for all its procurers to abide by.
1.4. What can local and national bodies do to promote design quality? What policy infrastructure would assist them in this important task?
John Mathers, chief executive of Design Council
New Government policy has gone a long way to create a more streamlined planning framework. The focus now needs to be on the delivery of well-designed places. Local authorities, communities and developers now need to be given the means to demand better quality developments that add value to the places in which they are built.
Steve Graham, chief executive of Civic Voice
Our planning system should pursue a ‘smart growth’ approach thereby reducing the economic deadweight from urban sprawl due to higher infrastructure and travel costs. The adoption of planning for high quality, well designed development in towns and cities which respects such as heritage, protects and enhances open space and has the community at the heart of decision making should be the norm.
2.1. In what ways does architecture and built environment design contribute to the UK economy?
Wayne Hemmingway, Hemmingway Design
Get it right and we have inbuilt sustainability as places and buildings adapt to our constantly evolving lifestyles and economy. Get it wrong by building soulless, disconnected estates and the cost of alienation can be debilitating to a towns finances. In town centres, serendipitous human scale layouts which demand exploration allow towns like York to flourish whereas towns with shopping centres which have landed like aliens can often foster decline .
Peter Drummond, BDP
British architecture, engineering and design companies increase the reputation of brand ‘UK plc’ around the world allowing us both to export expertise and attract investment from overseas. By designing and building attractive successful places we can promote the UK brand for tourism, culture and commerce which are economic forces within their own right.
Neil Taylor, Faulkner Brown
Architecture and the built environment have always been the foundations of any successful society. Strategic decisions on where to locate workplace, where to invest and where to live are seriously influenced by the quality of the built environment whether it is London, as a world focus, or Newcastle as a regional capital.
2.2 It is claimed that high standards of architectural and built environment design add economic value. Can this be demonstrated and, if so, how?
Peter Murray, chair, NLA
There can be absolutely no doubt that high standards of design add to economic value, as long as you can adequately define what you mean by ‘design’ and by ‘value’, but if the sub text of the question is that you can promote design just because it makes you more money, then it should be treated with caution: bad design can also make loads of money, as volume house builders can only too well attest. Real value is best judged over time.
2.3. What is the commercial value of our historic built environment for the UK brand and for local economies and tourism?
Will Palin – trustee of the Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust
In a world shaped by the short-term economics of development, where the defining theme is a movement from the small and intimate to the big and bland, our historic environment only becomes more desirable and more valuable.
Simon Thurley, chief executive, English Heritage
It is estimated that UK heritage tourism directly accounts for £4.3 billion of GDP and creates employment for 113,000 people. A commercial business based in a historic building generates more wealth than is the average for the UK economy as a whole (at £308,000 GVA pa).
Kate Pugh, chief executive, The Heritage Alliance
Every £1 million of output in repair and maintenance of housing creates 55 per cent more direct construction labour input than £1 million of output for new build. Around 32 per cent of all value work done by private contractors in repair and maintenance is through companies employing 13 people or less.
2.5. To enhance market leadership in built environment design how can we ensure that the UK is leading and responding to innovations in technology, sustainability and communications in an era of rapid globalisation?
Alistair Brierley, international design director GMW
We must create communities of small, medium and large operators working in close proximity. These will allow direct exchanges and synergies to develop in the social spaces that bind such groups together. Such places have to be much more than the ubiquitous business park.
Flora Samuel – head of the University of Sheffield School of Architecture
We must capitalize on the world class research in our architecture schools; embed research within education to produce research literate graduates; rethink the structure of education to make this happen; facilitate knowledge exchange between schools and practice; develop the research capability of practice through CPD and other means; provide championship via a new RIBA vice president for research; continue to develop frameworks to ensure that building performance evaluation becomes the norm and demand more research-led rigour from our publications.
3.1. How does architecture and the built environment contribute to our society and its identity and how should we evaluate this?
Catherine Croft, director C20 Society
Architecture is the most public of all art forms, even more inescapable than TV or internet content. Buildings can inspire those who live or work in them, as well as those who just walk by them. Historic buildings, from medieval cathedrals to post-modern office parks, tell of a complex dialogue between the UK and the rest of the world. Our lives would be much less rich, if we constantly replaced everything.
Moira Lascelles, deputy director of The Architecture Foundation
Architecture is indicative of the society and time in which it is built. When it comes to evaluation it is the unquantifiable responses from those who use places everyday which are the most useful. Buildings need to be able to adapt to those who need them over time.
3.2. Do we value heritage, whether historic or recent, evenly throughout the country?
Ptolemy Dean – Westminster Abbey surveyor of the fabric
Unfortunately we do not. Under the present prevailing political attitude ‘heritage’ is seen as an impediment to economic growth and development. Also, there are growing inconsistencies in local authorities’ approaches to interpretation and enforcement of statutory protection. This is the direct result of the insidious dilution and cutting back of national bodies, such as English Heritage, and of expert conservation and town planning staff in local authorities.
3.3. How do we make sure that new architecture understands and responds to its cultural and historic context?
Alan Berman, architect, Berman Guedes Stretton
Young architects need to be taught architectural history in a way that is meaningful for practice. And above all historic environments must have legislative protection against those construction professionals who take control but who generally have not a clue what this is all about.
3.5. What is the role for new technologies in conservation to enable older buildings to meet modern needs and to be adapted with less impact on their historic features?
Jamie Coath, partner, Purcell
When properly considered, appropriately designed new interventions can often disclose the historic building’s significance more powerfully than before; the juxtaposition of new with old can be culturally appropriate and aesthetically stimulating.
Helen Molton, conservation architect, HOK
If more detailed and precise information relating to the performance of existing building elements existed, thermal calculations and modelling could be carried out with greater accuracy. This would prevent the unnecessary upgrade and adaptation of existing elements, which often results in the loss of historic fabric.
4.1 What is the potential contribution of built environment education at primary and secondary school level, both as a cultural subject in its own right and as a way of teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and other subjects?
David West, fouding partner, Studio Egret West
Why not weave architecture and urbanism into the mandatory curriculum, perhaps with a place making module within the “Citizenship” or “Design and Technology” GCSE syllabus, giving students the chance to collectively design a city from 1:50,000 down to 1:5 with all the challenges faced along the way. Our children will after all be the designers and guardians of our future cities
4.2. What is the role of architecture and the built environment in enabling a better public understanding of issues related to sustainability and the environment?
Simon Allford, director, AHMM
Architecture is not the construct of subliminal advertising. The need is not to better communicate the message but to challenge current orthodoxies. History advises us that ideas for a better immediate and distant future are most likely to be discovered in the past. We are experiencing an ecological evolution not revolution.
4.3. How can high standards of design be achieved and promoted through neighbourhood plans?
Chris Brown, chief executive, Igloo
Local people have the greatest stake in achieving high quality design and neighbourhood planning provides a lever to help influence the behaviour of developers. Some communities are thinking of starting league tables of developers based on previously built scheme design quality and giving the best preferred access to sites and faster planning.
4.4. How can we better ensure that awareness and support of high standards of design are shared among all the professions concerned with architecture, the built environment, and quality places?
Hanif Kara, AKTII
Cross disciplinary design knowledge is hard to come by as the complexity of accumulated knowledge by individual disciplines inevitably leads to specialization. The education of professionals at present lacks in an understanding of ‘meaning making’ and ‘human perception’ of design. Over the medium term this needs to be addressed to ensure a breadth and depth of knowledge of good design.
4.5. How can we ensure fair representation (gender, ethnicity, class, etc) and better preparation for those wishing to enter into higher education and the built environment professions?
Yasmin Shariff, director of Dennis Sharp Architects
If Farrell is to succeed he needs to transform public procurement and stop government from using architects as external decorators for framework contractors. However, can a profession that lacks fair representation have the credibility or ability to tackle the serious social, environmental and economic issues we face? A profession that continues to short change its women by a fifth and where women leave because architectural practices operate outside current legislation must be called to account and given a major overhaul before it can be empowered to work effectively for the public good.
Peter Rees, City planning officer, City of London
Since the 1970s, successive British governments have sought to marginalise the roles and undermine the standing of the professions. This process has produced a generation of the architects, engineers and planners who shape our environment with less social cred than the footballers and pop singers who merely entertain us. Those who took the trouble to acquire professional qualifications and experience have been elbowed aside by an army of MBA-waving administrators and political frontmen. Without social encouragement few will choose the environmental professions for their career. In spite of the decades of scapegoating British professionals, social respect for politicians has declined even more rapidly. It is time for leading members of our professions to hit back with an evangelical fervour for creating better places.
The media have a key role to play in supporting the re-professionalisation of environmental tasks by showcasing best practice and insisting that questions are answered by the relevant professional. Once a community and their political representatives have debated and agreed the planning strategy for their neighbourhood the tasks of implementation should be left to professional architects and planners. We have much to learn from Germany, Scandinavia and Singapore where urbanism is seen as a professional matter rather than the preserve of amateurs. So, let’s have less politics and more passion. When we have re-established some social standing for architects and planners we will have little difficulty in attracting a more diverse team – after all, sport and music don’t seem to have a problem.