Looking forward to high-rise in the City
Seven years ago I was involved in presenting the exhibition 'City Changes', which charted the evolution of architecture in the City of London during the post-1985 boom. Projects on display included Arup Associates' Broadgate buildings and som's Exchange House as well as Michael Hopkins' Bracken House.
One of the most striking exhibits was a model of the whole City, with areas painted in different colours for pre-war, post-war and post-1985. The last covered one-third of the Square Mile and represented development over railway tracks at Broadgate, over roads at London Wall and Cannon Street and a host of more conventional schemes - every available square metre of land, it seemed, was commandeered to cope with the aftermath of Big Bang.
It struck me, therefore, as somewhat bizarre for David Lawson to suggest (aj 18.3.99) that during the 1980s boom the Corporation of London as a planning authority 'gained a reputation as anti-business, anti-development and ante-diluvian', and 'leaned heavily towards conservation'.
Even the conservation areas of the City, which have hardly changed since they were designated in the mid-1980s, did little to hinder development. Planning department records show that as many consents have been given within conservation areas as without.
The trend, which started in earnest in the 1980s, for international business to gravitate to London has been maintained, and the City still has plenty of sites to cater for the demand for space with ground-scrapers such as Plantation Place by Arup Associates, Bennetts Associates' Devonshire Square, som's latest phase of Broadgate and Sir William Whitfield's Paternoster Square where, at long last, demolition is about to start.
Following Judith Mayhew's comments on high-rise I look forward to a speedy approval of Foster and Partners' new tower which will herald a new generation of tall buildings and be a striking totem for Mayhew's vision of the global City.
Wordsearch London W1
Don't abandon the RFAC's legacy
David Taylor's article about the new body which is to replace The Royal Fine Art Commission (aj 11.3.99) gives extensive coverage to David Rock's view that the design-review function of the rfac is of only peripheral value and should be diminished. He apparently favours a body with plenipotentiary powers over government departments, planning authorities and anyone else who stands in the way of good design.
However much he may yearn for such a body, it is not the one the government has said it will set up. The choice therefore seems to be between continuing to have careful design review and advice-giving at the heart of the new body's work or allowing it to be just another pressure group. For 75 years the rfac has based its views on a careful appraisal of specific proposals across the country. It is precisely this immersion in casework which has given the Commission a grounding in reality and the breadth and depth of experience to rise above fashion. On many occasions it has been ahead of the game: for example in speaking up for historic buildings in the early post-war years, before the conservation bandwagon started rolling; or in speaking up for mixed-use development at a time when zoning and segregation were all the rage among town planners.
Responses to the consultation paper issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport last summer made it clear that architects and others value the specific advice they receive from the rfac. In my view the ability to provide that advice and to base general policies firmly in individual casework is the best legacy we can give to the new body. It would be the height of folly to abandon it in favour of aspiration and waffle.
Lord St John of Fawsley
Chairman, Royal Fine Art Commission, London SW1
Compensation issue is not that simple
I read with interest Paul Hyett's article in the 18.3.99 edition of The Architects' Journal. There were some inaccuracies in the different bodies mentioned, and the following is by way of clarification.
Firstly, The Law Society is not 'broadly similar' to the riba, as it is both the professional body and regulator of solicitors. Since 1931, when arcuk was set up, the riba has been solely the professional body.
The arb's disciplinary powers are similar to those of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. It should also be remembered that the arb has greater powers to discipline than arcuk. These include a reprimand, a fine (which is paid to the Crown), suspension from the Register, and finally, the most severe sanction, removal from the Register.
It is the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (oss) which has power to compensate up to £1000, not the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Why abolish the arb and create an oss merely to give compensatory powers? Parliament could give these powers to the arb and there would be no need to go to the cost of creating a new organisation.
Finally, the compensatory powers of oss of up to £1000 for inadequate professional service, and also the powers of the Compensation Fund to award sums up to £1 million, are funded by solicitors themselves.
This should be very much taken into account when suggesting similar provisions for architects, as it will be architects who will have to fund such benefits. That is not to say that such protection for the consumer is inappropriate.
Clarifying the position with solicitors
Paul Hyett's observation (aj 18.3.99) that the system for dealing with complaints about solicitors is better than that for architects is naturally welcome to us. However, his description of precisely how we operate is not wholly accurate. Since many architects are obliged (no doubt more often than some might wish!) to deal with solicitors, some clarification might be useful.
Those with complaints about solicitors do not have to be referred to the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (oss) by the Law Society - they can approach us direct. Our casework and decision-making are entirely independent.
The oss tries to conciliate cases, but also has the power to award compensation or order financial redress in complaints of inadequate professional service, and to impose disciplinary sanctions for misconduct.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal is not involved with conciliation between solicitors and their clients - as its name implies, the tribunal's role is purely disciplinary.
It is vital to stress that complaints about solicitors' service and bills should first be made to the solicitor. This is the quickest, and usually the most effective, way of resolving the complaint.
Office for the Supervision of Solicitors, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
How the profession can help save trees
As a local-authority arboricultural officer and Arboricultural Association member, I am becoming increasingly more frustrated on the issue of trees and foundation failure.
I and my colleagues around the country are regularly exhorted to 'manage' the council's tree stocks by beheading - a practice that has not been used on humans for some considerable time. This is in order to reduce water uptake and, hopefully, reduce the risk of buildings subsiding on shrinkable soils. The insurance industry, structural engineers and loss adjusters always blame the tree for foundation failure. As a result trees are being felled or beheaded when the real problem is one of thoughtlessness. Why should trees be blamed when architects, planners, building control officers and developers fail to carry out their jobs properly?
For over 20 years since the 1975/76 drought there have been dry summers followed by dry winters on a regular basis. This has led to a gradual desiccation of high plasticity index soils and instances of foundation failure on some properties. The result has been rising claims for subsidence damage and rising numbers of trees being felled or mutilated, often unnecessarily. Trees are a vital part of our daily lives. They help to filter pollutants, give out oxygen, provide shade, shelter and habitats for out wildlife. They improve the quality of life for all, especially in urban areas.
I would not deny that trees can contribute to damage, but poor design and development is often the precursor to the problem. Building techniques do not seem to allow for fluctuations in the moisture content of the soil, the proximity of existing trees and shrubs, or the probability of new planting being carried out. Much research has and is being done on tree roots and moisture extraction and yet the lack of forethought by the professions is creating a future problem. I have seen estates built (badly) and poor landscaping carried out. Eighteen years later, houses are being underpinned.
Has anyone thought about comparing the extra costs of repairing damage with the much lesser costs of protective design? With a little thought and care and a small increase in building costs, the necessity for tree removal or butchery may become a thing of the past. Let's start the new millennium with constructive (forgive the pun) dialogue among all those involved and help to improve the country's future heritage and urban landscape, so that our descendants can say, 'Didn't they do well!'
Lord Denning: dead good or just dead?
Sam Webb misquotes me (aj 18.3.99). I did not say that Lord Denning was a 'good' judge or that his judgments were 'much praised'. I said that he was prolific and used very short sentences. I did, however, originally label him a famous living judge and there, in one respect at least, I was wrong.
In the practice profile on gmw (aj 11.3.99), it should have been noted in the section on Globe House that a planning consent was obtained at appeal by T P Bennett.