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Foster deserves praise for more than quality

I enjoyed Louis Hellman's cartoon (aj 15.4.99) showing Sir Norman Foster as the 'World's favourite airchitect' - he did, after all, describe the Boeing 707 as his favourite building. In the same issue, the question of the recent Foster output was raised in your editorial, and in particular the question of how much we can expect innovative architectural practices to come up with fresh insights every time they produce a design.

The truth is that this is impossible for practices which produce buildings in any quantity. Your analogy with world-record-holding athletes being expected to set a new record every time they run is apposite: it is too much to expect. On the other hand, you can expect an extremely high level of performance which would meet the athlete/architect's own high standards. On the whole, Foster's seem to live up to the standards it sets itself, with one or two exceptions - for example the aquarium building in Birmingham which seemed mean-spirited though no doubt competent internally.

Perhaps the most satisfying thing about the way in which 'commercial' architecture has been redefined in this country is that one can no longer make assumptions about what sort of architect is designing what sort of building. This allows a wide range of talents across a broad spectrum of practices to engage in high standards of office design - no-one has it their own way any more.

John Burnedge

London W11

Dean Gallery was a team achievement

I was surprised to read of my achievements in the article on the Dean Gallery (aj 22.4.99). However, the impression that the design for the Dean was realised by just one person is entirely wrong and must be corrected. The gallery was the product of a team effort over the past five years, both within Terry Farrell & Partners and in close collaboration with the National Galleries of Scotland, other consultants and several contractors.

The design for the Dean was generated by Terry Farrell himself in close collaboration with Sue Farrell, Dennis Doman, and John Letherland of tfp's London office. Duncan Whatmore, Dorothy Batchelor, Karin Yiannakou and I helped liaise, co-ordinate and carry out the works to the existing building from tfp Edinburgh office.

Primary, the Dean is a team achievement and we regret any diminution of the collective pride that your ill-researched article may have caused. We wish to extend our thanks to all involved.

Neil de Prez

Terry Farrell & Partners, Edinburgh

Insurance question

never goes away

Your headline 'Insurance must be reformed' (aj 22.4.99) inspired hollow laughter in this particular office. How often have we heard all this in the past? Your late lamented columnist Ray Cecil promoted the idea of single project insurance through the riba and through the building 'Neddy' (remember that?). The impeccable logic of the idea has yet to be translated into reality, but let's face it, a client would be much better off knowing they were insured whatever happened to their building, rather than knowing that their professional advisers might or might not have enough cover to pay up were the client to sue them at some remote time in the future.

As usual in the uk, this whole area is shrouded in mystery. Insurers don't want architects to tell clients the extent of their cover; clients don't want to pay extra if they think (wrongly) that pii cover will see them right; and the insurance industry seems incapable of producing a popular, simple policy which would take the strain out of client/adviser relations.

In an ideal world, clients would never become involved in suing architects or contractors: their insurer would do it if necessary, at no cost in time or money to the party which commissioned the building.

Simon Riddell


Medium gives the

wrong message

It was a pity that EC3 Design Group chose The Simpsons characters to illustrate the way bowling alleys could look in the future (aj 15.4.99). It confirmed my view that when trendy designers tell you 'anything is possible', in this case bowling with a background of anything you cared to project, they invariably choose garish, downmarket examples to illustrate their case. All this succeeds in doing is making people yearn for a quieter past.

Jennifer Adams


Welsh loss could be

a Midlands gain

Judging by recent press reports, Will Alsop's media centre in Cardiff looks doomed not to be built, which recalls the fiasco surrounding his competition-winning literature centre in Swansea, also not built. Perhaps we should be grateful that the Cardiff Bay barrage is being completed, incorporating his practice's designs. It was pleasing, therefore, to see that West Bromwich has commissioned a bold new landmark from this architect. Judging by the explosion of colourful images in your issue of 22 April, Cardiff's loss may be West Bromwich's gain.

Eric Nugent

High Wycombe

Does devolution mean

changes for design?

Seeing Richard Murphy's Dundee scheme in your pages last week made me wonder whether there is any such thing as 'Scottish' or 'British' or 'Welsh' architecture, or simply architecture itself, capable of representing (or misrepresenting) almost anything given skilful design. At a time of political break-up in which nationalism of a more or less diluted form seems to be dominating Europe, can we expect to see the rise of buildings specifically trying to assert a national identity?

Many people will feel uneasy if this in fact occurs, and take comfort from the fact that in Cardiff and Edinburgh, the architects chosen to design the parliamentary buildings are neither Welsh nor Scottish. It is sad to think that it would have been almost impossible for an English architect to have been given the Edinburgh job, but there it is. It was good to see Norman Foster designing the Reichstag project, a great compliment and rather humbling for us - when did we last use a German architect on a job of note? Meanwhile, whatever happened to 'critical regionalism'? Isn't that what the New Europe should be all about?

Geoffrey Martin


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