The most significant aspect of the hta/Greenwich Millennium Village story (AJ 1.7.99) is not that it is exceptional in regard to the relationship between architect and client; rather the reverse.
Architects are sent out on a long lead to strut their stuff and win the competition. Once the prize is secured for their master, winners are quickly shoved into their kennel where they might just be allowed the occasional growl; too much barking and they are quietly put down.
In hta's case, the dog managed to break its chain and bite its master before ... well, we'll see. What is exceptional here is the fact that it is a project of the Deputy Prime Minister, who has now called for an inquiry. In a smart civil-service move, this is apparently to be carried out by English Partnerships! ep has had the project delegated to it.
Yet it is ep's failure to insist upon the housebuilders delivering the terms of hta's winning scheme that is behind the issue. If any heads should roll, they should be at ep. If that does not disqualify it from acting as judge in its own case, the fact that it has a fiduciary interest must. Its profit in the land sale depends in part on the housebuilders' profits, so it in ep's interest that the village is built 'on the cheap' in time-honoured housebuilder fashion.
Too many architects bring this kind of disrespectful, disgraceful treatment on themselves and other members of the profession by indulging in sycophantic behaviour towards their clients. It is only by persuading them, and, if necessary, standing up in defence of beliefs and principles that we can moderate the greed and dishonourable behaviour of bad clients and so help deliver more environmentally and socially responsible projects.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Bernard Hunt and Ben Derbyshire for setting a long-overdue example by blowing the whistle on the housebuilders at Greenwich (who, like Ralph Erskine, they brought into the project in the first place). Let's honour other architects who are prepared to bite back rather than roll over and appease the too-commonly mediocre standards too many clients live by.
Brian Waters, Chairman, London Planning & Development Forum, and Principal, Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership, London W8
Volubility in article on Morocco's Volubilis?
John McAslan's reported perception of Volubilis (aj 10.6.99), the outstanding Roman site in Morocco, could not have been more different from my own, nor more misguided. The abandoned ancient city is replete with a sense of history. Its size, importance and sophistication stare out from the wonderfully preserved stones and mosaics.
The suggestion that Volubilis is 'virtually unintelligible' to the non- specialist is equally mystifying. Mr McAslan should be introduced to some of the excellent guide books which cover the site in detail, when he goes there next. I accept that some discreet labelling might be introduced to aid recognition. But even without it, the hosts of tourists arriving at the site seemed to understand and enjoy the site's many qualities perfectly well, when I was there recently.
Volubilis's beauty is the fact that modern life has left it behind, and that allows the visitor to get a full sense of its antiquity. McAslan's proposed structure is both patronising in intent, and it threatens to detract from the site's finest qualities. The quicker it is abandoned the better. Your article also suggested that the nearest town to Volubilis was Fez; in fact, it is Meknes.
Nicholas Kochan, London N8
Architecture can truly be inclusive
Hooray to Paul Hyett for (aj 10.6.99) stating clear truths about the frustration faced by architects from the visibly ethnic minorities. It is real.
It is not all doom and gloom, however. There is a saying that ignorance can be more expensive than education. There are positive initiatives at De Montfort University and Luton, which Mr Hyett highlighted. But these initiatives will fail unless they engage in a consultation with members of these visibly ethnic communities. Suitably qualified staff do exist - one of the Society of Black Architects's (soba's) missions is to make this group's qualifications visible. There is no need to be caught in a catch-22 situation. There is a responsibility also on members of minority communities not to rest on their laurels, but to be part of the process of articulating unique qualities which they can contribute to uk plc.
Good architecture does not just lie in the finished product, but is also harboured in the concepts of the wider processes that bring the building to bear. Great architecture is initiated through ideas. We have the opportunity to re-think the direction of the profession. It is becoming evident that architecture means different things to different people. Architecture can truly be inclusive.
soba believes that as long as enabling environments are created for dialogue between patrons and its members - with the assistance of our fraternal parent, the riba - doors that have been firmly shut will begin to creak open because patrons too will want to maximise their investment, and no doubt will see the economic benefits of tapping into all of the resources at their disposal. Like in Feng Shui, it is about making use of resources that we already have.
CTL Nasah, Publicity Officer, Society of Black Architects
Stop dumbing-down our university education
Paul Hyett is serving both the profession's and the public's interest in courageously defending the riba's pivotal role in the education of architects.
Vice-chancellors and business persons, in yielding to political pressure, are taking the modularisation of courses one stage further, making it possible to progress from year to year, carrying requirements for resits of almost unlimited numbers of modules. The discretion of course staff in deciding who has the requisite ability to proceed is being progressively undermined - ie a 'dumbing-down' is taking place in the interests of maximising fee income. In this situation the separation of the riba Parts I-II from university awards is our only safeguard against a steady devaluation of the meaning of the qualification.
In the longer term, that devaluation would undermine the reputation that provides the lure, which draws the students, who produce the fee income. But the government and business persons do not seem to have longer-term vision.
I wrote in your pages in March last year, suggesting that the riba petition the eec to re-write the European Directive covering architects, to limit arb's powers narrowly and precisely to those which genuinely represent a protection of the public interest. This is still an option.
Kate Macintosh, Finch Macintosh Architects, Winchester
Time to draw line in sand with arb's ambition
Three cheers for Paul Hyett! At last someone is standing up and shouting about the role of the riba in education.
Whatever the merits of the arb may be, there is no doubt that it could never replace the position of the Institute in validation and recognition of schools, and particularly so internationally, which in itself is an invisible export of considerable importance.
The 'minimalist' role expected of the arb has not been borne out and it is time to draw a line in the sand.
The riba is the umbrella which provides the best opportunity to form opinion and chart the way forward for the profession and its relations with the public - in education, as in other matters.
The arb's present share of education is more than enough to fulfil its statutory duty and any further relinquishment by the riba would be seriously damaging to the Institute and to the future of education.
Hopefully, the new leadership will maintain the line and capitalise on the benefits such resistance can bring. The consequences of failure are too awful to contemplate.
Peter Melvin, Atelier Architecture & Design, Aldbury, Herts
SPAN never went under financially
With reference to Jeremy Melvin's review of 20th Century British Housing (AJ 17.6.99) at the riba, he states, referring to private-sector developers:
'Perhaps someone should tell them that span went bankrupt.'
Will you allow me to tell them (and him) that span did not go bankrupt, or even into into receivership. It ceased operating for a few years after selling its partly built New Ash Green village development to Bovis, but became active again in its old stamping grounds at Blackheath and Twickenham, until Eric Lyons' untimely death in 1980.
Ivor Cunningham, Eric Lyons Cunningham Metcalfe,
East Molesey, Surrey
Giving credit where due at Brunswick Centre
With reference to your news item (AJ 24.6.99) concerning the proposals for the regeneration of the Brunwick Centre in Bloomsbury:
The painting of the new art gallery, facing Brunswick Square Gardens, should have been credited to Paul Hogarth, whose well-known vigour in portrayal is undiminished.
Patrick Hodgkinson, Bath
Just to add to Hyett column on liability ...
Paul Hyett (AJ 1.7.99) makes some important points in his column on liability issues and sub-contractors, but here are a few more architects should bear in mind when involved in projects where specialist sub-contractors are carrying out design work:
1) Agree at the outset with your client what your role will be regarding the specialists and their work - and whether you are to inspect it or not - and make sure that your written appointments reflect this agreement.
2) Never agree to 'check' a specialist's work. If you do and something goes wrong, you may be dragged into any litigation involving that work.
3) Finally, avoid recommending any specialists to your client. If forced to do so, provide only factual information about their past performance and then, only when you are very confident about their ability.
Sarah Peck, Wren Managers,
The Wren Insurance Association Ltd, London SE1