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The public realm is where we need a true champion

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editorial

I once had the pleasure of organising the purchase of a little- known print of I K Brunel (on behalf of International Building Press) which was awarded to Stuart Lipton as the construction personality of the year.

There wasn't much argument about the selection, following the triumphant completion of the Broadgate scheme on the edge of the City of London. For Stuart, one suspects, construction has always been a first love rather than architecture, but the inextricable link between the two makes his appointment as chairman of the new Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (note the latter part of the new body's name) a matter of more than routine interest.

How many other heads of quangos have a detailed understanding of the processes involved in the output they promote?

This understanding is only a means to an end, however. There is no point in a perfect process if the product is second-rate; sour milk is of no use even if delivered exactly on time.

So what is the product which we would like to see emerging from the new commission? Is there a distinctive role which a new body could define as its own?

The answer to the latter must be 'yes, there is'. For one thing, the champion/chairman can concentrate on the possibilities of improving the public realm - that no-man's-land of frequent hazard and design vacuum between the front door and the workplace - rather than focusing on the creation of landmarks, of which we have plenty coming our way and which, in any event, tend to take care of themselves.

Our alternative landmarks should be our tube stations, our multi-storey car parks, our bus shelters and our public streets, squares and markets; the stuff of quotidian activity which constitutes ordinary, everyday life.

We need developer skills applied to the space around the developments themselves. And we need to support the new champion in the important task of bringing better design to, and for, us all.

Paul Finch

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