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In his latest column ( www. ajplus. co. uk/ peterdavey), Peter Davey laments architecture's inability to address 'the problems of planetary degradation that face us all', contrasting the 'selfindulgence' of 'most of the best-known members of the profession' with the generation of architects served and inspired by the AJ's great post-war editor, Colin Boyne.

Davey warns that 'blobs' - the manifestation of gratuitous shape-making - 'are beginning to look pretty old hat, so expect to see a version containing your latest local supermarket soon'.

This is the inevitable fate of an architectural oeuvre which has become derivative and banal.

Yet supermarkets are emerging as unlikely eco-pioneers. Asda has stopped sending waste to landfill, Tesco has promised to halve its carbon footprint, and Marks & Spencer has pledged to spend £200 million on a comprehensive 'ecoplan', welcomed by eco-campaigners as the most progressive project of its kind.

Debate centres around carbon footprint, farming, procurement, transport and packaging recycling. Understandably, there is rather less discussion of, say, the impact of supermarkets on traditional city centres, or the procurement and design of retailers' substantial building stock.

It is far removed from the reforming zeal of Boyne and his contemporaries, who held that scientific progress was important only in so far as it helped to create places where people could lead full and happy lives. Set against the backdrop of post-war reconstruction (rather than environmental evangelism) the principle was essentially a precursor to the One Planet Living mantra, which values qualities such as beauty and happiness as highly as technological advance.

It was, and is, a mantra which puts architects at the forefront of social change. In allowing others to lead the way, architects forfeit a vital privilege. As retailers lay claim to the moral high ground, they get to set the agenda themselves.

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