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Urban design is more than lines on a page. . .

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Letters

It is not often that I completely agree with the airborne remarks of Will Alsop (AJ 19.4.01), but when he bemoans the great urban design sell out, he knows what he he is talking about. Suddenly, it seems urban design - or what I foolishly always refer to as civic design - has become a paying occupation for young people with urban enthusiasms, scant drawing skills and little understanding (bless 'em! ) of the tenaciously difficult forces and unashamedly complex issues which must be taken abroad before relevant lines can be drawn. Anything less and masterplanning sits below mastercheffing in the pecking order.

'For the sake of a few lines, one must see many places, peoples and things, ' wrote the late, great German wordsmith Raine Maria Rilke. So, too, should our urban designers, before pens are put to paper or policies hammered out. The trouble is that this all costs money and patience, commodities in scant supply when councils must contract for the supply of toilet rolls alongside the design of new public realm.

Who is going to set standards among the moneychangers and procurers of 'design services'?

One useful lead might come from our elders and betters.

They say that Sir Basil Spence, when apprenticed to the office of Sir Edwin Lutyens, was sent out one bright morning to measure the steps of the Albert Memorial as a practical training in proportion. Smart lad!

Learning by seeing, Blue Peterlike, could be the start, backed up by a gentle insistence that urban design proper should be left with those who have successfully completed the full professional training as an architect - and then some.

I have been 'doing' urban design for more than 30 years and yet I still get up early most mornings to learn more. Thank you, Alsop, for reminding us that civic design is as serious as surgery.

Neil Parkyn, Huntingdon Associates, London N2

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