Advocates of a single agency to promote architecture, be it an independent body or within the dcms, would do well to reflect on T S Eliot's lines in Murder in the Cathedral: 'Barons come and Barons go but we the people go on . . .'
As Ricky Burdett rightly stated at the ica debate, the efficacy of any ministry or agency for architecture is dependent on the calibre of the minister or director. Ministers and directors come, ministers and directors go, some are good, some are bad, some are well advised, some are ill advised, some have their ear bent by one interest group, some by another, but architecture needs to go on.
I am an advocate of pluralism, of distilling out what existing organisations, including the rfac, architecture centres and the Arts Council, do most effectively and achieving the economies anticipated in the dcms spending review through a better focused and co-ordinated approach to the promotion of good architecture.
Turning to lessons from France, the effectiveness of existing organisations could be strengthened through establishing a legal framework similar to that established by the French law on architecture. It starts with a statement that architecture is important to French culture and the quality of the built environment. In consequence binding requirements flow, relating to the commissioning of publicly funded building projects. (Procedures for selecting architects are also enshrined in Irish law.)
While players within organisations, and indeed the organisations themselves, be they independent or not, are variable and easily shuffled, laws tend to be more immutable and may provide, as in France, a more stable foundation and consistent basis for achieving good architecture.