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‘A masterplan is an urban plan without vision’ says Chipperfield

David Chipperfield
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A stellar panel featuring David Chipperfield, Odile Decq, Elizabeth Diller, Amanda Levete and Ma Yansong has called for architects to think and work more broadly – with ‘vision’ – to promote urban change

The panel, chaired by Sarah Gaventa during the RIBA’s Change in the City conference, part of RIBA International Week, discussed how architectural skills could be better used in city making.

David Chipperfield talked of the trend to retreat behind the red line of individual schemes: ‘As architects we are increasingly emasculated and we have retreated behind the red line of our building plot. We have to think of architecture not as single acts, but as collaborations.

‘We are not any more encouraged to be in anything beyond the red lines of plot,’ he continued.

‘A masterplan is urban planning without vision. It is infrastructure. It has surreptitiously replaced urban planning… we have destroyed the notion of planning.’

As architects we are increasingly emasculated

Odile Decq said: ‘For me it is natural to think of architecture not just as an object but as a wider context. I want to think about what is human – to give the possibilities for students to become wider thinkers of the world. Why are we above the city – not with the city?’

Decq explained that there are ‘always competitions to reinvent areas’ – but that these are contained, small places and there is not enough thinking about the whole: ‘They are little places. This is not a vision of the organisation of the city itself. There is a collection of things. But not a vision.’

Amanda Levete said: ‘As architects we have a great responsibility to go beyond our field and become entrepreneurial – to identify areas where we feel we can make a contribution. To consult with communities and to raise money. It may be about starting small. But small can be a great prompt.’

Levete explored the idea of engagement. ‘The more engaged we are with people from other disciplines and the more we collaborate,’ she explained, the more likely a successful outcome.

Engagement was also picked up by Decq: ‘Being engaged means going further than the specialist role of the architect. Being more trans-disciplinary.’

Elizabeth Diller asked the question: ‘How can we engage more with policy making? We need to get engaged more with arguments around economics. Architects need to be in dialogue with policy makers – if not inside government.

Architects need to be in dialogue with policy makers

‘We look at government as being inept and developers as being evil – it is time to claim that back. How “professional” we have made the profession. How far away from planning we are. The notion of the ‘generalist’ is fading.

Diller continued: ‘We don’t always learn from how things naturally evolve. Sometimes we need a vision. The notion of thinking big is something we don’t feel comfortable with.’

Ma Yansong suggested that we should look at the past to understand the future better – and that people need ‘real places, real architecture’. ‘Where does the vision come from? We look back to our tradition. The old part of Bejing is so beautiful compared with the new part. It is not only green, it is poetic. How many modern cities are poetic?’

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