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Ben Derbyshire responds to Javid’s criticism of RIBA House of the Year

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RIBA president Ben Derbyshire has responded to the government’s critique of the institute’s choice for 2017 House of the Year 

The award was won by Caring Wood in Kent, a large multi-building scheme that won permission under the ‘country house clause’ of the National Planning Framework.

Derbyshire hit back at comments made by communities secretary Sajid Javid this week, arguing that the competition was not intended for a ‘typical house’ and has showcased ‘well-designed homes of vastly ranging scales, locations and budgets’.

Javid had questioned the extravagant architecture presented by James Macdonald Wright and Niall Maxwell’s champion scheme, which he argued did not represent the average house, saying that ‘good design doesn’t have to mean grand designs’ and ‘new homes don’t have to make bold statements’.

The MP for Bromsgrove added: ‘I’m not sure your average new-build, three-bed home has space for an art gallery, performance area and 27,000 fruit trees!’ 

Responding, Derbyshire said: ‘The winner of the 2017 RIBA House of the Year is not a typical house and, as the RIBA’s many awards and activities consistently demonstrate, architects are designing high-quality homes for every type of occupier.’

‘Over the last three years, millions of viewers have engaged with the RIBA House of the Year award as part of a special TV series, which has showcased inspiring well-designed homes of vastly ranging scales, locations and budgets.’

Javid made his comments in a speech to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), in which he also revealed plans for a housing design conference in spring next year.

Derbyshire added that he had written to Javid, inviting him to visit some of the UK’s RIBA award-winning housing schemes, and was keen for the communities secretary to ‘hear first-hand from the architects about the conditions that shaped the developments’.

He said that if Javid saw these projects, it would help the government to shape housing policy to ensure that developers move beyond ‘identikit red-roofed boxes’, which the communities secretary had himself dubbed generic housing developments in a speech to the National House Building Council in November

Javid is not the first high-profile name to question Caring Wood’s victory. Former editor of Country Life Clive Aslet wrote a damning piece in the Times, calling the home ‘extravagant’ and a ‘place where no sane person would think of living’. The outburst prompted Derbyshire to defend the choice and the RIBA’s record on championing housing.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Gordon  Gibb

    I think it is time for the RIBA to revisit their charter. The consideration of the needs of citizens was part of their remit from 1837 onwards. They decided to remove that obligation in the 1971 rewrite and limit themselves to "the arts and science of architecture".

    I have to say that Mr Javid's comments are completely justified. This choice does nothing in this time of mass-housing shortage, criticism of the safety of the current housing stock, continued austerity, inequality and uncertainty to promote anything other than that the RIBA is "shapeist", elitist, out of touch with issues of social impact, and irrelevant to the needs of the citizens of this country.

    If Mr Derbyshire wants the profession to be less marginalised, he would do well to make the RIBA less marginal and rather more inclusive, and this includes the RIBA giving consideration to the fact that doing more with less resource is the reality in which the vast majority of the rest of the world operates.

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