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‘Chief architect won’t work,’ Quinlan Terry tells Lords


Neo classical architect Quinlan Terry has told House of Lords watchdogs that creating a national chief architect to promote good design is not feasible because of the subjective nature of the profession

Ministers were reporedly said to be actively considering a new chief architect within government, to complement the roles of chief planner and chief construction adviser, as recommended in last year’s Farrell Review.

But giving evidence to the House of Lords select committee on the built environment Terry said the role would not work.

‘There’s a huge tension in architecture between good-quality traditional building and modernism. If you made me chief architect, I’d have a field day, if you made Richard Rogers [chief architect], he’d do the complete opposite,’ he said.

Quinlan Terry at the House of Lords

Quinlan Terry

‘Don’t trust architects, because they’re very opinionated people and you really want the clients to say what they want and you choose the architect you want. It’s not like going to a doctor – they’re all pretty good.

‘There’s no such thing as an architect who’s not on one extreme or the other.’

Giving evidence to the same session, former RIBA president Sunand Prasad said it would be possible for a chief architect to play an impartial role.

‘I could imagine a chief government architect whose role was not to arbitrate over one style of building or another. It would be about process,’ he said.

‘The role of such a person would be to help government be a great client.’

However Prasad questioned whether the creation of a successor body to CABE, which merged with the Design Council in 2011, would be a better solution.

‘We should campaign for the restoration of a body that achieves the kind of things that CABE did, but not necessarily all of it,’ he told select committee members.

‘It won’t be CABE, because that would be politically difficult. Arguably, CABE became too large and started delivering services to DCLG rather than remaining more of a knowledge and design process focussed organisation. It became little more than a delivery organisation.

Sunand Prasad at the House of Lords

Sunand Prasad

He added: ‘There would be little point in having a chief architect or designer as well as CABE.’

Prasad also placed himself at odds with current RIBA policy by calling for the independent Architects Registration Board (ARB) to be ‘absorbed into’ the institute.

He said the move would end three-cornered arguments about responsibility for areas of work that currently passed back and forth between schools, RIBA and the ARB.

Last year, the RIBA Council changed tack in its policy on the ARB, agreeing to lobby ministers for a slimmed down version of the quango rather than its outright abolition.

Both Quinlan and Prasad expressed concerns about the level of practical training offered to students by architecture schools. However, while Quinlan said schools left graduates ‘unemployable’, Prasad praised the quality of students, but called for specific areas of improvement.

‘You get through a school of architecture without ever designing a building to cost, which is barmy,’ he said. ‘Architects must learn that.’


Readers' comments (5)

  • Ben Derbyshire

    Quinlan Terry cannot bring himself to believe that an Architect in any position of influence would have a broad enough vision to recognise that architectures of different styles may have equal merit because he is one of those who are locked into the idea that there is only one god-given style. This point of view exists in both modernist and traditionalist camps and its not helpful!

    There is huge variety in the ways in which people trained as architects end up practicing and otherwise contributing to society and commerce. Some busy practitioners might find it hard to find the time or the entrepreneurship to achieve the transition to new forms of practice, but despite this there are certainly plenty of others who have. Amongst these are Keith Clarke, Steve McGuckin and Bob White who have been effective businessmen as well as Asif Khan, Indy Johar, Studio Weave, Assemble and Thomas Heatherwick who practice in different ways. George Ferguson is the Mayor Bristol. David Cash made it onto the Construction Leadership Council (thank goodness).

    I believe - as do others in a group I have convened with Peter Murray - that we should seek to reinforce the message of recent work at The RIBA, instigated by Stephen Hodder, which shows clients want architects to take back their leadership role. Indeed, we want the RIBA to stop talking about a strategy called Leading Architecture and start talking about Architects Leading! We believe there certainly should be a chief architect in Government and one on every devolved city region too.

    We believe that it's not enough for the Institute to promote Architecture to a wider public on the premise that so doing creates an improved context for the practice of Architecture. We believe that the Institute should do much more to engage with and support architects so that many more can become effective promoters of Architecture and the benefits of good design in myriad and diverse ways in their own local markets - letting a thousand flowers bloom!

    Ben Derbyshire
    Managing Partner, HTA Design LLP
    Chair, The Housing Forum.

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  • 'There's no such thing as an architect who's not on one extreme or the other' - an architect who tells a government that needs putting out to grass. Am I being 'opinionated', or is that the simple truth?

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  • Angela Brady

    Why don't UK follow Ireland on this as they have had a State Architect for many years who is knowledgeable and is appreciated and advises on matters that might otherwise be misunderstood. Architects have a valuable role to play in politics

    He advises on Government project, gives speeches in public and is recognises for his role on advising on architectural matters that affect all of us

    Britain needs a state architect plus town and city architects too. All local authorities need in house architects to advise their planners and the public on matters of architectural design and public realm

    The FARRELL REVIEWS recommendation should be taken up on employing a State Architect they are needed.

    Further detail on current Irish State architect Cieran O Conner

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  • Terry should be ashamed of himself for peddling such divisive nonsense which is sadly more a comment on his own empty and tedious obsession with style than a useful addition to a political discourse. After 5 years at architecture school, I think most of us at least are able to tell the difference between good and bad design, regardless of 'style'. From his comments he clearly can't, which is a bit of a shame.

    Whilst he is clearly free to have his own views, that he should be able to somehow represent the rest of us at this forum - via the usual old crony networks no doubt - is disgraceful.

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  • Oliver Bridge

    Most Architects are a disgrace. They get taught nothing but modernism before before being unleased on an unsuspecting public. Why do you think the British built environment is such a mess.
    How many architects know how to detail a dormer window or a sash window for that matter.
    I'm sure Terrys buildings will still be standing in hundreds of years, long after most of most of your contemporary architecture has been sent to landfill.
    Its not your fault though so dont take it personally. Its the fault of the RIBA and the incompetent architectural education system.

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