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.
‘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.
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.’