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Chipperfield: London planning system is 'too soft'

David Chipperfield at the LSE May 2016

Architect David Chipperfield has argued that London’s approach to planning is ‘too soft’ and has called for a ‘proactive planning authority’ for the capital

He claimed the current system did not ’look after the substance and the quality of our city’, that it failed to plan for the spaces between buildings and that there was no longer a vision of what the city should look like.

The Stirling Prize winner said such a vision required the ‘coordination of land, investment and idea’, rather than ‘doing a masterplan and letting investors build it out’, and that it can only be achieved with a ‘proactive planning authority’.

Chipperfield made the comments during a public lecture at the London School of Economics (LSE) and Political Science earlier this month.

‘In London, I would argue that we are much too soft in terms of how planning is coordinated and that we should have a much more proactive way,’ he said. ‘However I also accept it’s very unlikely that there will ever be a city architect again or even a large department of architects. We had that. And without any sort of public structure, it’s very difficult to organise things.’

He added that while an ‘unusual’ example, the Barbican showed what was possible in terms of creating community and making a development part of the city. ‘It’s good because it is motivated by vision and it’s not just the consequence of investment,’ he said.



By contrast, he said the Paddington Basin development had ‘everything on the shopping list that’s meant to be there, that’s meant to be urban and to be making a city, but it’s not.’

’I never imagined that I would find myself lamenting the fact that we don’t have enough planners’

‘When I started off as an architect, I thought that planners were awful and I never imagined that I would now… find myself lamenting the fact that we don’t have enough planners, and don’t have enough good planners,’ he told the audience. ‘We don’t spend enough money on planners. If we want a better city, that’s where we should be putting our money.’

He added: ‘I don’t think one can overestimate the importance of guidance – and not guidance just in terms of some sort of regulations.’

During his LSE Cities lecture, entitled Protect and Develop, Chipperfield noted how planning had been renamed masterplanning and that while that gives ‘comfort that we have somehow planned something’, it is a different process. Despite acknowledging some masterplans are ‘very sophisticated’, he claimed they are about ‘freeing land’ and there is ‘no overall idea’.

‘Masterplanning is planning without vision; it’s logistic planning,’ he said. ‘It basically says in an investor market we need to make a whole load of decisions and coordinate those decisions before someone can start building.’

David Chipperfield at the LSE May 2016

David Chipperfield at the LSE May 2016

David Chipperfield at the LSE May 2016

In a discussion with chair Ricky Burdett, director of LSE Cities, and the architecture critic Rowan Moore after his talk, Chipperfield said leveraging value out of land dominated in London and other criteria such as appropriateness of volume and social diversity were ‘swept aside’. He said the planning process was ‘very arbitrary’, planning officers ‘often hardly listened to’ and that it was difficult to get a meeting with the planning department.

‘I’m trying to argue architecture isn’t so important… I certainly don’t think it’s as important as good planning,’ he said.


Readers' comments (3)

  • Thank you David Chipperfield for talking hard truths. As architects on private projects, which now dominate the built environment, we are often merely the dressers to our clients' volumes.
    Good architects are producing schemes that in their hearts they would never seriously be able to support -The new E2 Hackney Road proposal is a great example of what architects with an excellent track record are willing to produce for clients that need to stack up a site purchased on the projection of weak LPA input or a laissez faire GLA.
    Planning needs to be better resourced (i.e. more expensive) for major schemes, streamlined for smaller schemes and dare i say it validated by architects on simple domestic projects?
    It needs to be better funded, more joined up and higher profile - it is our only hope for a better public domain.

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  • Agreed.

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  • Some good points, but can this really be the same David Chipperfield whose London projects for Tracey Emin and the Geffrye Museum were declined by the planners - both for good reason?

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