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HS2 chairman Higgins hits back over design criticism

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High Speed 2 chairman David Higgins has hit back at criticisms regarding his planned use of standardisation as a means to boost efficiency

Speaking to an audience of architects and journalists at a launch event for the recruitment of HS2’s design panel, Higgins said that he was ‘unashamedly’ seeking best value for the taxpayer and he saw no reason for the project’s designs to ‘satisfy mediocrity’.

According to AJ sister title New Civil Engineer, Higgins revealed his thoughts on design following the launch of the launch of HS2’s design vision, a document which sets out the three core principles that will guide the project’s design and ensure it is a project that is ‘admired around the world’.

Higgins was criticised in these pages by architectural competition organiser Malcolm Reading [22.07.15], slamming him over his preference for standardisation to bring costs down. Higgins told AJ last month that HS2 should adopt a similar approach to that used on the Olympic Village where only the façade details of buildings differed [13.07.15].

Reading, who has organised international competitions including the Guggenheim in Helsinki and Olympicopolis on the London Olympic park, said Higgins needed to learn from the pioneering example of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

He told AJ: ‘It’s a depressing outlook if the man charged with building one of this century’s key pieces of infrastructure can only offer us standardised structures and economies of scale. I’m all in favour of value for money, but why should this be at the expense of good design creating a sense of place and wonder?

‘Brunel designed and built utterly diverse yet superbly integrated bridges, tunnels and stations for the Great Western Railway – a piece of infrastructure built to exceptional standards for the time.’

HS2’s new design vision will be policed by a 40-strong independent design panel chaired by eminent architect Sadie Morgan. Morgan said her panel is intended to act as a ‘critical friend” of HS2 and its work.

Morgan said: ‘We have a huge responsibility to the general public to hold HS2 to account. HS2 needs to work not only for its passengers but for all the communities it affects. It should respect and enhance the environment and stand the test of time.

‘I have confidence that with an influential design panel we can ensure that HS2 provides an outstanding passenger experience and best value to the nation.’

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, also speaking at the launch, added that there are few design opportunities like HS2.

‘We want HS2 to be a world class railway and to achieve that we need excellent design. The HS2 Design Panel has a vital role to play,’ he said.

‘Together we will make HS2 into something that can truly transform our country.’

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