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Pam Alexander: 'I’m often the only woman’

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Last week Pam Alexander was appointed the new chair of CABE. She reveals her goals for the design watchdog and inspirations

What is your background?
I am a geographer. I spent years in the Department of Environment; I ran the Housing Corporation’s programme and I was chief executive of English Heritage. Recently I have been a client for both CABE and the Design Council when I was chief executive of the South East England Development Agency.

What is your goal as CABE chairwoman?
To complete the organisational change we have to make from being a large, grant-funded commission to a small, agile entrepreneurial campaigner for all that is good in the built environment.

What is your favourite building?
I have lots of favourite buildings, and most of them are about personal resonances and about new interventions in historical buildings. If I had to pick one, it would be David Chipperfield’s Turner Contemporary in Margate, which I was involved with right from the beginning. A second one would be Thomas Heatherwick’s pavilion at the Shanghai Expo.

How many design reviews has CABE carried out in the past 12 months?
I cannot give you that figure. We do a lot more than just design reviews, but I can say that we have a great new template that we have been discussing with a number of local authorities, and we have just signed a contract with Oxford City Council for a whole programme of design reviews.

Which practices do you admire?
One firm I particularly love is HAT Projects, which produced a beautiful new Jerwood Gallery in Hastings. And although not a new practice, someone who is newly emerging as a real leader in her field is Alison Brooks. I have worked with her personally at Bath Riverside, which is a scheme I am really proud of.

Have you ever experienced a ‘glass ceiling’?
This is a really important subject. Even now I often find that I am the only woman in a room. I do sometimes find it hard to get my voice heard; and that is strange as I am not really a ‘token’ woman.

Which architect do you most admire?
Not very original, but I think my favourite is still Richard Rogers. There would have been no CABE without his Urban Task Force, but more importantly I think the recent Royal Academy exhibition showed the breadth of his caring and understanding about the built environment – every aspect of it and how it impacts on people and society. For me that is what the built environment is about … it is about making the places where people live better.


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