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Sajid Javid questions RIBA House of the Year result


The communities secretary has questioned the choice of Caring Wood in Kent by James Macdonald Wright and Niall Maxwell as RIBA House of the Year, saying ’good design doesn’t have to mean grand designs’ 

In a speech to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), Sajid Javid, who also revealed plans for a housing design conference, said that the champion scheme did not represent the average new-build home and argued that quality design need not be extravagant.

The communities secretary said: ’Make no mistake, the winner was undoubtedly a stunning piece of architecture. But I’m not sure your average new-build three-bed home has space for an art gallery, performance area and 27,000 fruit trees!’

’Good design doesn’t have to mean grand designs,’ Javid added. ’To be beautiful, to win that local support, new homes don’t have to make bold statements.’

The communities secretary is not the first high-profile name to question Caring Wood’s victory. Former editor of Country Life Clive Aslet wrote a damning piece in The Times, saying the home was ‘extravagant’ and a ’place where no sane person would think of living’. The outburst prompted RIBA President Ben Derbyshire to defend the choice and the RIBA’s record on championing housing.

Javid said that his plans for a government-led design conference, to be held in spring 2018, would boost the quality of new homes in England.

This event, he said, which will involve working with the industry and local government, would be a ’showcase for ideas, insights and best practice from across the country and across the world, kicking off a real debate about how we can raise the design bar for everyone’.

The MP for Bromsgrove also said the government’s £25 million Planning Delivery Fund, which opened for bids last week, would ’help local authorities plan for growth and improve design’.

Following his speech to the FMB, the communities secretary said of his conference plans: ’As set out in the Housing White Paper earlier this year, we want to give communities a stronger voice in the design of new housing and drive up the quality and character of new development.’

He added: ‘I’m clear we need to build homes that people not only want to live in, but live next door to as well. So working with experts, this will be a fantastic opportunity to show how the quality of new homes is as important as the quantity.’ 

The RIBA has been contacted for comment.


Russell Pedley, director at Assael Architecture
Raising the design bar for all types of tenure needs political support. The Government’s conference initiative next spring can see a shift towards more collaboration in improving the quality of design for housing, winning support from local communities and addressing the lack of public trust in the homebuilding sector.

Great design and consistent quality throughout the project are key to win over the NIMBY opposition and accelerate the rate of housebuilding at such a crucial time. Housing design must always convince through quality – the spring conference is a step in the right direction.


Readers' comments (2)

  • John Kellett

    Sajid Javid is a dangerous politician. Of course the "scheme did not represent the average new-build home", it wasn't meant to. The RIBA House of the Year is supposed to be the best, not average. If that means meeting an unusual brief it does not make it invalid.

    The 'average' new-build home could not win an architectural award in a century of Thursdays.

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  • Leaving aside the bleedin-gaff-for-the-rich-innit point, Sajid Javid has made a hash of his punchline. He simply cannot suggest that there's no need for "bold" design to make ordinary housing "beautiful". It would be more to the point for him to have said that bold domestic design was actually vital to counter the rashes of cheap-to-build pattern book housing estates under perpetual construction. Ordinary housing doesn't need to be beautiful; it just needs to be better designed, better built, and better championed by planners and developers. The last two cohorts are the problem. We have faux planning rigour (see: Greenbelt Boot Sales And NPPG, aka Whatevah) and little or no desire to pay our better, and perhaps younger, architects to find ways to design buildable, affordable homes that, by default Poundbury plc standards, are architecturally bold and contextually adroit. Jay Merrick

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