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Sector split over where 'chief architect' should sit in government

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The RIBA and the Design Council have expressed differing views on where a ‘chief architect’ should sit in government if ministers adopt Terry Farrell’s proposals to create the post

Earlier in this summer a House of Lords debate on the Farrell Review of Architecture and the Built Environment was told that culture minister Ed Vaizey and new housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis were scheduling a summit to discuss the review’s findings - and a new head architect.

It is unclear how strong Westmnister’s appetite is for the role - however sector leaders are already divided on how it would operate should it be adopted.

Anna Scott-Marshall, the RIBA’s head of external affairs, said the appointment of a chief architect would be a welcome move towards delivering a long-term political commitment to design

She said: ‘We’d want to see a chief architect sit within the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), at the forefront of the government’s push to create great places to live and work.’

‘An architecture policy cutting across government departments alongside a National Spatial Strategy that aligns housing development to infrastructure and economic development priorities could make a significant contribution in shaping a clear national vision of success.

‘A chief architect could play a key role in developing these projects.’ 

Scott-Marshall said the institute’s preference for positioning the chief architect in DCLG was a change from its original submission to the Farrell Review, which suggested the Cabinet Office as the most suitable base.

She added that while the Cabinet Office had been seen as the best seat in government for a cross-cutting position, the Farrell Review’s wider recommendations represented a paradigm shift.

DCLG would be the natural home at present

‘Given the emphasis on PLACE - planning, landscape, architecture, conservation and engineering - and the need for a greater steer for design quality as integral to housing and planning and sustainability, DCLG would be the natural home at present,’ she said.

However Clare Devine, director of built environment at the Design Council, said the organisation already acted as the government’s advisor on architecture and the built environment since its merger with CABE.

‘It was understood, when CABE was funded by government, that it not only fulfilled the role of chief architect but also for PLACE,’ she said.

‘Design Review and its multi-disciplinary panel members have for well over a decade offered unparalleled help to deliver world class developments and places from London 2012 and Crossrail.’

Devine said the Design Council’s prefered base for a chief architect was the Cabinet Office, because of its cross-cutting influence.

But she cautioned that the sector did not need ‘a powerless pin-up or starchitect’ for the role.

‘Direct understanding of the challenges of delivery and a contemporary understanding of how design is integral to the built environment is key,’ she said.

‘We need a champion that reflects all professions to deliver better quality places. A good candidate would need to be able to work across the built environment and not be attached to any one profession to truly deliver the Farrell’s Review aspirations of PLACE’

The Home Builders Federation questioned the need for a chief architect and said it was ‘difficult to see’ how a national guru could have any practical role on housing design. 

A national design guru seems a solution in search of a problem

Spokesman Steve Turner said design was a local, site-specific issue, and that a housebuilders’ scheme designs had to take account not just of urban design principles, external design and internal design, but also of how those aspects all fitted together with viability, saleability, local market demand, liveability, other regulatory requirements.

“The solution is for the home builder to consult the local community, plus take account of the planning department’s requirements, along with the views of other consultees and come up with an optimum design for the site,’ he said.

‘A national design guru seems a solution in search of a problem, and in an already overly bureaucratic sector, potentially introduces yet another tier of red tape.’


Previous story (AJ 30 07 2014)

Ministers set for talks on chief architect role

Culture minister Ed Vaizey is to meet new housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis over proposals to appoint a new national chief architect

The creation of the new post was one of the 60 recommendations of Terry Farrell’s Review of Architecture and the Built Environment, published in March.

Farrell said the chief architect should report to both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and  the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), and would mirror the existing posts of chief planner and chief construction adviser.

Other recommendations included the establishment of ‘PLACE’ reviews – standing for Planning, Landscape, Architecture, Conservation and Engineering  - of existing high streets, housing estates and hospitals. Farrell also proposed ‘urban rooms’ in every town and city that would be a focus for residents to ‘understand and debate’ the history and future of the area.

As part of a House of Lords debate on the review on Monday, business minister Michael Bates – who is a government spokesman for a range of departments including DCMS – confirmed that Vaizey and Lewis were set to discuss Terry Farrell’s recommendations.

‘Terry Farrell has proposed the preparation of a draft manifesto for a PLACE Alliance, perhaps basing it on the model of the Creative Industries Council, and of discussion papers on taking forward recommendations on proactive planning; digital engagement; urban rooms … education, future cities, heritage, and an international forum on architecture,’ he said.

‘I know that [Ed Vaizey] is committed to helping Terry make the connections he needs within government to take specific things forward.

‘For instance, he intends to discuss with the new minister of state for housing and planning … the Farrell Review recommendations on the appointment of a chief architect, a PLACE leadership council and design review panels for infrastructure projects.

‘He will also liaise with UKTI on the Farrell review recommendation on the creation of a global built environment forum.’

Bates added that he believed proposals for a select committee on architecture and the built environment were under consideration by the chairman of committees.

The debate was called by Labour peer Baroness Janet Whitaker, who is a RIBA honorary fellow and  vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Design and Innovation.

Vaizey commissioned the review from Farrell last year.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The Farrell Review of Architecture and the Built Environment needed to focus on two things:-

    1. Protection of Function of Architect.

    2. Minimum Architects Fee Scales.

    The first is required to prevent non-architects deceiving the public into thinking that they are architects. This is rife on the internet, with non-architects using the meta tag 'Architect' and appearing in Google, Yahoo and other sites under the heading 'Architect'. The public need protection.

    The second is required to ensure that the architects profession receives adequate remuneration to enable UK architects to provide a professional level of service.

    At present UK Government allow anybody to design buildings, no qualifications required, putting both the lives and investments of the public at risk.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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