Housing minister Kit Malthouse has called on architects to stop being ‘defensive’ and start designing buildings that fulfil the ‘natural aspiration of the British people’
In a speech at the Building More, Building Beautiful conference yesterday evening (19 November), Malthouse said local residents’ resistance to new housing developments was one of the barriers to the government’s target of delivering 300,000 new homes.
‘Much of the problem about new housing comes down to design. If you get the design right, if you make something look beautiful, if it fits in, if it harmonises with its area then the resistance to it by local people starts to reduce,’ he said.
The minister sparked a row with architects earlier this month when he tweeted an image comparing two buildings – a classical courthouse in Alabama and an office scheme on Oxford Street, with the caption ‘one will last for centuries, one won’t’.
However, speaking last night, Malthouse said he had not expressed a preference for either building and was merely seeking to ’test the air’ on the state of the debate in architecture.
Hitting back over the ’vitriol’ he received, particularly from architects, he said: ’It illustrated to me that what we are dealing with is a really fractured and difficult argument where the architectural profession assumes it is under siege.’
Malthouse said the aim of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, far from ’poking the architectural community with a stick’, was to bring everyone together and ‘let architects rip’.
Both built in the last 10 years. One will stand for centuries, one won’t. Our new “Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission” will help us creat the conservation areas of the future. #MoreBetterFaster pic.twitter.com/FJcwcbxb8D— Kit Malthouse MP (@kitmalthouse) November 4, 2018
He continued: ’It’s totally critical to our mission of building 300,000 homes that we get this design conversation – this beauty conversation – correct. That we get everyone singing from the same hymn sheet. That the architectural profession stops being so defensive about the preferences of the public.’
Talking about a ‘British vernacular’ of the mansion block, the mews house, the garden square and the terrace street, Malthouse said this was what the public seeks out and wants to live in ’even when it has a kind of Modernist interpretation’.
He said: ’Somewhere, because of this fractious debate, the profession has retreated from embracing this, and giving people what they want.’
‘It’s very often the case that the architectural profession, when it feels threatened, gathers together and awards each other prizes. What would be fantastic is if they started to build stuff that instilled and created an enthusiasm in the public for what they are producing.’
‘We hope this commission will start the work of healing the scar tissue that’s built up between the two in the hope we can fulfil the natural aspiration of the British people.
However in a riposte to Malthouse, Paul Finch, former chairman of CABE, said housing delivery had ’nothing to do with nimbies trying to stop schemes happening’.
’If anyone here thinks classicism, or indeed Modernism, or, in fact, any style or way of designing is the answer to our housing problem, I’m afraid they are awfully deluded.’
Pointing to the increased output of the country’s biggest housebuilders, Finch said: ’A cursory glance at the statistics would expose this fantasy that if only you could design things slightly more nicely then people are going to be queuing up and hammering on the door of their local planning committee.’
’The reason we have a housing crisis is that public authorities stopped commissioning housing.’
RIBA president Ben Derbyshire also spoke at the conference, arguing that until the profession can show people that ’better design is possible’, communities will ’understandably continue to resist new neighbours in new developments’.
He said there needed to be a system with more care and concern for design, adding that in the ’cost-driven’ and standardised process we have today, ’dwellings are actually laid out individually without meaningful relationship one to another’.
Other speakers on the panel included the ex mayor of Newham Robin Wales, British Land’s Roger Madelin, The Times’ journalist Anne Ashworth and Porphyrios Architects’ Demetri Porphyrios.
Malthouse said the government was giving councils greater powers to ’instill notions of design’ in their neighbourhood plans, and that he was visiting local authorities encouraging them to be ‘assertive’ about their new powers.