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Design Council Cabe is alive and kicking – here’s what we’ve been up to

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Paul Finch’s letter from London: The first nine months of DCC

Several architects have asked me recently what is happening at Design Council Cabe (DCC), which has now been in existence since 1 April last year and which I have the privilege of chairing. Let’s cite some specifics from the first nine months:

• We have carried out 189 design reviews for local authorities and clients across England

• These included reviews of nearly 60,000 residential units

• 24 design reviews have been carried out for LOCOG, for example the sponsor pavilions and temporary elements for the Games

• The Affiliated Design Network of eight local panels, now partly funded by DCC, has carried out 163 reviews

• As part of a new programme, five community design review projects have been delivered with another eight in the pipeline

• Representatives from 98 local authorities took part in ‘design in planning’ workshops

• Nine new local authorities have used DCC workshops to improve the status of design in local plans

• We are supporting 26 neighbourhood planning projects, including 11 ‘frontrunner’ schemes that examine how devolved plan-making can work in practice

• Long-term contract partnering continues with Crossrail and the Thames Tideway Tunnel programme

In addition, we have carried out a review of all our current activities and the way we operate, courtesy of Peter Bishop, and we are in the process of putting most of the recommendations into effect. The main principles of this are: greater devolution, providing more design support as well as design review, and the creation of a suite of services that can be offered to both market and public sector.

In some ways, the most exciting part of our merger into the Design Council is the potential opportunities emerging in relation to major design areas that have a spatial dimension, but that involve more than architecture alone. The best example thus far is the work done to improve the experience of patients in accident and emergency departments.

Of course, the physical surroundings of these departments, the interior architecture and the design of the route, waiting area and so on are critical. But they are far from being the whole story, as anyone who has waited hours to be seen by a harassed duty doctor will know. Simple information systems, sympathetic lighting and other interactive elements can make a huge difference, just as a well-designed bus stop still massively benefits from the inclusion of a screen telling you when the next bus will arrive.

Another area currently being investigated as part of the DC ‘Challenges’ programme is dementia where, as with other aspects of mental health, the potential for an integrated design approach is enormous. Research suggests that considered design can play some part in mitigation, while bad design simply makes people feel worse.

These sorts of programmes are being accompanied by a change in the way that design is presented to public clients and government: ‘From the pixel to the city’ would be one way of describing it, since the implications of digital design on the systems and services that inform our daily lives are as significant as the way we design our homes and streets. Indeed, the whole idea of how we design cities, or parts of them, can no longer be disconnected from the technology that controls the flow of city life – of people, energy, water and so on.

So the future for DCC is, I believe, an exciting one, not least because the challenges and opportunities are so enormous. Trying to focus on the bigger picture, even while addressing essential issues like procurement and planning, is important at a time when the assumption is that all we can do is tighten our belts. What we need to do is redesign those metaphorical belts – and what they are holding up.

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