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Stealing sustainability

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Architects may never get project management back, so let’s not give away sustainability too, says Rory Olcayto

The coalition government’s Spending Review was yesterday, so most of you will be absorbing its details now and for the next few days, working out what it means for you, your businesses and in many cases, your families.

Chances are it’s not quite as precise as you’d hoped. I’ll bet that as you read this, you’ll know more about plans to build a new generation of nuclear power stations – which will interest only a very few firms – than you will about what exactly education minister Michael Gove has in store for school building provision.

There is one fact we can be sure of, however, as we work our way out of this mess: sustainable, or low-carbon, design will be the main driver of a refreshed construction industry in the coming decade. Yes, you’ve heard this many times before, but if you’ve not made plans to benefit from this situation, then you had better start now, or risk further marginalisation in the delivery of buildings. That was also the view of the RIBA’s chief executive Harry Rich whose assured demeanour impressed delegates at the AJ100 breakfast at Claridges Hotel, London, last week.

‘I have a terror around sustainability and it’s down to experience,’ he said, referring to the last recession in the early 90s. ‘Project managers didn’t steal project management, we gave it to them. That’s history and I don’t know if we can get project management back, but I think we might be about to do the same thing with sustainability.’

His impassioned plea, ‘we’ve got to try to help save the world, do great work and make money doing it’, may be overly dramatic (messianic zeal comes with the territory when promoting sustainable design) but to my mind, it seems like a no-brainer to take a lead in this field.

Next week, the AJ will feature a supplement to help you get a headstart – a 24-page guide to master’s courses in sustainable design that aims to make selecting the right course easier. Skilling up in this emerging discipline has never been more important.

Rich concluded his breakfast talk by warning that in 10 years’ time, no one will listen when architects blame opportunistic consultants for ‘stealing’ away the sustainability business from the profession. I dare you to disagree.

‘CABE-ism’ defined

The fate of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) will also now be clear to all, yet regardless of whether it is still with us, the term ‘CABE-ism’, has been given an unexpected new lease of life in a much-heralded new book, The New Ruins of Great Britain, by Owen Hatherley. I coined the term last October, in a review of John Lyall Architects’ Mill project in Ipswich that was chosen as a ‘posterboy’ for CABE’s 10-year celebrations last Autumn. CABE-ism refers to mixed-use, rainscreen-clad, developer-led schemes that have transformed Britain’s towns and cities over the past decade.

Hatherley’s new book covers that same territory. In the manner of Ian Nairn’s Outrage of the 1950s, Hatherley has travelled the country to witness the changes wrought by ‘luxury’ flats and ‘iconic’ landmarks –the projects that made the architectural profession such a profitable one to be in for so long. Hatherley refers to such buildings as examples of ‘pseudomodernism’, but graciously concedes that CABE-ism is the more ‘droll’ definition. But be warned, Hatherley finds little to admire, as the title of his book suggests. You can read our exclusive interview with him next week.

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