And if the NHS is so brilliant, why isn’t there a demand for a National Architecture Service? asks Paul Finch
Personally I am not a big fan of email Christmas cards, which I tend to delete without opening. On the other hand I always enjoy an envelope, particularly if the contents are the kind of delight that architects and designers can produce so well (Thomas Heatherwick’s offerings have been especially memorable over the years).
This year, the winner by several lengths were ‘The United Kingdom of ORMS Designers and Architects’, who sent a brilliantly designed ‘Brexmas passport’, complete with witty stamps and permits in facsimile mode. Congratulations to whoever was responsible.
Source: Hockley Design
My other favourite this year was equally witty in two ways. Pentagram has for years been sending out marvellous ‘Pentagram Papers’, always immaculately designed, on a huge range of subjects from dried flowers to restaurant recommendations. This year the subject matter was customer reviews of the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer (‘Faster, safer than using a knife’), which appeared on Hutzler’s website.
So the double wit was first choosing a hilarious subject for general viewing, and secondly producing a physical document rather than emailing a web-link, thereby introducing the world of typeface, scale and layout – you know, that stuff which website designers find so hard to get right.
Some of the reviews are pretty witty themselves: Madalyn K offers the following: ‘If God does not exist, then how is it the banana fits so perfectly in this banana-slicer!?!?! CHECKMATE, ATHEISTS!’ The pseudonymous Manny Thanx comments: ‘Being a modern guy living in the second half of the second decade of the 21st century, I chose to download the Hutzler 571 mobile app instead of purchasing the actual slicer.’
At this time of year, the distinction between the virtual and the real that comes into sharp focus is illness, whether winter colds or something more serious. It is a very physical business, hence the media’s near-obsession with the NHS and its alleged failures. Clearly no system is likely to be perfect, but I wonder whether the occasional horror stories that hit the headlines are a true reflection of the service as a whole, which from the perspective of my nearest and dearest (including me) has been pretty damn good over the years.
No system subjected to massive increases in demand is likely to prove resilient forever
However, no system subjected to massive increases in demand (eg resulting from net migration over the past 20 years), and which has no truly effective mechanism for preventing ‘health tourism’, is likely to prove resilient forever. I see parallels between train companies and NHS trusts in this respect: massive and impressive increases in service delivery to ‘customers’ which strain operational systems, sometimes to breaking point. The moronic behaviour of transport unions in respect of passengers on Southern was to an extent mirrored by junior doctors last year, encouraged by dubious ring-leaders whose motives appeared more political than medical.
The niggling doubt about monopolised public services like the NHS, funded directly from the public purse is this: if it is so brilliant, why isn’t it replicated around the world? And why, for that matter, isn’t there a demand for a National Architecture Service? Goodness knows, there is surely a need for an NAS, which could address everything from housing demand to improving energy-profligate buildings? Why couldn’t taxpayers go to their local NAS practice and seek design improvements to their dwellings, the equivalent of cosmetic surgery for the fashion-anxious? And of course the NAS would always be on hand to provide examinations, diagnosis and prognosis for cities with problem areas, applied through the Local Plan (Local Anaesthetic).
This is, of course, more or less what we had for about five decades, when more than half the profession worked for the public sector. Would we want to revert? I doubt it.