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Rogers: ‘Bring back city architects to save localism’

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Labour peer and 2013 AJ100 Contribution to the Profession winner wants government to appoint city architects to assist communities in local planning

Richard Rogers has told the government it should bring back city architects to save localism from failure.

Speaking exclusively to the AJ ahead of picking up his Contribution to the Profession accolade at next week’s AJ100 Awards ceremony, the 79-year-old claimed the coalition had abandoned its pledge to put people at the heart of development.

Rogers, a Labour peer, said that he had good relationships with both prime minister David Cameron and Michael Heseltine and he supported the idea of localism. However, he admitted that he thought the country’s future development plans and processes were ‘in great difficulty’.

He said: ‘In the last year the government has gone in absolutely the opposite direction from where it started – which was to do architecture with the people. That’s what I believe in. I’m all for people having a say.

‘But it is no good saying everybody can “vote”. Vote for what? [What the government is saying] is that if localism doesn’t work, [planning decisions] go straight to the minister. That is terrible.’

Rogers said he had urged ministers to appoint city architects, as spelt out in his Urban Taskforce Report in 1999, to help local communities and fill the vacuum between the people and central government.

He added: ‘I’m involved with the minister of culture saying: look, you really should have city architects. If you are going to have localism, then somebody has got to lead [the communities].’

Discussing the country’s housing crisis, Rogers claims his prefabricated Design for Maintain homes in Milton Keynes could have offered a solution but said there had been little take-up since the first houses were completed in 2007.

He said: ‘We came up with a prefabricated housing design [at Oxley Woods for Taylor Wimpey] which [can be built] from nothing to a waterproof house in under two weeks.

‘But it is very difficult to get it going, because on the whole housing is in the hands of large, profit-based developers – that’s what they do.

‘But there is no balance between them [and those that want to do affordable housing].’

Rogers will be on stage speaking in conversation with Christine Murray at the AJ100 Awards ceremony on 8 May at 8 Northumberland Avenue, London WC2.

Richard Rogers on the changing role of architects

Obviously the economic situation is a big problem. For a person who firmly believes in social responsibility, unfortunately greed has become [a part] of society and not just of western society.

I’ve seen tremendous disparity between rich and poor, between small offices and big offices. There is no question things have got worse.

In my generation everybody who left the AA at the end of the 1950s, as I did, went to work for schools, hospitals, councils. That was part of the social responsibility of architects. We were trying to build houses for heroes who were coming back from the war. There was a search for a better quality of life.

We had a mission and that has sort of gone. That [sense of] fairness has gone since the beginning of my career. Now, making money has become much more important. That has driven a wedge between those who still have a social responsibility and others who go with the flow and think: as long as I’m making money and it pays well, I’m going to do it.

[But the one big] change is recognition of environmental issues and climate change. And that is power to our hands, if we use it properly. It adds another tool to the box from which we design buildings.


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