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Friday01 August 2014

Architects must champion a new public discourse

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We need more figures from the profession to follow David Chipperfield in brokering fresh debate about the built environment

Ellis Woodman

Ellis Woodman- Executive Editor

At this week’s Stirling Prize debate, David Chipperfield took the opportunity to bemoan the low level of public discourse about architecture in this country. In particular he complained that the national newspapers have largely consigned the subject to the lifestyle pages.

There is certainly some truth in that, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that argument over the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework featured on the front pages of the nationals across much of last year. For the Daily Telegraph, the issue became an important campaign. Editors know there is no shortage of appetite among readers for stories about the built environment, but it may fall to figures like Chipperfield himself to tell them what they are.

In the past couple of years, Chipperfield has devoted considerable energy to brokering a new discussion between the profession and society, most recently through his work as director of the Venice Architecture Biennale. Richard Rogers is perhaps the only other senior member of the British profession who has proved willing to take on that kind of public role, but if the level of discourse is to be improved it surely calls for other British architects to take their lead.

Despite its recent encouraging appointment of Ed Vaizey as architecture minister, the present government has so far demonstrated
an alarming disregard for the way our built environment is shaped. If their successors are to be persuaded to take the matter more seriously, architects must now begin setting an alternative agenda. They may yet be pleasantly surprised by newspapers’ readiness to support that mission.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I wish architects would speak up more about housing. I think they could contribute so much to public discourse on this subject. In fact they can help shape the debate. We saw some of that when the RIBA launched their "case for space" housing campaign last year.

    Housing is one of the most pressing issues of our time - the cost, availability, construction, design - where are architects in this debate? Totally absent. But why?

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