Wednesday30 July 2014

Should Cabe stay with the Design Council?

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Yes, says Rab Bennetts, the design lobby is stronger together; but Diane Haigh says it won’t help if the government continues to neglect architectural quality

The AHMM-designed Angel Building

The AHMM-designed Angel Building, where Design Council Cabe has its HQ.


Rab Bennetts
Director of Bennetts Associates, trustee at Design Council Cabe

First, as I know only too well from my involvement in numerous construction industry bodies, architects cannot afford to operate in self-referential silos, remote from industry and other design professions.

When Apple’s Jony Ives, Jaguar’s Ian McCallum and Wilkinson Eyre’s Jim Eyre join forces to stress the importance of design directly to senior ministers from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, the unambiguous message is that design is as important for buildings and spaces as it is for the rest of UK PLC. Furniture, products, cars, buildings — who wouldn’t be excited by the synergies possible in a combined organisation? Joining up with the Design Council has made Cabe truly multidisciplinary, with a far more powerful voice at the centre of government than it could have on its own.

Having risen from the ashes of the quango bonfire, Cabe has a new business plan, director, heads of design review and development, and horizons. Combining resources with the Design Council means it can punch well above its weight, both publicly and in the delivery of highly valued services like design review and enabling, which are now being rolled out by 250 expert advisers selected from more than 600 applicants. As someone who wasn’t involved in Cabe during its first decade, I’ve been encouraged by the amount of goodwill shown towards it from individuals and groups like the British Property Federation, who nevertheless expect substance and resources at the right time.

To use a well-worn cliché, with a 70-strong Design Council Cabe, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps the more obvious question would be: why were architecture and design separated in the first place?


Diane Haigh
Director of Allies & Morrison, former director of Cabe

As one of the survivors from the sinking of the Cabe ship, I remember the process that made the merger with the Design Council seem an attractive lifeboat. If in the process of coming together there have been men overboard and squabbles on the bridge, this is surely due to disagreement over the destination, rather than an inability to steer.

The question isn’t where Cabe finds a home but how it can be supported to survive. Real danger comes from the disdain of government that cares little for design quality and sees it as a delay to procurement. Design Council Cabe needs to deliver resounding messages and clear policies to promote the value of Cabe’s input across government, planning authorities and the development industry, and to establish the market for its services. In that “big tent” of like-minded organisations that greeted the merger, it needs to find drive and support for its continuing mission.

There’s plenty of evidence for the value of Cabe’s contribution to design excellence. The triumph of the Olympic Park is in part due to the quality of the venues and environment, in which the design discussions at the Cabe 2012 panel played a key role.

It’s a positive sign that Ed Vaizey has been given the architecture portfolio at DCMS. We might now have a proactive champion to promote the value of good design, who has real interest in and understanding of the issues. He needs Cabe to advise him, with its proven ability to bring together expertise and experience across a range of fields.

In return, he needs to commit to a real future for Cabe, whether at the Design Council or elsewhere.


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