It’s time to stop sulking and face the new school realities
The RIBA and the profession need to knuckle down and make themselves indispensable to the government’s education plans
The construction of practical, low-cost, functional school buildings is an ambition architects should support, but the government’s new baseline designs have left the profession divided.
The shrillest voice in the debate is the RIBA, which wrongly described the designs as heralding “flat-pack” schools. There were claims that curves have been banned, schools will shrink and children and teachers will be “deprived”.
It’s not simply that the RIBA’s emotive language is inappropriate — reinforcing the stereotype of architects as self-indulgent, self-serving artists. It ignores the fact that amid severe public cuts £2 billion is being spent on school buildings — and that means work for its members. Granted, it may not be of the type that architects would like, but the way to play it is to offer to pitch in — not to walk off in a huff crying “foul play”. Even the nice Ed Vaizey must wonder what planet the RIBA is on.
More sensible commentators have raised real concerns, such as how practices not already working with contractors can get a foot in the door. And, more importantly, whether savings could have been made by streamlining procurement. There are few who don’t believe that the schools procurement process was a waste of money.
There is a lot that’s still unclear — a review of PFI has still not reported — but architects need to give ministers the benefit of the doubt. This means working with contractors by innovating within the tighter budgets, rather than wasting time and money on buildings that we can no longer afford.
While the profession was unfairly targeted by education secretary Michael Gove, it is time to move on. The baseline designs are far from perfect, but instead of walking away — the default position when architects don’t get their own way — or shouting that it’s not fair, the profession needs to take a deep breath and get to work.