Thursday24 July 2014

Cuts spell disaster for design, warns Richard Rogers

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Founding head of Design for London voices anger at its likely abolition, and at loss of Cabe

The comprehensive spending review is a “shocking” and ideologically driven folly which could leave the built environment in Britain and its capital utterly neglected, Richard Rogers has claimed.

Rogers, former chief adviser to London mayors Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, raised the prospect of a return to the “bad old days” of 1980s Thatcherism after witnessing the axeing of Cabe and the likely demise of Design for London, the planning unit he previously headed.

Johnson’s office this week confirmed that it would “fight all the way” the Treasury’s decision to pull the entire £480 million budget of the LDA, which includes the 18-strong Design for London team.

Rogers said he feared cuts would end all proper scrutiny of architecture and design.

“The idea that a city the size of London would not have an interest in the civic environment and its design is mind blowing,” Rogers said. “London already has a poor public realm compared to cities such as Paris, Madrid and Copenhagen. As Jan Gehl has said, it is about the worst outside of the former Communist countries.

Architecture has to be judged by those who are qualified to judge it

Richard Rogers speaking to BD this week

“I think the mayor [Johnson] does have sympathy for design but he’s probably in an impossible position.”

Cabe was established on the recommendation of Rogers’ Urban Task Force, and Rogers said that handing back of design control from Design for London and Cabe to local authorities would be a “disgrace” because many of them lacked the necessary resource or expertise now their architects departments are gone.

“A vast number of them don’t have the structure in place,” he said. “They have been ripped to pieces by Thatcher. Dropping Cabe is a wholly bad idea. I’m not saying things couldn’t have been improved but… it was a massive improvement on [its predecessor] the Royal Fine Art Commission.

“Architecture is an art as well as a science and it has to be judged by those who are qualified to judge it just like with music or literature.

“It’s like we’re going back to the terrible days when the mayor of Sheffield said he had to choose between his architecture department and giving milk to school children.”

Rogers, who is also a Labour peer, said he would write to the government and hoped to raise the matter in the House of Lords.


Readers' comments (9)

  • Mike Duriez

    I fear the main players are going to be bold Boris (who appears to like Greek revival) and conservative Charles (whose tastes have a more Italianate bent). We are going to have an interesting battle of styles in London. Rogers will be on the sidelines trying to revive the historical style of English Hi-Tech.

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  • CABE was a nice idea, and did much good work, but quite apart from the fact that we can no longer afford it, it did to some degree lose its way. To give one instance - which can stand for several - in 2009 CABE joined the RIBA and the rest of our arrogant architectural establishment in campaigning against possible demolition of those brutal lumps of concrete, Robin Hood Gardens, even though demolition was wanted by 80% of residents. Lord Rogers, from his lovely 200 year-old house in Chelsea, actually described these widely hated buildings as ‘beautifully designed’ and ‘a great example of the best postwar architecture’ (he did, I’m not joking!). Once finance permits we need a new start, with a more sensible organisation that better represents the interests of the public.

    Maritz Vandenberg

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  • Andrew Gilmour

    Franz/Maritz, I would move into Robin Hood Gardens any day. Do you know anyone who would like to move out? Andy.

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  • Andy
    Good, I like people who stand by their principles! But you would need a lot of money. According to English Partnerships, Robin Hood Gardens will cost £70,000 per unit to bring the apartments up to Decent Homes Standard and £100,000 per unit to bring them up to market standard - and this despite them being only 35 years old. Better start negotiations with your bank manager!

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  • Maybe this champagne socialist should look closer to home i.e. his party of choice and realise why the nation is suffering such extensive cuts.

    Time after time Labour have failed to generate a surplus; handing back the Treasury in a far worse state than they received it.

    About time this guy realised he wouldn't have his Tory lifestyle without Thatcher’s government.

    Fancy reverting back to Callaghan’s 83% income tax, Mr Rogers?

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  • Has Modern Design had its day?
    Will we return to the lesser lights engaging in traditional visions?
    Will London ever compete in terms of the giant glittering phallic symbols offere by other cities?
    Will this affect the quality of life of Londoners?

    No doubt these are the Great Questions which trouble a Labour Peer. If this is so, then I don't think Rogers even lives in his world anymore, never mind the real world.

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  • As much as I share Rogers' well placed concerns, it's statements like "Architecture...has to be judged by those who are qualified to judge it just like with music and literature" that rubs people the wrong way. Who is the best judge of music? A specialist??? Really?? Who is the best judge of a book?There is always a disconnect between what the profession sees as good and what the public sees as good. The architecture profession in the UK is spending entirely too much to forward its agenda. The design of new shopping centers and business plazas need not be a billion pounds investment in design and layers of beurocracy. A great idea costs hardly anything- and it's the apparent lack of his ability to acknowledge this which is so frustrating.
    The liberals believe that architecure (and other aspects of the public sphere) are enhanced simply by throwing money at it.
    The more the better. This need not be. CABE has not guaranteed a quality built environment better than what starry eyed planning commissions without training could conceive of in the 1960s. Take a look at your year's Carbuncle cup to see some of the terrible works that have resulted. It costs nothing to recognize talent, and it's time to pull yourselves up and envision a better public arena with better ideas with less piles of cash. And sometimes less government spending in this area can also save some endangered old buildings by accident of a halt in redevelopment schemes. Rogers is clearly speaking more with concerns of self-preservation, than on any fears that a drop in public spending will somehow prevent good architecture from being realized. Again, the lesson of the 1960s shown that huge public spending did not necessarily
    create sustainable built environments- much of it was knocked down in just 20 years. Your oppurtunities now lay almost solely with the private sector, which truly has much more muscle when it comes to money and resources.

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  • With all due respect to Lord Rogers, where the hell does he get the idea that LA Architects Departments had anything to do with Planning!! Such departments hardly ever spoke to each other, let alone interact! There was a time when some Planning Deparments had 'an architect' on the staff to 'advise', but that did not work, anymore than introspective/knife in the back 'Architects Panels' did either. As Princess Blair said "Education, eductation, education" is the way, he talking in general terms, I'm referring to 'design'...when, at grass root level, is this even going to 'start'?? Only this morning having been asked if I could go along 'tomorrow' to talk to a local primary school children about the impotance + need to draw/to learn to draw. Unfortunately, with lack of notice I could not offer my help, perhaps can do so anon - but that is where we need to start! Until this happens the design appreciation in the UK will remain at zero, for proof look at the general performance of any LA 'Planning Control' department anywhere in the UK!

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  • If one ever needed proof that design is not valued in this country then this would be it. Its a sad state of affairs when we stop thinking about the environment as a whole and go back to the petty cross local authority battles that will be the result of such short sighted cuts. This is truly an instance of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I've worked as an architect for long enough to see instances where bodies like CABE have encouraged developers to think carefully about the public realm in and around their schemes. CABE wasn't perfect but it had an important role. Who will do that now? The barely staffed council planning departmments? Not a chance.

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