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News What should the government's architecture review focus on? | Oliver Wainwright
Terry Farrell is conducting the first review into the built environment since the Urban Task Force in 2000. What should he be looking at?
Sir Terry Farrell CBE – the world-revered guru of urban design, adviser to the Mayor of London and unlikely conjurer of the "tallest building by a British architect" in China – will undertake an independent review into the UK's architecture policy, it was announced this morning.
That should come as something of a surprise, given that we don't have an architecture policy. We have policies for planning by the shedload (although perhaps not for much longer), but that is not part of the review's remit. So might this year-long study result in an innovative new piece of legislative guidance – perhaps along the lines of Denmark's architecture policy, introduced in 2007, which serves to both promote Danish architecture abroad, as well as provide a platform for raising standards at home? Somehow, that seems unlikely.
"I haven't anticipated that the report will result in any changes to legislation," said culture minister Ed Vaizey, who commissioned the study and is himself an enthusiastic champion of architecture and design. So what exactly might this year-long review be for?
"It will be a rallying point for the profession," the minister proclaimed, assuring that whatever the report's findings, they will be taken to "all corners of Whitehall" and championed by DCMS – even if a reshuffle moves him elsewhere.
"There hasn't been a proper look at architecture for many years," said Vaizey. "This will be a great opportunity to take a snapshot of the profession."
Assisted by an 11-strong advisory panel – which includes philosopher Alain de Botton and Olympic cauldron designer Thomas Heatherwick, as well as housing specialist Alison Brooks, education architect Sunand Prasad and Hank Dittmar of the Prince's Foundation – Farrell will issue a call for evidence next month, with a report expected by the end of the year.
"We will focus on architecture and the built environment in the broadest sense, as experienced by the general public," said the 74-year-old architect, who was recently named the decade's greatest contributor to London planning. "It's not just about prestige projects, but the importance of our everyday environment – streets, roads and parks – as well as how to increase awareness of the benefits of good design through education."
The review has a four-pronged remit, although it still seems broad enough to cover almost anything – from the government's role in promoting design, to the economic benefits of architecture; from cultural heritage and the built environment, to promoting education, outreach, and skills. It will be a Herculean task for the "one or two people" working on it full time in Farrell's office.
It is the first such review into architecture and urbanism since Richard Rogers led New Labour's Urban Task Force, from 1998–2000, which resulted in the hugely influential Towards an Urban Renaissance report, a document that has dictated the nature of urban regeneration across the UK for the last decade.
Rogers' vision – which he continued to promote across the capital as adviser to former mayor Ken Livingston – favoured inner-city densification and building tall. His influence could be felt in the early plan for the Olympic legacy development, a field of chunky perimeter blocks dotted with towers, based on a hard-edged European model of city making (as realised in the Athletes' Village). Farrell's approach is perhaps more pragmatic, contextual and grounded in history – aptly reflected in the makeup of his advisory panel. It may be coincidence, but as the Livingstone-Rogers regime was toppled by the Johnson-Farrell alliance, so too has the Olympic legacy plan been transformed into a much lower-rise scheme of traditional London typologies – streets and squares, townhouses and mews – a more folksy vision maybe, but it will undoubtedly be a better place to live as a result.
So what might we expect to come from Farrell's report, and will it prove to be as influential as its predecessor? Will we see useful, concrete proposals, or vague back-slapping platitudes?
"Good reports tend to come forward with practical recommendations," said Vaizey, who expects Farrell to produce "good practical ideas that can actually happen, rather than utopian ideas for a perfect world."
From the future of our schools, to volume house building, from the design of our public spaces, to how architecture is taught in schools and disseminated through institutions – what do you think the review should focus on? Add your comments to the open thread below.
Farrell's team also welcomes initial comments on the review at the following email address: FAR@terryfarrell.co.uk