His choice of Farrell to lead the Review is welcomed. Farrell has understood urbanism more than other architects; it isn’t just about the building.
This week, the NLA hosted the launch of the Farrell Review of Architecture and the Built Environment, labelled FRABE by Peter Murray. Terry has been assigned 12 apostles – Sunand Prasad, Alison Brookes, Robert Powell, Nigel Hughill, Victoria Thornton, Jim Eyre, Thomas Heatherwick, Alain de Botton, Peter Bishop, Hank Dittmar, Lucy Musgrave and writing it, Max Farrell.
However, there was a sense that this was hastily commissioned. Terry admitted to being surprised at getting the telegram from the Minister. The panel is very good but there are some obvious omissions. The Review’s aims are wide but it is due to report at the end of the year, leaving little time to implement the outcomes before there will be another election – what can usefully be achieved in implementing any recommendations?
Is it necessary at all?
It was extremely frustrating that CABE, either past or present, was barely acknowledged. Were the Panel told not to mention it? CABE still exists, is established, needs funding and at its best is very good. It is even becoming a UK export. Much of what was discussed could have been taken straight from the annuals of CABE c.2000.
There are other similarities with the early years of CABE. I’m pleased that Sunand Prasad is part of this Review as he was a CABE commissioner in 2000 and Peter Bishop wrote the review of CABE. DCMS was also the sponsoring department for CABE, when it had one.
However, there are some significant challenges ahead for the Review and its recommendations. CABE had the support of not only the Minister but also the Prime Minister. It also had two sponsoring bodies, crucially the one that included housing and planning, DCLG. The Labour government was also fond of ‘white papers’, which gave CABE a way of influencing the government’s policy. Crucially, there was a large public sector building programme.
Getting departments to work together is tough, getting them to agree tougher still. In today’s government construction and development are in BIS, planning and housing in DCLG, heritage and culture in DCMS and, as ever, highways and transport in DfT.
So Architecture, along with heritage is seen as a cultural undertaking. It is not development, construction or planning in the eyes of this government. Can the Farrell Review look more broadly at these issues and engage with these departments?
The Review is tasked with looking at the built environment more generally. Streets and public places are clearly things that need our attention. The positive impacts of good quality public spaces were obvious during the Olympics, but it will be difficult to achieve this when, for example, the average tenure of the Minister at DfT since 2006 has been less than a year. Furthermore, DCMS is increasingly irrelevant in the promotion of the built environment. Looking holistically at architecture and the built environment may never have been so tricky.
But we can be encouraged that Design Review, one of CABE’s remaining successes, is in good shape and still much in demand. Design review is now part of national planning policy.
So, if CABE didn’t exist today, would we invent it? Definitely. The vision from CABE’s first annual report is still relevant;
‘At CABE we have set ourselves a challenging agenda. We want to inject architecture into the bloodstream of the nation. We are seeking to bring love and care to the design process, to coax real commitment to good design from those who commission buildings and to redefine the understanding of value in architecture. And we are starting from an overriding premise that the fundamental purpose of good design and architecture is to improve the quality of life of the ordinary citizen. We want to address the obvious fact that social dysfunction so often has its roots in bad buildings and poorly designed places and spaces and, conversely, that buildings which raise the spirits and respond intelligently to their surroundings so often have a positive impact beyond their own four walls.’
Terry and his 12 apostles should not seek to reshape the entire landscape of architecture and the built environment. I hope they find a way to reprise the role of CABE. But it will be take a brave Tory Minister to recommend that CABE be resurrected, when it was such a Labour success.