Prince Charles didn’t say he’d employ Lord Foster to make over Highgrove – that would really have been a great way to make up with the modernists
“It’s a great time to be an architect.” That’s not exactly what you’d expect a designer to say right now, but this week there were several good reasons why Ken Shuttleworth did, and why others might also feel a novel spring in their stride. First, there was that speech. Prince Charles didn’t say he’d employ Lord Foster to make over Highgrove – that would really have been a great way to make up with the modernists – but neither did he lash them with a stout walking stick; in effect, he opted for an amicable agreement to differ. And while the debate between modern and traditional reared its head again, he did acknowledge the rule of good urban planning in place-making, tackling climate change and generally being in harmony with the environment, which is not a bad job description for an architect, regardless of which tradition they’re working within. And all on the news at 10.
Over in Whitehall there was a clearer cut victory for design – for which Sir John Sorrell, Cabe’s outgoing chairman should be congratulated. While MPs competed to wear the prickliest, non-refundable hair shirt, the executive branch of government was brave enough to demand a bigger role for good architecture. Andy Burnham, the culture secretary, gathered a host of ministers and civil servants from spending departments to announce new design standards for all public buildings. These will, in the first instance, be enforced by Cabe on the £45bn Building Schools for the Future programme. Cabe has also been strengthened by the addition of educationalists to its design review panels – which should ensure that functionality is given as much weight as aesthetics, and prevent panels becoming overly clubby. Our article on page 40 on school acoustics shows the sort of mistakes that are made, and will now hopefully be avoided.
As yet, the design standards for other public buildings are little more than aspirations. How will procurement change? Who will police it? And why should a new set of ministerial design champions be any more enthusiastic than the last lot? And as the budgets get squeezed, who will stop the quality of materials, and sustainability, being downgraded? So there’s much to be done, but this is still a week for architects to celebrate, even if it is with prosecco rather than champagne.
Should we ditch trustmark?
On page 34 we tell the frustrating story of Kevin Arrowsmith’s experience with a TrustMark-registered builder. On page 14 we read that the consumer body is pleading for more public money to keep going. A typical reaction to that must be “you’ve got to be joking”. Why should a scheme that promotes builders who leave huge holes in walls and dangerous wiring be in line for more taxpayers’ cash at this most sensitive of times? A particular concern about the Arrowsmith story is that TrustMark acted within its rules of conduct. When push comes to shove, it turns out that there are a number of reasons why indignant consumers struggle to find a remedy; for example, insolvent firms can remain on the register, the TrustMark may cover only one type of work, such as electrical installation, and the offer of a warranty can come down to the builder’s word against the customer’s.
But when small firms need all the help they can get, now would be the wrong time to scrap the scheme. If anything, the government needs to better fund and regulate it. And, as most consumers are unaware it exists, a bit of marketing would help. TrustMark estimates that UK householders lose £17,000 an hour to rogue firms. If the government really wants to stop this, it must give the public a guarantee they can believe in, and that means ensuring a TrustMark builder really can be trusted.
Denise Chevin, editor