Revitalising town centres, curving glass and questioning the skills crisis …

April 1992

Quality streets

Our town centres are in a critical condition: they need specialist treatment, according to the Civic Trust. Its Heart of Urban Britain conference aims to bring together key players in town centre revitalisation.

Paul Davies, head of the Civic Trust’s regeneration unit, says that in the past, measures to combat decline have been property-based and infrastructure-led.

“Each of the professions involved in town centre developments has its own particular interests but rarely have these interests been welded together for a common purpose. Rarely has consumer or community involvement been built in.”

The Civic Trust believes a better mix of commercial and social activities is needed to make town centres “buzz”.

Captivating curves

Glass has become one of the architect’s chief tools in creating the “built environment”. And no tool to my mind is more aesthetically pleasing than curved glass.

I would be hard-pressed to identify a more impressive example of the use of curved glass than Decimus Burton’s 19th-century Palm House at Kew Gardens, although the availability of curved glass has never been so great as it is today. From the traditional core of long-term specialists has developed an increasing number of suppliers. The basic manufacturing procedure is fairly consistent. A steel-plate mould or former is made to reflect the design curve then a sheet of flat glass, pre-cut to the dimensions of the end product, is placed in the mould. It is put into an enclosed furnace or kiln and fired.

It’ll come out in the wash

Your would think, if you listened to the prophets of doom, that just because very few trainees are being recruited this year the whole of our training system is going to collapse. Yet we have seen it all, and survived it all, before.

Training has survived partly as a result of another of the industry’s less helpful attributes – its ingrained conservatism. Builders are reluctant to change and so are slow to react. If you combine the sluggishness with the fact that it takes three to four years to train craftsmen, the problem solves itself.

When the industry overheats we train too many, too late. When the industry slumps we train too few for too long. Overall the cycles average out and we train, in one way or another, sufficient labour to suit the needs of a cyclical industry.

This means we have to suffer alternative unemployment and labour shortages but twice in the cycle the industry output and the numbers in training lines meet, and the balance between demand and labour supply is just right.