Sir Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, Sir Michael Hopkins and "my friend Richard Rogers" are all enlisted to back up the minister's enthusiasm for building design. And this is something she wants to share.
"I believe passionately that people should know more about architecture," she says. "There should be a high public profile of its importance, both from the aesthetic point of view and from the point of view of building to purpose, so that we meet the needs of clients whether it be domestic architecture or public buildings small and large."
It sounds like music to the ears of architects and others with an interest in the built environment, although Blackstone accepts that soundbites and lip service are easier to produce than achievements on the ground. However, she may have more authority to talk about architecture than her equally well-intentioned predecessors in that she has had hands-on experience of commissioning a public building of architectural distinction.
Before joining Tony Blair's first government in 1997, she was master of the University of London's Birkbeck College for 10 years, where she developed an extension to its Bloomsbury building. She helped choose "Alan and Paul" (aka Stanton Williams) as the architects for this after a limited competition. She was also a founding trustee of the Architecture Foundation in London from 1991-7.
In particular, Blackstone wants to share her passionate belief with Whitehall, and here she can draw directly on the authority of the prime minister, who launched his campaign for better public buildings in October 2000. "The PM is absolutely behind the whole push for better public buildings; he wrote again to Tessa Jowell [secretary of state at the DCMS] quite recently making absolutely clear his commitment, saying how important he regards it and asking us to do all we can to push these things through."
So what initiatives can we look forward to? The answer would seem to be not much. Or, to be fairer, she wants to "build on what has already been happening", meaning Sir John Egan's Rethinking Construction and the Office of Government Commerce's Achieving Excellence campaign, which aims to make the state a better client. "I think that rather than start to pull things up by the roots, we should get on with implementing the thinking that has already gone into these."
The problem for Blackstone is that the DCMS does not call the shots in Blair's campaign to improve public buildings. Rather, it is the Treasury, through the OGC, that is responsible for recommending procurement routes, including PFIs and public–private partnerships. And it is Lord Falconer, now minister of housing and planning at the DTLR, who chairs the committee of architectural champions drawn from every government department.
Whatever the form of procurement, we need to make ensure that good young architects get a look-in
Blackstone is merely the architectural champion for the DCMS, and admits that she does not have "tremendously powerful leverage" in getting other government departments to raise their architectural sights. As for the Treasury, she is relying on a change in attitude that is already in train. "I think it is very important to remember that the Treasury is now sympathetic, having perhaps not been so bound into it."
Of Lord Falconer's committee, she says: "I think my role is, if necessary, to be a thorn in other people's flesh, and to try to persuade, cajole, draw attention. Where we get instances that are reported to me by my officials of a failure to meet the prime minister's requirement, my role includes a little naming and shaming as far as departments are concerned."
So how sharp a thorn will the life peer be? Sitting in her office in the DCMS' Victorian building by Trafalgar Square, Blackstone comes across more like a National Trust trustee than a politician. She wears a Nordic-patterned cardigan, speaks in cut-glass tones and looks younger than her 59 years. She also appears less harassed than your usual career politician, despite her unusual career: as well as being master of Birkbeck (she refused to be called mistress), Tessa Blackstone was a radical student in the 1960s, a key adviser to James Callaghan in the 1970s, an academic who has published eight books and the first chairman of Labour's favourite think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research.
The opinion of those who have had dealings with her in her political-architectural role is encouraging. One describes her as "brilliant, a very able communicator". Another says: "I'm very impressed. It is early days, but she's understood what architectural design is about. She's respected and prepared to speak out."
Blackstone can count on more support than her predecessors. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment has grown rapidly in authority since it was set up two years ago. Its chairman, Sir Stuart Lipton, can take credit for spreading through government departments the philosophy that good design pays, including the recalcitrant Treasury. And within her own department, staff covering architecture have increased from two to five, including Fergus Muir, the newly promoted head of architecture. Not least, she is a long-standing member of Blair's Islington set and a friend of Lord Falconer.
With her experience in commissioning Stanton Williams, Blackstone is in a good position to promote younger architects rather than the established firms. "What I should be saying at [Lord Falconer's] ministerial group is that, whatever the form of procurement, we need to ensure that good young architects get a look-in." Significantly, at the DCMS' first public conference on architecture since the election, held last month, Blackstone and Jowell singled out buildings by young architects for praise.
Personal effectsWhere do you live?
In a lovely 1828 house in Lloyd Square in Islington.
Who is in your family?
My daughter, Liesl, who makes documentary films, and my son Ben, who is very interested in architectural history, and three grandchildren. [Her husband, Tom Evans, died in 1985].
What do you like about the Birkbeck College extension you commissioned?
The interiors are beautiful – very simple, a nice use of space and materials, but in a way that is going to be good from the point of view of a heavily used building.
What is your favourite urban space?
Waterloo Bridge, looking across from south to north, whether at dawn, in bright sunlight, at sunset or at night.