Simmons, who will start in September, leaves Medway after working on the development plan for the Thames Gateway.
The announcement coincides with the launch of Transforming Neighbourhoods, CABE's three-year strategy plan. This envisages that the commission will become more concerned with homes and with the impact of design on communities.
It says: "CABE will target specific geographical areas and building types where its expertise can make a difference to people's quality of life."
The first example of this will be a housing Pathfinder scheme in Lancashire where there have been social disturbances. CABE will work in partnership with Elevate, the firm running the scheme, and a CABE official is to move into the Elevate office.
The appointment of Simmons fits this agenda: during his time at Medway he has run large regeneration projects such as Rochester Riverside.
One CABE commissioner said that Simmons was an operations person who had been brought in to ensure delivery of the organisation's objectives.
He said: "Simmons is the complete opposite of Jon Rouse. He is a different character and will be determined to quietly go about delivering the objectives of CABE. Rouse set out the vision for CABE, Simmons will all be about delivery."
Simmons told Building that he wanted to extend CABE's skills programme, which produced the Good Client Guide last year.
Jon Rouse set out the vision for CABE, Richard Simmons will all be about delivery
Unnamed CABE commissioner
He said: "I want CABE to continue challenging and inspiring people – both the professionals and clients creating our buildings and spaces, and the public who should be demanding and getting a much better quality environment."
CABE chairman Sir Stuart Lipton said Simmons' appointment opened a new chapter for the commission. He said: "We grew rapidly and achieved an extraordinary amount in less than five years under the management of Jon Rouse.
"Richard is a strong, creative thinker and understands the connections between architecture, Urban Design and quality of life."
Rouse, who is now in charge of the Housing Corporation, said it was "like handing over your baby to adoptive parents. I hope the new parents give it a good life".
Simmons, 51, has worked at Medway since 1998 and had responsibility for 500 staff. He has experience of design from his time as a director of the Kent Architecture Group and chair of the urban renaissance advisory group for the South-East of England Development Agency.
He began his career as a planner before working for the London Docklands Development Corporation.
He told Building that he had also gained valuable experience working alongside senior civil servants at the Department of the Environment.
The appointment has been seen as fulfilling CABE's aim of recruiting a leader who is used to dealing with the public and private sectors.