Chairman of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment Sir Stuart Lipton has called on the government to take a more positive attitude to architects, saying that they should be seen as the way to raise standards in public buildings.
Lipton praised British architects as among the best in the world but said: “There is this view in government that architects cannot be part of a team.
“I think that is a misguided view. We need as an industry to pass on the message that architects are not the most expensive part of a team. They are often the most efficient, most imaginative part.”
Lipton was speaking last week at a review of CABE’s first year, attended by arts minister Alan Howarth.
RIBA president Marco Goldschmied, backing Lipton’s remarks, said there was a “blame culture” within government that led ministers to demonise architects.
He said: “Architects are often unfairly blamed by government. Construction minister Nick Raynsford is fond of quoting Portcullis House and the British Library as bad examples of architects’ input. But it isn’t just architects’ faults.”
Lipton called for architects to be more involved in government projects, adding that the private finance initiative was producing second-rate designs. He said: “We know the current wave of PFI hospitals falls short of what we can achieve as a nation. The architecture almost appears to be 1960s in design rather than 2000.”
He also accused the NHS of ignoring government guidelines on out-of-town developments. He said: “It seems rather strange that government policy on shopping centres is to pull them into towns, whereas health seems to be going out of towns.”
Howarth supported Lipton’s view. “Public sector clients have for too long been incompetent clients. Why should we put up with mediocrity, let alone downright ugliness, of design? It’s entirely unnecessary, especially in the public sector.”
The government is by far the largest construction client in the country, spending £24bn a year, a figure expected to rise to £30bn following this week’s spending review.
CABE revealed that it was working with the DSS, the RIBA and the Design Council to develop a brief for 1000 combined job centres and benefits offices. The centres, to be called One Centres, will be rolled out over the next five years.
Sir Stuart Lipton is to chair a DETR working party on training urban designers, in a response to the skills deficit identified by the urban taskforce.