The architectural establishment is experiencing a mild shock to the system, one of its leading lights has publicly broken rank and dared to criticise CABE. In Sunday’s Observer, Rowan Moore the former head of the Architecture Foundation wrote an article entitled ‘Bricks, mortar and mateyness’ accusing CABE of not being critical enough of badly designed buildings. “Too often CABE has found itself in the business of ameliorating bad situations with the result that it has come to look, or be, complicit with them,” said Moore. “Worse, it has looked too matey with the people it is trying to oversee and influence.”
Reading the comments on Moore’s article online, you would be excused for assuming that Moore asked for the abolition of CABE and for the public execution of all its members. But a storm in a teacup is what passes for genuine dissent in architecture these days. Some people are wetting their pants with the prospect of this mild rebuke turning into a revolution, which is indicative of how lame architectural discourse has become. After all, Moore didn’t challenge CABE’s authoritarian and unaccountable role, but actually asked for it to be stricter in its regulation of the profession.
As an architect who has witnessed CABE review panels several times in the past, my problem with it is its remit as a ‘design police’ force, an elite group that was devised in order to maintain adherence to the taste standards of architectural establishment. I might understand the need for such a body in a country that doesn’t have an established planning system. But given the structure of the planning system in Britain with its multiple agencies and broad participatory nature, CABE represents yet another obstacle to negotiate in an already complex and demanding context. It is a product of the hyper-regulation culture that embodies the elite’s authoritarian instincts today.
Yet, most architects actually support CABE and its mission. Rowan Moore’s outburst is indicative of this general sense of conformity and the desire to be monitored, inspected and regulated to the nth degree. God forbid any building should slip through the tight net of regulation and of taste as prescribed by the great and the good. Some architects might get a kick out of the snoozefests organised by CABE, but I find them tiresome, meddling and unnecessary. They have come to replace going to church on Sunday for preachy boring sessions of self-flagellation for today’s architects.
Where are the great characters like Cedric Price who would revolt against this over-scrutiny and infinite official meddling? Instead, today we get little tantrums from people who feel that CABE has let its guard down a little bit. Let’s stop obsessing about aesthetics at a time when house building has fallen to record laws, and the prospect of cuts means that very little investment in public projects will take place over the next few years. The politics of architecture are not to be found in facades and pointless discussions about the ‘public realm’, so let’s not make building even more difficult.
Screw this conformity. Let’s abolish CABE altogether and get rid of this unnecessary and authoritarian taste police.