28 Oct 2010

The Prince and CABE 2.0: An even less accountable version

It's emerged that the The Prince of Wales’ architectural charity, the Prince’s Foundation , is contemplating plans to replace CABE as the body in charge of carrying out design reviews. Instead of getting rid of this meddling and intrusive process of policing architectural design, we're now facing the prospect of an even more stylistically rigid organisation heading it. The haphazard nature of the government's decisions leaves the space open for powerful organisations to lobby for this role instead of handing the power back to planning departments as I had argued before. Councils are democratically-elected and accountable bodies, unlike Prince Charles and his foundation which are medieval relics.

The chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation Hank Dittmar tried to deny accusations that his organisation would only favour traditional architecture: “To be credible, it would have to have democratic, independent judgement. We would have to have a panel that was balanced and not exclusively traditional architects.” I am not worried about such a prospect. What I am worried about is the un-democratic nature of review panels.

Architects could build neo-Gothic hotels in central London for all I care. It's time that we learned that the tyranny of taste is not the way to ensure good design. But what we should fight for is the right of architects to make judgments about what they think is right and wrong without subjecting them to an extra layer of scrutiny. We should also give planners with the confidence to champion good schemes and not undermine their authority through committees of the great and the good. This new authoritarian outfit should be resisted before it turns into a reality.

You can watch a debate I had with Hank Dittmar here. The session was hosted by the Urban Design Group and entitled 'Building Urban Communities - What is a City?' I think it's a good preview of the clash of ideas between the authoritarian and backward-looking decision makers and those of us who have an aspirational outlook.

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