We need a Jamie Oliver of architecture to improve health and happiness
WE get what we deserve when it comes to the uninspiring buildings devoid of design in which many of us live and work, according to a panel member of the first governmentcommissioned review into architecture in more than a decade.
“Good design builds communities, creates quality of life, and makes places better for people to live, work and play in. I want to make sure we’re doing all we can to recognise the importance of architecture and reap the benefits of good design,” says Ed Vaizey MP, who has commissioned The Farrell Review. Sir Terry Farrell notes that “Many countries have an effective architecture policy and I intend to learn from what has worked elsewhere and also learn from all those involved here. Architecture and the built environment is so important to us culturally, economically, socially and environmentally.”
Alain de Botton, a member of the review panel, and author of The Architecture of Happiness, says that Britain urgently needs a Jamie Oliver figure to do for buildings what the famous chef did for school dinners. He says: “We need a Jamie Oliver of architecture because architecture is now where food was 20 years ago: in desperate need of improvement, which will happen when people grow fussier about being served substandard stuff.”
It is the fault of the public’s indifference to good design rather than corporate greed of building companies, argues Mr de Botton. He adds: “We need a public that will be appalled by tiny rooms, lack of storage space, tiny windows, poor insulation: and will do what they need to do when faced with it: refuse to buy.”
Victoria Thornton, another panel member, says: “Recognising that architecture and urban design have an impact on our daily lives is the key to any change and this can only fundamentally happen if it is accepted as integral part of our education system – from schools through to public participation in the debate of our neighbourhoods and surroundings. The government needs to be much more involved in proactive planning, not topdown state planning; it has to be bottom-up.”
The focus should be on improving on what we already have, according to Sir Terry. “If you look at how few new buildings we are constructing, you are not going to make a huge difference by changing the new stock. We need a new approach to town planning and how we manage and look after our cities.”
As a practising architect, I know only too well how good design can make such a difference to the way we live and work. Good architecture should and can create an emotional response. It should stimulate and encourage both the occupant and the passer by. Even the humblest of buildings can create a response, drawing warmth and meaning to the occupant or visitor. Good architecture need not be the exclusive preserve of the wealthy, it should be available to all.
This long overdue review seeks to remedy the way we see and treat the design of buildings. My hope is that it will help the public to be more discerning about the places they live in and in turn create vibrant healthy communities for the future. It is essential to take a long-term view, and not to seek cheap economical fixes. That is not to say that good design is expensive, merely that it requires thought and consideration. We see all too frequently, the results of poor design and the damaging social and health issues they can cause.
We know what makes a good home. It should offer enough room to accommodate its occupants and their lifestyles in comfort, in a peaceful, secure and enjoyable environment. There is no shortage of evidence of the significant impact good housing design can have on quality of life. Perhaps the time has come to deserve better places to live and work and play.