We need a Jamie Oliver of ar­chi­tec­ture to im­prove health and hap­pi­ness

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY - Ric Blenkharn

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.

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