Leading article: Architects of misfortune

Click to follow
The Independent Online

When Lord Rogers of Riverside gives his views on the state of architecture in modern Britain, as he did this week, he demands a hearing. After all, he is responsible for a good deal of it. From the Lloyd's building in the City of London, the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff, to the new terminal at Heathrow, we live in a landscape increasingly defined by the sort of architectural aesthetic that Lord Rogers has pioneered.

But in his speech to the House of Lords this week, Lord Rogers' concern was residential, rather than the commercial building projects with which he has made his name. And he does not like what he sees. He takes exception to the "shoddy, toy-town houses and Dan Dare glass towers" being built along the Thames Gateway. He criticises the "rootless estates" springing up that "could just as well [be] in Beijing, Buenos Aires or Belfast" and warns that "we are building the slums of tomorrow".

Lord Rogers' answer is to get more trained architects involved in the planning process. That would certainly help. But a bigger problem is surely that too often building has been done on the cheap in recent decades.

There is a reason, beyond their aesthetic merits, why Victorian and Georgian homes are so popular and that is because these buildings are so often sturdily built. Post-war homes are crumbling because they were too often badly designed and thrown up with cheap materials. They were not built to last and are falling into disrepair or being pulled down. It was a classic false economy from successive post-war governments. As for the often-criticised tower blocks, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with modernist design and denser living. It is when it is done cheaply and carelessly that problems arise.

More thought needs to be given to amenities, environment, transport and general quality of life when planning estates. In the housing boom of the 1950s, central government rewarded local authorities with a bigger subsidy the higher they built. Planners, both at local and central level, put quantity and speed ahead of quality.

We are embarking on another national building project as we prepare for the Olympics and the Government pushes ahead with a series of eco-towns in the South-east. It is vital that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. The quality of our built environment depends on it.

Comments