Statement Concerning my role and aims in the Commission on Building More, Building Beautifully.
The architectural press has been predicting that I will use my position as chair of the above commission to impose a rigid stylistic conformity, and that my well-known love of the classical vernacular will become a kind of aesthetic dictatorship, compelling architects on pain of – of what exactly? – to build according to principles dictated by me.
In fact, in conjunction with the government and the civil service, I am putting together a group of commissioners and advisors who will represent a wide range of approaches. The purpose of the commission is not to dictate aesthetic values but to show how they might be placed at the heart of new developments. There is widespread public discontent with recent practice and a need to explore the ways in which people’s real needs and preferences can be reflected in their built environment.
Anybody with suggestions as to the nature of the problem and the best way to resolve it is welcome to contact me on this site. Meanwhile, when the commissioners and advisory board have been appointed, it will be plain that my own aesthetic stance will be only one input among many, to the exploration of design quality in all its aspects.
Government Commission on Building Better – Building Beautiful.
I have been appointed as chairman of the above commission, one of four commissioners supported by a far-reaching advisory board. The government is in the process of making the relevant appointments, and the commission will begin its work in the New Year, with a view to submitting a report by the end of 2019.
It is, to my mind, a remarkable and welcome development that the government has decided to take beauty seriously and to respond to some of the public’s very real concerns about the uglification of our country by unsightly sprawl. (Some of these concerns were expressed in my film of 2009, Why Beauty Matters.) Of course the issue is highly controversial, as would a commission to explore hygiene requirements in portable polythene pigsties if I were appointed as its chair. Regardless of the controversy, however, the issue is of vital public concern. We are therefore hoping to establish a dedicated web-site, to which members of the public can send their thoughts and suggestions, examples of what they like and what they dislike, and contributions to a question which too many people dismiss as no longer relevant – the question how to build in such a way that the public welcomes the result.
Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries there has been pressure to add massively to the stock of available housing in this country – whether by public investment or by private enterprise. The great demographic and economic changes that created this pressure coincided with an equally significant transformation in the appearance of buildings, as new materials, new engineering skills and modernist styles have become visible in our towns and cities.
Discussion of these changes has been venomous and unproductive, which is to be expected given the sums of money involved and the emotional investment in our visual heritage. We should not forget that the beauty of this island – of its towns and villages as well as its landscape – was inscribed in the hearts of those who fought the two world wars. When asked what attaches them to their country, the British people regularly refer to its beauty, and it would be a foolish politician who dismissed this sentiment as merely nostalgic.
I will therefore encourage a renewed public discussion of the question of beauty, in the hope that tempers will cool, and common sense prevail, in a matter that concerns us all. The question, it seems to me, is not about the great works of architecture, whether old or new, but about the place of beauty in everyday building. It concerns the ‘aesthetics of the everyday’ – how to get things right, so that the people of this country will welcome new building as an addition to their heritage, and not a necessity that they must merely tolerate.
Scrutopia, December 8th 2018.