Debate's design flaw

November 4, 2005

Nobody involved in architectural education would deny there is some currency in the stereotype portrayed by Alison Wolf (Opinion, October 28) that "architecture schools are almost entirely occupied with design and... with visualising structures that strive to be different". But Wolf's piece serves little constructive purpose.

This focus on design is also impossible in the UK given the rigorous controls of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Architects Registration Board. The 35 or so recognised UK architecture programmes have a range of approaches to education but within the statutorily prescribed requirements of study and outcomes.

Full marks for quoting Jane Jacobs, but it was unwise to quote Alice Coleman's contentious work in the same paragraph. Her piece set up a relationship between evidence and conclusions that was debated and challenged in open forum at the time, but few disagreed with the general inappropriateness of the housing form studied.

The UK has a very limited cultural history of communal spaces within blocks of flats. And while there are enlightened developers, most are driven by the bottom line that too often means delivering not what humans want, but what is easiest and most profitable.

Wolf needs to focus more constructively on the dialogues between professions - in education and in practice. We need public-sector management to work with private-sector and voluntary-sector management, as well as with designers and constructors, to achieve better places and better buildings.

The key question is: what model of society do we espouse and facilitate? Architects are relatively powerless in the development game. Thankfully, some of our better architects are as good at opera houses as they are at housing.

Richard Hayward Greenwich

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