Our second stop on the review team’s tour of the country was Birmingham and a visit to the architecture centre MADE. As an organisation dedicated to improving the quality of our built environment by working with leaders, public sector officers, professionals, developers and residents to understand the importance of place – the venue was perfect for the Farrell Review workshop. Their belief that “well-designed places function better, use fewer resources, encourage investment and enterprise, engender social interaction and a sense of community and make people happy, healthy and proud” was a great starting point for the discussion that followed.
Seventeen leading figures from the region attended including architects, urban designers, landscape architects and representatives of the Birmingham City Council and Birmingham City University. The developer for Brindley Place added the client perspective and a representative of ATLAS brought experience of the town planning perspective for large and complex strategic development projects.
The group questioned the need for an architecture policy and whether such a policy would be better described as a built environment policy highlighting the importance of working from the bottom up and being broader than architecture alone. There was interest in who such a policy would be directed at – would it speak to planning committees and volume housebuilders? There was general consensus that an aspirational and tone setting statement from government would be a good thing.
A passionate plea to recognise the changing global context and the imperative to act now on climate change and sustainable city design was well received and the connection between well designed places and health and wellbeing was well made. The economic value of retrofitting cities was also noted and Birmingham’s ‘Big City Plan’ put forward as an exemplar.
The problem of “marshalling the evidence” and not reinventing the wheel is one that the review team identified with as well as the need to make all of the arguments we make as professionals more persuasive.
The power of social media was demonstrated by the MADE team who were the first to host active tweeting and blogging from the workshop inviting questions from their followers.
Many thanks to everyone involved for another stimulating workshop.