Jesmond Dene House was a great venue for the largest turnout to date for a Farrell Review workshop.  Twenty seven of the North East’s leading architects, planners, urban designers, landscape architects and engineers were joined by senior representatives of English Heritage, the Arts Council, Newcastle and Northumbria Universities as well as developers and a former civic architect for the city of Leeds. This made for a fascinating discussion with a wide range of sector-specific experience blended with industry knowledge of cross-cutting issues.

Newcastle Quayside

Newcastle Quayside

The opening statement that we need a commitment from government for good design, full stop, set the tone for a frank and open discussion. However there was broad agreement that the problems we face can’t all be solved by the government. Commissioners of buildings, decision makers, stewards of our built environment and the general public all have a role to play in aspiring to and expecting high quality places.

Procurement was a major cause of concern with the statement that you can’t procure architecture like you procure paperclips resonating throughout the room. The value of architecture centres in promoting knowledge of good design to non-professionals was stressed although the publics desire to engage was considered to be relatively low compared to Scandinavian countries for example.

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An appeal was made for the review to spell out the scale of the challenges we face. The conversation that followed emphasised the current failings and their consequences for the physical environment we all share and the development of healthy and prosperous communities. The ability of other professionals to effectively use quantitative data to make their case and the overwhelming need to make the case for quality design echoed other workshops. How to make the case for qualities that can’t be evaluated through spreadsheets was a perennial problem.

That our built heritage provides us with opportunities was universally acknowledged as was the variation in how people value the historic environment in different towns and cities throughout the country. A passionate plea to return to the ‘civic’ and people owning place whilst embracing new technologies to ensure continuity and change was well made. The positive change that happened through the work of CABE was emphasised and an appeal made to identify the benefits of their enabling, design review and research work.  There was constructive criticism of the processes for design review and a number of innovative suggestions about early engagement and better collaboration with local authorities.

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In terms of education, interesting to learn that an A Level in Architecture exists in Richmond-upon-Thames and there was general agreement that built environment design is well suited to be taught across curriculums in a number of subjects. Engaging schools through visits to architecture centres and empowering communities from an early age can only be a good thing in an era of localism and neighbourhood planning.

Many thanks to Northern Architecture for organising such an interesting  and informative workshop. The review team looks forward to seeing you again soon.

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