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The Farrell Review: No-one likes us, and we do care

The architect, Terry Farrell, has been commissioned to produce a government sponsored report on how architects might be more successful in getting their message across: a manifesto that will become a rallying cry for British architecture. It has been suggested that what the industry needs is a media figurehead – an architectural ‘Jamie Oliver’ who might make planning issues and urbanism palatable for the general public’s consumption.

However, it is not the public’s fault that we do not have enough good design and architecture in our cities, and it is not the public’s non-engagement with the politics of design that results in poor urbanism. The public have been deliberately ostricised from the debate for many years. Nimby is a term invented by planners, developers and architects to denigrate any member of the public that voices an opinion.

And so, when a group of pre-eminent designers, developers and politicians get into a huddle for a bit of soul-searching about what has gone wrong, the best they can come up with is “architecture needs to be more popular”, or reading between the lines, “we as architects should be more popular”. This is nonsense.

Instead of talking about the value of architectural design in subjective terms and how it is understood by others – why not talk about what architecture is for? Is it for developers to make a big profit? Is it for politicians to make a mark? Is it for designers to make themselves feel good about themselves, and have an exciting career – make them feel like artists? Or is it about making our cities better, healthier, successful and interesting places to live?

The public only really care about the latter, though clients and architects seem to focus on the first three, then use all of their acquired skills to convince us otherwise. That is the problem.

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