Rob Perrins: London festival of architecture header

Rob Perrins, Managing Director of the Berkeley Group speaking at the opening of the London Festival of Architecture

Wednesday 5 June, 2013

"Ladies and Gentlemen. Back in the last year of the twentieth century, Richard Rogers launched the Urban Taskforce. It's easy to forget how influential their report became. It dominated government planning policy for a decade, shaping what and where we built. 

Now another architect, Terry Farrell, is embarking on a fresh review of architecture and the built environment. His call for evidence went out a fortnight ago and the consultation ends on 19 July.

The kind of property this will affect most is residential. Most new architecture nationwide will be housing in the coming years. It is the central design challenge for our industry. So what do we want from this review?

Above all, I think Sir Terry should focus on outcomes, not procedures. His report should offer a vision for what architecture can do for towns and cities, not what policies or standards we need to deliver it.

Too often, the debate gets tied up in rules and regulations instead of generating a consensus about the kind of environment we want to create. .  

Take London. Architecture can help this city in three key areas. First, it can help us make density work. Boris identified 19 opportunity areas in his 2020 Vision last week. These are locations like Croydon, Kidbrooke and Nine Elms where we need good design to do a great job of accommodating large scale development, often around key transport nodes.

Second, architecture can help improve people's quality of life. London is bottom of the government's wellbeing table, worse than any other part of the country. That's a disgrace, given the wealth of the city.

In my experience, design can help create places where people are basically happier - where they feel safe, where they feel they belong, and where there's a strong community. It can never do this alone. But it's a pivotal part of the mix.  

Third, London needs good architecture to remain a world city. This status depends on remaining a desirable, convenient place to work. Architecture plays a big part in making any city an attractive environment for business. The things you get from good design at different spatial scales - great commercial space, public realm, an effective transport network - are central to your competitive offer.  

Exactly how much regulation you need to secure these outcomes is interesting. When Boris first proposed the London Housing Design Guide, we were cautious. It felt very prescriptive.

Looking back, I now think some of it is justified. New London homes have taller ceilings because of those rules and they are better for it. Clearly there is a place for standards, though Sir Terry and Ed Vaizey will have an easier time if they stick to a clear statement of principles.

But perhaps the most crucial element they must not ignore is public opinion. Every time the professionals lose sight of what the public want, we produce places that fail. So let me share some of the findings of Berkeley's latest research.

In May, we asked Ipsos MORI to poll 500 Londoners. The majority thought that the Mayor's priority for housing should be redeveloping run-down areas. This scored 40% compared to 21% for social housing, the next highest priority.

When we asked what kind of housing should be built, most people chose flats - this was the top choice at 51%. Most people also think it would be better for London if we built fewer homes with higher design standards.

On a personal level, 59% of Londoners believe the quality of architecture and design affects their quality of life, and 71% say it is important that buildings and public spaces in their local area look good and work well.

I draw two conclusions from this data: first, there is a lot of popular support for regeneration and for apartment living. This is not always reflected in the application of current policy.

Second, architecture matters a lot to people. It's a priority for customers and for communities. As far as the public are concerned, I think it's fair to say that design rules."

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