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FACING UP TO THE CHALLENGES OF THE NEXT CENTURY

 
A precis of Paul Hyett's column in The Architects' Journal 16/23 December 1999

 

Taking as his text the Parable of the Talents, Malcolm Porter, an architect and lay preacher, argued that Christians have a duty to use their skills appropriately. Are we using our expertise in the best interests of our clients and the community?

Certainly architects who endeavoured to undertake socially progressive work found the 80s and 90s difficult.

Privatisation was pursued by the Thatcherites, and the tremendous efforts of successive generations of social reformers were discredited and dismissed.

At the close of the century we were left with a very different context for working from the one in which most of us trained.

The interests of the consumer are today paramount, and the belief in free markets and open competition is deeply incorporated into the culture of our entire building procurement system. Too many of our clients, and too many of our employers, are misusing, abusing and wasting the energy and skills of our profession. Too much time is being expended on projects which go nowhere, and too many projects are procured in ways that lead to failure, dispute and ultimately litigation.

So, one immediate challenge is to secure conditions which enable more architects to work with greater efficiency and effect in the delivery of the service that they have trained so hard to provide.

 

A Response

 

It was Christians in the 19th century who laid the foundations for the welfare state, which in spite of the church report Faith in the City in 1985, has continued to be steadily eroded, even by a Labour government. Indeed the present government is attempting to return to the 19th century when welfare was provided by charities, and therefore unequally, rather than by the community, in the form of the state, and therefore more equitably.

While consumer interests, as those of our clients, should be paramount, this should not be at the expense of others, either at home or abroad. Government intervention is necessary for social equality and justice, which the free market cannot supply.

 

This is not a call to return to the state providing everything, but for its biblical role in maintaining justice. Welfare services should be provided by the community, but to do so equitably it needs organising and funding - by the state! The role of charities should be to provide extras, develop new ideas, and most importantly to prompt the government to fill in any gaps. Certainly the state itself need not be a monopoly supplier of welfare, but independent NGOs properly funded could be the welfare agencies, rather than charities subject to the vagaries of public support and interest.

As architects we can be involved in the provision of social housing as well as private sector housing, in the provision of educational buildings as well as office blocks. Sir Denys Lasdun, perhaps Britain's greatest 20th century architect was involved in all these, and it is instructive to look at his career.

 

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