Monday, 21 July 2008

CABE's opinion not worth a broken brick

CABE, the government's official architecture and design watchdog, has said that 8 out of 10 new schools funded by the government's 'Building Schools for the Future' programme are mediocre. This may be true. The problem is, CABE's opinions on design aren't worth a broken brick and have even less credibility than Gordon Brown assuring us that the UK economy is safe in his hands. They praise the most alienating and hideous structures - buildings and places that are condemned by the much more reliable US Project for Public Spaces. PPS describes Exchange Square in Manchester thus:
Like Schouwburgplein in Rotterdam, Exchange Square is known as an "event space." The problem is that it only works when events are taking place. Its fancy paving, sweeping design statements and hidden water feature dress the square up, but leave the user with no place to go. Over-designed, inflexible, and dominated by rows of awkward sitwalls that impede pedestrian flow and gathering, this square should be exchanged for a place that actually displays a rudimentaty understanding of how people use public space. It masquerades as a civic square, but actually prevents this space from really evolving to celebrate the true richness and diversity of Manchester.
Strange how CABE can find little fault with it. This is due, I suspect, to the fact that CABE tend to assess the abstract aesthetics of design, rather than how real people use and value real places and spaces. CABE is really little more than an onanistic out-branch of RIBA.

In Hadleigh in Suffolk, a small market town I know well, Tesco are proposing to build a truly awful supermarket that will kill the vibrant high street, dominate the clusters of intimate spaces that have grown organically for the best part of a thousand years, impose a ghastly Speer-esque footprint on a small scale and highly articulated street form and thrust something ugly and intrusive into one of Suffolk's loveliest spaces. You'd expect CABE to oppose all this, wouldn't you?

Not a bit of it. As Private Eye has documented, they praise the damn thing. So would you trust them to get an opinion right on anything?

3 comments:

Blue Eyes said...

Many of the 60s monstrosities won plaudits at the time, too. There is no substitute for "organic" growth as you say. Small-scale projects work better than grand schemes.

I had the pleasure of walking past an amazing 70s shopping centre in Hendon yesterday. It should be preserved as a monument to failed town planning.

Newmania said...

Phew this blog is getting really high powered ...its almost investigative for gods sake .

Do I detect obssesion ?

hatfield girl said...

I'm fond of Speer's architecture.