He talks about how they’re tackling problems in contemporary cities - such as slums and overcrowding - and how architects seem to be moving “beyond their fetishisation of the building as object, their preoccupation with surface and aesthetics.
Architect, Ettore Sottsass, designed the classic ‘Valentine Typewriter’(1)
Architect Michael Graves designed the Alessi 'Tea Kettle with Bird Whistle’
Why do Italian architects seem more revered than UK architects and more engaged with wider design challenges? “Perhaps”, Matthew suggests, “it harks back to '60s and ‘70s.” Architecture as a profession is keen to move on. Some key challenges were highlighted in the Egan Review of 1998, ‘Rethinking Construction’, in particular, the lack of crossover in planning between architects, engineers, surveyors and town planners.
Egan suggested ways of breaking down the ‘silo mentality’ through various cross-industry initiatives, for example, ‘Constructing Excellence Centres’, which are threatened by budget cuts, as well as interdisciplinary research and training, which RIBA has been working to develop with its members.
For cities trying to adapt to the need to remain competitive as business locations there have been big changes. “Local authorities used to have large architectural teams - Leeds City Council was the last big local authority to employ a Chief Architect. There are some exceptions but generally this work is outsourced nowadays with town planners under considerable pressure to deal with inflexible regulations and demanding deadlines and many architects frustrated at this apparent lack of flexibility.
|Foreign Office architects design for Birmingham's New Street Station (2)|
“Equally it is possible to foresee areas of conflict for local authorities in future as they seek to resolve future housing, design and planning needs and without the arbitration of a regional tier. One of the motivations for regional tier was for expertise, support and co-ordination which can be lacking at local level.”
Recognising the increasing importance of quality of place to attracting and retaining the best businesses and talented people, Birmingham embarked on its ‘Big City Plan’.
“Coventry’s a good example, through the efforts of Martin Reeves and Martin Yardley, of city re-design. They’re doing a good job in trying to engage the whole city in the process. They opened up a web portal for 2 days and asked for opinions on a blog. They’re taking on two huge issues - re-organising the internal architecture of the council and undertaking the re-design of the City."
|The new Central Library in Birmingham |
designed by Francine Houben
"Manchester has done a brilliant job in re-branding itself and developing a strong sense of the strengths of the City. Greater Manchester as a concept has been a success with local neighbours such as Stockport, Rochdale and others buying into it.
For Birmingham, jewellery remains an important part of our ongoing productive heritage, with the city responsible for up to 40% of the UK’s output. The Birmingham Assay Office, as the largest in the UK, is located in the city’s jewellery quarter and was established in 1773, thanks to the efforts of the great eighteenth century local industrialist and philanthropist, Matthew Boulton.
|Boulton's architect-designed Soho Manufactory c1860|
a coin resulting in Birmingham ‘winning’ the Anchor and Sheffield the Crown.”
(1) Copyright: GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3
(2) image from the Birmigham Mail
Matthew Dobson, Regional Director, RIBA West Midlands http://www.architecture.com/RegionsAndInternational/UKNationsAndRegions/England/RIBAWestMidlands/RIBAWestMidlands.aspx