In the week in which the Society presented its annual Design Awards, Kevin Trickett, the President of Wakefield Civic Society, called for much greater emphasis to be given to the importance of good design in all aspects of place making.
Referring to the Review of Architecture and the Built Environment published last week by Sir Terry Farrell CBE, whose expert panel included Wakefield resident and Director of Beam, Robert Powell, Mr Trickett said “Wakefield Civic Society was established in 1964 to promote an interest in good design, architecture and town planning.For fifty years, the Society has argued for the very highest standards in architecture and design, rewarding the best examples in our city with our Design Awards, now presented annually. But this is something that has to be embraced by society at large: it cannot just be left to the professionals and politicians; everyone needs to engage with the debate on what makes for good design, be they local residents, councillors, public officials, property owners, business leaders or school teachers, we all have a role to play. Collectively, we need to better understand the benefits that good design can bring – from the obvious ones of creating attractive places that people will want to live and work in or to visit, through to the less tangible but hugely important benefits to our overall happiness and well-being. And this applies equally to new buildings as it does to how we use and re-use old buildings.
“We are, therefore, very pleased to see that the Farrell Review calls for the way we shape our physical environment to be taught as early as possible in schools. This doesn’t have to be a separate subject tacked onto the curriculum but something that can be woven into many subjects to stimulate thinking and creativity, whether it be about the design of a town or city, a street or shopping centre, a single building or even a piece of furniture or sculpture; we should be instilling an interest in design and aesthetics to give the next generation both the confidence and the vocabulary to take part in the debate about place making and to influence outcomes. As Farrell says “Youth participation in civic matters focusing on the built environment could be key to inspiring and training the next generation of design-aware civic leaders and entrepreneurs.”
Mr Trickett continued “When we talk about design quality in buildings, it is not just about how a new building looks, it is also important to consider how it works, how people will relate to it and use it. It is also important to think about how long a building will last. As Farrell’s report points out “What we build today is the heritage of the future….it must stand the test of time”. How many of the buildings we see being constructed today will be with us 50 or 60 years from now? This is a very relevant question here and now in Wakefield with the future of our Market Hall being discussed – a building that was completed just six, not 60, years ago!”
Mr Trickett said that the Farrell review was a wide-ranging but very accessible report that deserves close reading, and added that many of the report’s recommendations resonated with the work of the Civic Society.One in particular had special appeal – that each local authority could nominate “Civic Champions” who would actively engage with the community to help shape neighbourhood plans and improve design quality. This would be one step towards making the whole planning process much more democratic, not to prevent development but to involve the community in helping to ensure that it is the best designs that go forward; in other words, as Farrell concludes – “it’s about making the ordinary better”.
Mr Trickett added “This is particularly important when it comes to the provision of housing as much modern housing development is mediocre at best and this is bred out of a desire by mass housing providers to build what they know they can sell; there is little incentive to experiment. The Society has a category in its annual Design Awards for housing developments, but we are seldom sufficiently impressed by what we see to make an award. We long to see something that is innovative and inspiring. With all the new housing this is required to meet the current housing targets, we now have a real opportunity to do something very special here in Wakefield”.
The Farrell Review: In January 2013 Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, asked Sir Terry Farrell CBE to undertake a national review of architecture and the built environment. He undertook the Review independently with his team at Farrells and advised by a panel of 11 industry leaders with a breadth of experience that covered education, outreach, urbanism, architecture, property and philosophy. One of the panel members was Wakefield resident Robert Powell, Director of Beam based at the Orangery.
The Farrell Review led to the publication of a report containing 39 recommendations. It can be downloaded from http://farrellreview.co.uk/