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THE RIBAJ120 SERIES
Evening Debates

A fundamental reappraisal of the status and health of the profession

Words Eleanor Young


Blurring the Boundaries | 9 October 2013
Beyond the building and beyond the profession, Blurring the Boundaries, the last in the RIBAJ120 Series talks supported by Gerflor, was an energetic evening of discussion.

With panel experience of regenerating, designing, analysing and advising in cities there were many informed views of what makes places and who can, and should, best lead change. Architect and one time Transport for London design supremo David Ubaka provided a firm hand on the tiller as well as a grounding on questions of delivery from his time working on Crossrail, Legible and the Emirates Air Line.

Clive Dutton set the agenda – as he has been used to doing on regeneration in Birmingham from the Big City Plan and Eastside to the new library. His deliberate policy of ‘meanwhile’ spaces in Olympic Newham, promoting fun temporary site uses for unused sites, encapsulate his national message: planned economic moves with space for informality. ‘The UK needs to have a plan, it has to set the context for airports, high speed rail, cities, then creates conditions for serendipity, failure and fun,’ he said.

Ivan Harbour of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners invoked future generations to combat the resistance to the inevitable change. Nimbys should look beyond at what their younger generation will not have, what they have cherished, he said. And how about solving that contradiction of cherished spaces avoided by car drivers who inhabit the unlovely edges of city and town? ‘We need not only to reinvigorate the city but to bring the city to the city fringe,’ he said.

Using Manchester’s Hulme to explore how places could be destroyed or remade RIBA President Stephen Hodder looked first at how its was cleared and replaced with desk access blocks and then how in the 1990s the treasured old patterns of streets and squares were reinstated and a strong design guide turned it into the place it is today.

This shift in scale, more in the opposite direction towards large island sites, preoccupied Lucy Musgrave. Yes the buildings are commercial, private and so on but there is more. ‘The ground plane of the city is civic and someone has to champion that,’ she said with passion.  Working on developments such as London’s King’s Cross she has seen that the mission to make cities work harder and smarter, to allow human scale intervention, to link with existing areas has to be compelling. Above all it has to be led by the client and to have the support of the planning authority. This is now urgent. ‘The divide between what we are building and were we want to live has never greater.’

But we are not building enough, argued LSE’s Tony Travers. Despite great housing need there is a shortage and backlog at any point – the result of resistance through planning. ‘There is a minor culture war raging,’ he worried. So explain the need to people, give them the context and reward them not with local authority section 106 spending but something tangible. And don’t expect developers to deliver everything. Homes and affordable homes, money for the community and on top of that you are asking developers to imbuing their projects with the characteristics for long term success. ‘There is too much on development,’ he said. Nevertheless developers are key. ‘They have all the tools to assemble land, get an architect and so on. Mercifully developers are driven by profit, without which very little would happen.’

See all of the debate highlights here

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