Design review advice must be a material part of planning process, says Design Council Cabe

Monday 28 November 2011

Design Council Cabe is lobbying government hard to get officials to recognise the discipline of design review and have it enshrined as a material planning consideration.

That was one of the key messages from a special session on design review held jointly by the organisation and the NLA on Friday morning. The moves, formulated to support the ‘well designed’ phrase as a condition of granting planning in the forthcoming National Planning Policy Framework promised next year, were set out by Design Council Cabe’s Design Review panel chair MJ Long. She told a packed audience that design review was entering a ‘very strange point of shifting territory’, but one where discussions about the importance of the review process with the DCLG are ongoing, and creation of a London panel being negotiated. ‘Design review panel advice must carry material weight’, she said, particularly in an era when charges for the service will start to apply. 

The event was aimed at existing and prospective design review panel members, offering insights about best practice and the valuable experience of practitioners on the ground. Long advised that panellists should be ‘strategic’, but retain a careful ear to when, for instance, an architect might be designing for a developer’s brief they did not agree with. Senior adviser on design review at Design Council Cabe Menaka Sahai said that ‘ultimately, it’s about improving quality and that specially convened panels on issues such as the Olympics, Crossrail and schools had borne particular fruit, the last of these leading to the publication of minimum design standards. Space Syntax’s Tim Stonor suggested that larger masterplans could prove difficult; that social, environmental and economic tests should be applied to schemes, but that urbanism should not be forgotten – ‘we see very few design proposals for great streets’, he said. A worry was the kind of ‘fragmented urbanism’ or urban severance which resulted from communities becoming ‘cut-off’ through poor design advice. 

Another design review panel member, Simon Hudspith, said that design review needed to also look to the micro scale when it came to housing and drill down to the way that people might use their homes, paying attention to issues such as dual aspect over single aspect in the name of better standards of living. Another issue is scale: ‘The bigger schemes become, the more concerned I become’, he said. 

Finally, John Lyall said that design review should never be ‘criticism for its own sake’ and panellists had a duty to the users. Issues to be wary of included architects and developers who draw a red line around their scheme to the detriment of those around, rather than ‘contaminating’ the environs, projects which neglected the public realm, and presenters who brought in specialist sustainable consultants rather than imbuing their proposals with the principle as a fundamental. 

Following a session on more advice about the role of a design review panel member from Design Council Cabe’s Thomas Bender, the event then split into three mock sessions. These involved design review sessions with a presenter from the project and delegates quizzing them over aspects of the scheme. The schemes were the Make-designed St Alphage London Wall project for Hammerson presented by Make’s Ian Lomas, another which assessed Bicester Eco-town, with presenter Gary Young from Farrells and the Minoco Wharf project, presented by Glen Howells of Glen Howells Architects.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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