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Style guides to promote ‘beauty’ in design would be counterproductive

Housing secretary James Brokenshire has backed calls for style guides in new developments. Architect Vicky Saunders argues the idea is unnecessary and restrictive.

recent report from thinktank Policy Exchange has called for ministers to force local planning authorities to draw up “style guides” when building new homes because “not enough homes are built with beauty in mind”.

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire has said he “supports the intention” of the report, but before we are forced down this particular cul-de-sac and heap more pressure on already overworked planners, some careful consideration is needed.

Yes, we want homes to look beautiful.

We want them to stand the test of time. And we want them to be designed in such a way that is in fitting with local areas and help create thriving communities.

That is, and always has been, the role of architects. It is a role we take very seriously.

We spend years studying the design ethics and it is a genuine privilege to work on schemes that we know will be home to families for generations to come.

With every scheme we negotiate the views of planners and often urban designers who subject our offerings to close scrutiny.

In my experience, design guides such as those proposed have been counterintuitive. They are labelled as subjective, restrictive documents which choke the abilities of architects to deliver quality designs.

Equally worrying, they stifle our ability to innovate – and to use design as a force for social good.

We are already dealing with the recent changes to regulations, such as the housing standards review in 2015, which have resulted in slightly larger homes being delivered but at the cost of quality and sustainability.

Let’s not add to this burden.

The report urges “the pursuit of beauty”. I say we should pursue quality.

Quality design is the marriage of budget constraints, internal quality of construction and planning to provide a robust home.

And yes, it also needs to look good for the next 60 years.

Every architect working in the affordable housing sector also has a duty to use design to address major social challenges, such as fuel poverty. Let’s not restrict our ability to make a difference in the search for subjective beauty.

This article appeared in Inside Housing on 12.07.2018.

Photo by Edho Pratama on Unsplash

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