Last edited 13 Nov 2020

Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission

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In November 2018, the government announced a new commission to raise the level of debate about the importance of beauty in new housing developments. The ‘Building better, building beautiful’ commission will help ensure new developments meet community needs and expectations, making them more likely to be well-received rather than resisted.

The commission is expected to fill a similar role to that played by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) which was merged with the Design Council to become Design Council Cabe in 2011.

The creation of the commission follows the government’s rewriting of the planning rules to strengthen design quality expectations and community engagement when planning for development. It will be chaired by the political philosopher and conservative polemicist Sir Roger Scruton, who has been an outspoken critic of modern architects such as Norman Foster and Richard Rogers, with further commissioners to be announced.

The main aims are:

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire MP said:

“Most people agree we need to build more for future generations, but too many still feel that new homes in their local area just aren’t up to scratch. Part of making the housing market work for everyone is helping to ensure that what we build, is built to last. That it respects the integrity of our existing towns, villages and cities.

“This will become increasingly important as we look to create a number of new settlements across the country and invest in the infrastructure and technology they will need to be thriving and successful places.”

However, critics accused the government of reigniting the 1980s argument that pitted modernism against classicism and entirely subjective judgements about what constitutes ‘beautiful’ and ‘successful’ design.

Owen Hatherley commented that, "…for about ten years the dominant stuff in architecture schools, major public commissions, etc, has been a very very classicised modernism - the 1980s Quinlan Terry v Richard Rogers divide just doesn't pertain, and hasn't for ages … the likes of Scruton don't want to talk about that, because they're not interested in architecture, they're interested in re-running the same culture war, over and over again."

Douglas Murphy, author of ‘Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture’ commented that, "...the aesthetics stuff doesn't matter so much, it's low-hanging fruit to say ‘beautiful old things are beautiful’ and it will have next to no effect on a sector that is already completely dysfunctional."

(Ref. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/james-brokenshire-building-better-and-beautiful-will-deliver-more-homes)

Within a week of his appointment, Labour MPs called for the sacking of Roger Scruton for allegedly peddling 'anti-semitic conspiracy theories', a criticism made in relation to comments in a 2014 lecture and in an article in the Daily Telegraph in 2018, as well as controversial statements on homosexuality and Islamophobia.

On 13 February 2019, four new commissioners and nine specialist advisors were appointed to the commission. Ref https://www.gov.uk/government/news/commissioners-appointed-to-new-home-design-body

In April 2019, Roger Scruton was fired "following his unacceptable comments". A government spokesperson said a new chair would be appointed by the secretary of state for housing in due course.

In July 2019, the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission published an interim report arguing that:

For more information see: Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission interim report.

In July 2019, Roger Scruton was reinstated as chair of the Commission. The New Statesman released the full transcript of his interview and apologised for how they had been represented.

On 30 January 2020, Housing Secretary The Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP gave a speech on the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission report launch https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/building-better-building-beautiful-commission-report-launch

The report Living with beauty: report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission is an independent report on how to promote and increase the use of high-quality design for new build homes and neighbourhoods. This is the final report of the Commission and sets out its recommendations to government. The Commission says will publish research and other evidence that has underpinned the report in due course. You can download the report at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/living-with-beauty-report-of-the-building-better-building-beautiful-commission

Philip Box, Policy and Project and Coordinator at UKGBC, said: “We welcome the Commission’s final report, which comes at a pivotal moment. We have seen recently from the National Housing Audit 2020 that the quality of design being delivering across England is not good enough, both in terms of creating quality places for residents and addressing the environmental challenges we face. True sustainability and beauty are intertwined, and we are pleased to see the Commission echo our recommendations on the place of nature in good design."

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