Last week the UK’s Culture Minister Ed Vaizey announced that he was commissioning a review of the country’s architecture policy, to be led by Sir Terry Farrell along with a number of high profile advisors, including Thomas Heatherwick, Alison Brooks and Alain de Botton. According to Vaizey, the review, expected to be complete by the end of the year, “will be a rallying point for the profession.”
In his article in The Guardian, Olly Wainwright rather hopefully questioned: “might this year-long study result in an innovative new piece of legislative guidance – perhaps along the lines of Denmark’s architecture policy, introduced in 2007?” While Wainwright somewhat flatly concludes, “somehow, that seems unlikely,” there’s no doubt that the UK could only stand to gain from learning from Denmark’s innovative policy.
So what lessons could the UK (and the world) learn from the Danes? Read on after the break…
Lesson #1: High Quality Design Makes Economic Sense
A key facet of the Danish Policy is an insistence that high quality design is not only admirable on its own terms, but makes economic sense as well. In a section on public sector construction, the document asserts:
“Public construction development should continue to place major priority on the long term economic gains of high architectural quality – and not the short term financial gains that can be achieved if the owner compromises on demands for architectural quality.”
The Danish Policy also focuses on generating a demand for quality in the private sector. With a much larger private sector than in Denmark, the UK could learn from its aims to encourage an increase in education and awareness of architecture for citizens, thus forcing private developers to up the ante with regards to design quality. This education is spearheaded by the Danish Architecture Centre (DAC), which both runs exhibitions and events at its home in Copenhagen, and maintains an informative online presence.
Lesson #2: Architecture is a Matter of National Pride
This issue is particularly pertinent for the UK at a time when the government is enacting what BD’s Editor-in-Chief Amanda Baillieu called ”an almost McCarthy-like witch-hunt against anyone who believes design can improve people’s lives.” In contrast, the Danish Policy continually stresses pride in the country’s architects, and aims to cultivate an “environment of architectural ambition”.
Lesson #3: Regulation Can Work With, not Against, Architecture
Another keyword for the Danish Policy is ‘innovation’. In the UK it can seem that architectural ideas have stagnated recently, with news such as influential think tank Policy Exchange recommending a return to terraced streets instead of high-rise housing. Proposals like this present a false choice between two set options, whereas in Denmark the emphasis is on developing new ideas and better options.
To achieve innovation, Denmark has actually relaxed building regulations. After ensuring that regulations on sustainability, accessibility and health and safety are kept, a relaxation in other regulations provides architects and construction companies with more flexibility in the design and more room to innovate.
Lesson #4: Architecture is a Collaborative Effort
The final lesson to be taken from the Danish example is that a commitment to improve architecture requires agreement from a number of governmental departments and non-governmental organizations: the policy cites “ministries of Culture, Economic and Business Affairs, Social Affairs, Foreign Affairs, the Environment and Transport and Energy as well as the Danish University and Property Agency, the Danish Defence Estates and Infrastructure Organisation, and the Palaces and Property Agency” as key players in the legislation, with organizations such as the DAC being instrumental to help them engage the public.
Vaizey is similarly aware of the need to engage other departments, pledging to deliver the report to “all four corners of Whitehall.” However, with what appears to be strong opposition from the likes of Michael Gove, and with Communities Secretary Eric Pickles dismissing Vaizey’s request to call in David Chipperfield‘s Elizabeth House design for a public enquiry, Ellis Woodman of BD argued that ”it takes a considerable leap of faith to believe that Ed Vaizey’s latest initiative to elevate the importance of design at government level is going to have any effect.”
The four focus areas of the UK report are certainly enough to successfully cover the same issues as Denmark’s architecture policy, but with the rest of the government seemingly ambivalent towards issues of good design, and Vaizey himself admitting that “I haven’t anticipated that the report will result in any changes to legislation”, it remains to be seen whether the review will generate any noticeable changes at all.