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Does The UK Need A Formal Architecture Policy?

The prominent, knighted architect Sir Terry Farrell has recently made the case that the UK doesn't need a formal architecture policy.

To understand this stance, it's important to know what exactly an architectural policy is, why it stands apart from planning law in general, and why a formal policy might not be necessary.


Planning Law Vs. Design Law

Architectural policy is, in general, much more closely associated with planning policy in European countries outside the UK. That is to say, outside the UK, higher-level concerns might have more sway when it comes to making planning decisions.

This is why the question of an architectural policy has arisen in the first place. While current planning law may take into account issues where objectively verifiable features are shared between houses, it's unlikely to take into account subjective matters of taste or 'good design'.

This could be one reason why one might be opposed to a top-down approach to architectural policy.

Civil Law Is (Mostly) Common Law

Historically, at least, civil law has been predominantly governed by common law, law decided by cases and judges rather than politics and politicians. This applies to land law, property law and therefore planning law as well.

This history makes it hard to introduce such a sweeping reform as a statutory policy on architecture, as planning law already governs a large amount of the technical requirements for architecture, and governing design would naturally meet with resistance from professional architects.

Conservation and resource management is a hot issue, but again it can be managed by existing planning law and local councils. A top-down approach could be seen as using a hammer to crack a very small nut.

Again, this could be a reason for opposition to the idea of a formal architectural policy; too much statutory regulation, in an area which has mostly been common law in the past.

We Already Have Architectural Policies

One of the key takeaways from the investigation into architectural policy was that all relevant departments already had design policies in place.

While a top-down formal architectural policy would be one way of uniting all these design policies, making them coherent and consistent, coherence and consistency could also be improved by better communication between departments. This was one of the main conclusions drawn by Sir Farrell.

In general, it seems like there isn't much that an architectural policy could cover which isn't already being covered by common law and common sense.

What Are Your Thoughts?

There are many good reasons to be in favour of an architectural policy, but we've just looked at the reasons why you might agree with this particular review, which recommended that no architectural policy be implemented.

What do you think? Do we need an over-arching architectural policy? Get in touch on Twitter!