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New Architects: A Guide to Britain's Best Young Architectural Practices.

By The Architecture Foundation. London: Booth-Clibborn Editions. 1998. [pounds]25

This handsome illustrated directory is a full-colour celebration of the next generation of architects under the Architecture Foundation banner held proudly by Richard Rogers and his enthusiastic Minister for Arts, Mark Fisher: New Architecture for New Labour. This display of 'Cool Britannia' is the first tangible product of Fisher's campaign to lift the standard of public architecture. Each practice has a page with one large and a few small photographs, a brief statement and an assessor's comment; the favoured few have a second whole page picture opposite. In an appendix there are more details including the number of staff and computers, selected projects, awards, exhibitions and further reading. A handy gazetteer shows how, out of 83 practices listed, 54 are in London, none in Wales and an apparent black hole in central England.

Architecture dazzles off each page in a fairly homogeneous, post-High-Tech and quite minimal way for, despite Rogers' claim of diversity, there is not a whiff of either the Neo-Georgian or the Ecu/Organic. This is approved good taste. Fisher's ambitions are admirable and this publication will help, but the civil servants or (even more detached from any sense of civic pride) their project managers, beset by inadequate budgets and European rules, have no tradition of commissioning good design. I fear that, on its own, this array of talent will prove too difficult for most public servants to grasp. Sadly there is plenty of ammunition for the cynic such as the assessor who describes one practice as interested in 'speculative work, arts, fashion and paintings, subterfuge and intrigue' another practice is 'not for the faint-hearted, totally pragmatic or uncommitted patron'; a third is encouraged 'should improve with experience'.

The battle for good public design will continue as will the debate as to whether it is best conducted in the clients' language or the architects'. Thank you Minister for this initiative; now, can you go to work on the civil service?

COPYRIGHT 1998 EMAP Architecture
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Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Nicholson, Robin
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1998
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