Architecture Lessons for Gove
I hope Michael Gove has been reading the obituaries of Colin Stansfield Smith, Hampshire’s county architect between 1974 and 1993. Firmly supported by the leader of his (conservative) County Council, he made the quality of design of schools, libraries, fire stations and other public buildings something to be proud of.
A couple of years ago Gove summoned up the spectre of architectural gluttons feasting at the table of government patronage, in particular on the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. Since then he has welcomed the first of many planned standardised school buildings, under the Sunesis programme which ‘focuses on delivering standard whole building designs, to a fixed turnkey cost. This cuts out a huge amount of waste so that projects can be delivered very quickly and at a very low price.’ The result, it seems, is a building closely resembling an out-of-town retail unit. Not much sign of the ‘grace and beauty’ that, only last month, Gove considered essential to new housing – or at least new housing on Green Belt land.
Stansfield Smith had style and charisma (in his youth he was both a county cricketer and an actor) but, far more important, he believed in the highest possible quality in the public built environment. During the nearly twenty years that he worked there, Hampshire became synonymous with admirable, but anything but standardised, school architecture.
Even with the demise of many local authority architects’ offices under Thatcher, Stansfield Smith managed, by fast footwork, force of personality and the continued support of his local political masters, to draw in some of the best architectural practices to work as consultants to his own dedicated teams. Some of the outstanding examples of schools built under the BSF programme have come from practitioners – Ted Cullinan, Michael Hopkins, Richard MacCormac, Peter Aldington – who learned their trade in Hampshire.