Imagine what could be achieved with a state-funded programme of Architectural Aid, writes editor Isabel Allen, if architecture were treated not just a commodity for sale but as a fundamental human right.


Isabel Allen


How much work do you give away? The Waterfront Clubhouse, on pages 44-51, is a shining example of what can be achieved when an architect goes above and beyond the scope of their appointment. When they assume the role of crowdfunder, consensus builder, project champion – whatever it takes to get the project off the ground.

There’s a concern that architects give too much away. That the strength of any profession rests on a collective willingness to insist on fees that reflect the importance of the work. And a consensus that clients without the wherewithal to pay should be avoided like the plague. Lawyers, on the other hand, take a very different view. The Law Society asserts that “a robust pro bono programme is a sign of a law firm’s strength” that “justifiably burnishes the institution’s reputation”. Lawyers can afford to be generous. Earnings hover between comfortable and sky high. The Legal Aid Agency ensures that even the most socially minded lawyers are rewarded for the work they do. The state, and by implication the taxpayer, has bought into the belief that legal counsel is not just a commodity for sale but a fundamental human right.

It might seem a stretch to suggest that the state should take the same approach to architectural advice. But it’s hard to name a pressing social issue that couldn’t benefit from architectural expertise. Our building stock needs to be made environmentally efficient and fit for purpose. Marginalised communities are in desperate need of safe environments, sanitation and fresh air. Ailing high streets have an exponential impact on health, wealth and self-worth. Community buildings up and down the country are grappling with the challenge of responding to new expectations around hygiene, ventilation, circulation and personal space.

The Clubhouse shows how a meagre state subsidy can translate into a building that punches far above its weight. But a system that relies on grant funding and goodwill can only ever hope to scratch the surface. Imagine what could be achieved with a state-funded programme of Architectural Aid. End users – individuals, organisations, community groups – would work with architects to identify problems and develop a brief. Architects would then be paid to deliver the standard of service they would afford to any client; to translate the brief into concrete proposals to be implemented directly or used for raising funds.

The taxpayer would benefit from what Buckminster Fuller described as the trim tab effect, a reference to the tiny strip of metal used to turn a rudder, determining the course of enormous ships of state. In the right hands, in the right place, the smallest intervention can have an extraordinary effect.

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