Roger Scruton at Policy Exchange, November 2018

Roger Scruton calls for "necessary change of culture" in UK architecture

Roger Scruton, chair of the UK government's Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, has called on architects to reject modernism in order to save cities.

In his speech for the inaugural Colin Amery memorial lecture, Scruton said that a "necessary change of culture in the architectural and building professions" could not happen without a re-evaluation of aesthetic values.

Scruton, a philosopher, told the audience at centre-right think tank Policy Exchange that architects and developers were "destroying our city centres, and drowning us in junk".

Norman Foster designs "alien" buildings

Post-war development, of the kind that saw cities around Britain "obliterated by ugly deposits of concrete and steel", were the result of "a nation that had celebrated its victory over Hitler by committing aesthetic suicide", he said.

He lambasted recent urban architecture, particularly the work of Norman Foster. He said London's Foster-designed City Hall was an "alien object" of the type that makes "people flee to the suburbs". Foster + Partners' Sage Gateshead music centre in Newcastle was a "great anti-urban bubble", said Scruton.

Facade elements, such as cornices, columns and pilasters should be prioritised over the "jutting and obtrusive corners" of modernist buildings, or the "anti-urban nature" of skyscrapers with glass curtain walls.

"Obstinate" architects should heed Prince Charles

"It is only the obstinate prejudice of the architectural profession that has prevented the templates established by the Prince's [Regeneration] Trust from being widely adopted by the housing market," said Scruton.

The Prince's Regeneration Trust, a charity presided over by heir to the British throne Prince Charles, was merged into the The Prince's Foundation in 2018. Its focus is on heritage-led regeneration in deprived areas.

Prince Charles, who once infamously described ABK Architects' proposed National Gallery extension as "a monstrous carbuncle", laid out his 10 principles for urban design in 2014. In an accompanying essay, he implored architects to "reconnect with traditional approaches and techniques".

"Build as our Georgian and Victorian forebears built"

Scruton echoed the Prince in his lecture, where he suggested the way forward for architecture in the UK was a return to traditional design principles.

"Just suppose that we revived that vernacular architecture, by which the high rhetoric of the classical orders was brought down to earth in ordinary repeatable prose," he said. "We should then build as our Georgian and Victorian forebears built."

"All objections to new building would slip away in the sheer relief of the public," Scruton added.

Earlier this year, Scruton co-authored a report for Policy Exchange that, he claimed, found "support for traditional design in building is highest among the lower-income groups".

Scruton dismisses critics as "half-educated"

The Building Better, Building Beautiful commission has promised to improve the design quality of homes and places.

The appointment of Scruton, who has long been outspoken in his dislike of contemporary architecture, as chair prompted a backlash.

Several architects and critics accused him of reigniting the "architectural culture war of the 1980s", whilst Labour MPs called for Scruton's removal over alleged antisemitic, homophobic and sexist comments.

Scruton hit back at his critics at the talk, saying he hadn't had time to start work on the commission because he had been "interrupted by the half-educated having their say first".

He acknowledged that he had been making the same argument – against modernist architecture and long-dead architects such as Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier – for some time.

"It's right to flog a dead horse sometimes, when the previous flogging has not annihilated it," he said.

Main image courtesy of Policy Exchange.