Roger Scruton talks at Central Saint Martins 
Roger Scruton made the comments in a talk at Central Saint Martins

Grenfell Tower fire wouldn't have happened "if it hadn't been so ugly" says Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton, chair of the UK government's Building Better Building Beautiful Commission, says that bad design was behind the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people.

Taking part in a debate about Beauty at Central Saint Martins on 24 January, the philosopher suggested that the recladding of Grenfell Tower, which contributed to the spread of the fire, would not have been needed if the building was better looking to begin with.

"If it hadn't been so ugly to begin with, the whole problem would never have happened," said Scruton, as reported in the Evening Standard.

Cladding "ugly" concrete caused fire says Scruton

Grenfell Tower had originally been designed to contain fires in individual flats, but had cladding and insulation added in a £9.2 million refurbishment, which is suspected of helping the flames spread to all four sides of the building.

Grenfell Tower fire
The Grenfell Tower fire wouldn't have happened if the building wasn't ugly to begin with, said Scruton

Since the disaster, council planners revealed the cladding was added to make the social housing block more appealing to the area's other residents.

A report prepared by fire-safety experts as part of an inquiry into the tragedy said that the fire would not have spread if the tower had remained unaltered.

"I'm here to make it look like something is being done"

Scruton was appointed chair of the government's Building Better Building Beautiful Commission at the end of 2018. The commission's role is to "advocate for beauty in the built environment".

A writer by profession, Scruton has been vocal in his dislike of post-war buildings like Grenfell Tower. In a recent talk he described them as "ugly deposits of concrete and steel" that symbolised "a nation that had celebrated its victory over Hitler by committing aesthetic suicide".

He instead champions traditional architecture. However, he revealed at the talk that his role could be purely ornamental, with little impact on the UK's new architecture.

"I'm here in order to make it look like something is being done," he said, according to the Architects' Journal.

Government wants new-build homes to be popular

Shortly after Scruton made the comments, think-tank Policy Exchange published a collection of essays on the "design, style and economics of the built environment". Its aim was to advise the commission.

Government housing minister Kit Malthouse, who established the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission, wrote the foreword for the publication.

He said that government's goal is to deliver new homes that the British public find appealing.

"My biggest challenge by far as housing minister will be convincing the British people that the land needed to solve the national housing crisis lies in their suburbs, villages, cities and towns,"Malthouse said.

Roger Scruton at Policy Exchange, November 2018
Roger Scruton previously described post war UK housing as "ugly deposits of concrete"

Developments that get design right, he argued, will be the only way to get people to "lay down their petitions and placards."

"The only way we stand a chance of winning their support for this output is if they like what we build – beautiful buildings gather support; blank ubiquity garners protest and resentment," he added.

When the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission first launch, it prompted a huge backlash from British architects.

Writing for Dezeen, Sam Jacob said that the commission was  a "front for the continuing attack on progressive ideas" from Britain's Conservative party, while Charles Holland described it as "a tedious hangover from the 1980s".

Main photo is by Andreas Lang.