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Central Saint Martins

Photograph of a brick building

Fundamentals: Beauty

24 January–21 February 2019

A series of public debates chaired by Oliver Wainwright for Spatial Practices, Central Saint Martins.

Beauty is back. The government’s “Building Better, Building Beautiful” commission has been established to put beauty at the top of the agenda: it hopes to reduce opposition to development by making new housing more amenable to public taste. But whose idea of beauty are they talking about? Is there a general public consensus on what is beautiful? Are architects disengaged from popular taste? And can the planning system possibly hope to regulate beauty? The third and final Fundamentals debate series tackled these questions and will present its findings to the government commission.

Previous debates

The Public | Thursday 24 January

What do the people want?

The government says it wants to make new developments more beautiful – but beautiful to whom? One person’s masterpiece is another person’s carbuncle. Are aesthetic judgements totally subjective, or is there a broad public consensus on what constitutes beauty in the built environment? If so, how can we determine what the public actually wants? Is it the house builders’ role to channel a popular idea of beauty, or to set the agenda themselves?

Liza Fior – Muf Architecture/Art
Deborah Garvie – Policy Manager, Shelter
Neil Pinder – Design & Technology teacher, Graveney School
Sir Roger Scruton – Chair, Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission
Andrew Whitaker – Planning Director, Home Builders Federation


The Architects | Thursday 7 February

Is the profession detached from popular taste?

Beauty, style and taste have long been taboo in architecture, as if the appearance of a building is merely the byproduct of higher, more noble aims. Few students would dare to defend their design on the grounds that it is beautiful. After the “mods v trads” style wars of the 1980s and 1990s, are we living in post-style epoch where anything goes, or is there a basic grammar that architects should follow? Is there a gulf between the profession and popular taste – and, if so, how do we bridge the gap?

Lara Lesmes – Space Popular
Patrick Lynch – Lynch Architects
Kate Macintosh – Former architect for Southwark, Lambeth, East Sussex and Hampshire
Ben Pentreath – Ben Pentreath Architecture, Materplanning and Interiors
Diana Yu – Adam Architecture

The Planners | Thursday 21 February

Can we regulate beauty?

The planning system is the chief mechanism for reconciling developers’ ambitions with the public interest. If the government wants new development to be more beautiful in the public’s eyes, how can the planning system help? Is there an obsession with new developments being “in-keeping” at the expense of them being good? Does the current apparatus of planning regulations, conservation areas, design guides and protected views serve its purpose, or do we need to rethink the way that beauty is assessed and regulated?

Nicholas Boys Smith – Create Streets
Alpa Depani – Architect and Public Practice associate, London Borough of Sutton
Deirdra Armsby, Director of Planning at City of Westminster
Grayson Perry – Artist
Amin Taha – Amin Taha Architects