Monday 1 September 2008

Draft outlines challenges to planning sector

THE GOVERNMENT is being urged to take a much more pro-active approach to architecture by appointing a State architect to advise on policy and permitting local authorities to hire their own architects.

A draft new policy on architecture, prepared by an advisory group set up by Minister for the Environment John Gormley, is being circulated this week to various departments for comment, prior to a final version going to the Cabinet before Christmas.

The draft seen by The Irish Times sets out more than 60 actions to be taken in the period 2009-2015 to strengthen the State's policy in this area. It would replace Action on Architecture, which was adopted in 2002 but not implemented in many respects.

"A new policy is required because the context for environmental provision has been altered in a profound way", it says. "The process of climate change will bring profound challenges in the production of new buildings and adaption of the existing building stock." It recommends setting up a working group to oversee a major research programme on architecture and the built environment in general, including aspects of the Irish climate that would have an impact on the performance of buildings in the future.

The draft says research is also needed on "sustainable place-making", energy performance and life-cycle costing of new buildings, the environmental performance of high-density housing and the potential for new building systems to deliver higher standards.

"Notwithstanding some significant change in residential construction systems (40 per cent improvement in energy and environmental performance in 2008, with 60 per cent to be reached by 2010), greater change can be expected to follow", it says.

Without specifically noting that many local councils do not employ any architects directly, the draft emphasises that in-house architectural expertise in relevant public authorities "is an essential prerequisite in achieving a good quality built environment".

It suggests that the Government should lead by example and "underline the importance of architectural quality as a cornerstone of national policy" by establishing the office of State architect to oversee implementation of policy and other actions.

It says the Department of the Environment should "require each local authority to submit plans for the provision of in-house architectural services, headed at the level of city or county architect".

The draft seeks to incorporate the life-cycle cost of new buildings in all public procurement, including a "rigorous examination" of their environmental sustainability; until now, public building contracts have usually gone to whoever submits the lowest tender.

Even in the case of public-private partnerships, they recommend that the procurement process should be broadened in scope to allow for architectural competitions, with a view to involving talented young architects in smaller practices.

To promote more public demand for quality buildings, the draft policy document endorses the idea of establishing a centre for architecture - most probably in Dublin - as well as an "architect-in-residence" scheme for primary and post-primary schools.

More emphasis is also put on implementation, to ensure that the latest policy is followed through by Government departments - unlike Action on Architecture, where only about a third of the 29 actions proposed in 2002 were actually implemented.


The Irish Times

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