You would expect Sir John Sorrell to rally an audience into positive action in the face of economic adversity. He has, after all, the optimism innate in designers and has gone on record with his belief that creativity thrives in tough times.
But his valedictory speech on Monday evening, after five years as chairman of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, raised that optimism to new levels. Taking ‘delight’ as his theme, in the context of ‘architecture in adversity’, he challenged architects – arguably the most conservative profession within the creative industries – to resign jobs rather than settle for mediocrity in their design, and urged them particularly to side against mooted curbs in the Government’s school-building programme.
Sorrell is no idle ranter. He speaks from the experience of running a successful design business through several recessions before setting up The Sorrell Foundation with his wife Frances. Through the work of the foundation they have witnessed the parlous state of many UK schools and, through his role at Cabe, he understands the built environment well.
But the Sorrells’ experience goes back further than that – to their teenage years when Saturday art classes enabled them both to identify graphic design as a career. And it is this opportunity that they wish to afford today’s youth through the National Art and Design Saturday Club (see www.designweek.co.uk, 17 November).
The Sorrell initiative is reserved for teenagers, but it has a resonance within design. It coincides with calls from Glenn Tutssel, at D&AD’s Xchange seminar for college tutors in September, and from John Davison of digital group Kanoti, in last week’s Wired Sussex debate Digital by Design/ Create & Debate, for undergraduates to be taught craft skills like drawing and typography.
Such moves could provide fulfilment for the young, as classes did for the Sorrells. But they could also boost standards in creative work across all areas of design and should be supported.