Room for more integration of design and architecture

Lynda Relph-Knight

Could these be anything other than architects? observed the Brazilian cultural attaché as he surveyed the room at the Royal Institute of British Architects’ dinner to bestow the Royal Gold Medal on Ted Cullinan earlier this month.

Cullinan was a popular choice for this well-deserved honour and the profession had turned out in their finery to celebrate the award. Needless to say, basic black prevailed, enriched only by the odd flash of colour or alternative style sported by the handful of non-architects present, including design’s own Thomas Heatherwick, who received an honorary RIBA fellowship that night.

Of course, the attaché could have made a similar observation at a designers’ gathering. The odd touch of flamboyance apart, there tends to be a uniformity to the industry’s more casual style. But there is a perceived difference between architects and designers and this was recognised last week by the Arts Council when it agreed £90 000 funding for the 2008 London Festival of Architecture.

The fund the cash comes from is related to the arts, while design’s equivalent venture, the London Design Festival, owes much of its income to the London Development Agency. London mayor Ken Livingstone said at the launch of last year’s LDF that he wanted the capital to be viewed as much as a cultural hub as a world financial centre, which inevitably links design with commerce, attracting inward investment and tourism as well as promoting UK design.

It is great that both ventures have secured the financial support and recognition they deserve. The month-long architectural festival in particular promises to raise public awareness of architecture’s role in improving London. But it is interesting, nevertheless, to see backing coming from such different camps.

There is surely scope for architecture and design to integrate more. After all, designers are invariably involved in enhancing our experience of the buildings architects produce – and of dealing with the spaces in between.

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