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Architecture’s Style Wars

The Folly of the U.K.’s New Architectural Style Wars

The U.K.’s new housing czar Sir Roger Scruton thinks traditional architecture can foil NIMBYs. But architecture didn’t cause Britain’s housing crisis.  

CityLab, Nov. 30, 2018

Earlier this month, the U.K.’s Conservative government launched a new commission on architecture called “Building Better, Building Beautiful.” Announced by Secretary for Housing and Communities James Brokenshire (yes, his real name), the group is meant to draft guidelines to “tackle the challenge of poor quality design and [construction]” in real-estate projects so that they earn “popular consent.” The idea is that if the outward look of new development is more to people’s liking, they will be less inclined to turn NIMBY and oppose it.

The birth of yet another “quango,” as such paper-pushing bodies are known in the U.K., might have gone unnoticed as the deadline for Brexit approaches. But one thing has provoked controversy: the appointment of conservative philosopher and author Sir Roger Scruton as the unpaid head of the commission.

Scruton is a well-known public intellectual in the U.K., who has written books on wine, music, and architecture as well as philosophy and makes regular appearances on the BBC. (He is also a favorite of the right-wing internet.) In the wake of the announcement, media outlets reported that he had previously called Islamophobia “a wholly imaginary enemy,” date rape and sexual harassment made-up, Hungarian Jews “part of … the Soros Empire,” and homosexuality “not normal”—the last in a 2007 article that argued against gay adoption. Labour members of Parliament then demanded that Prime Minister Teresa May remove him from his post. (She did not.)

Architects and architecture writers piled on with their own criticisms. One objected to the “narrow and predictable terms” in which Scruton, an arch-traditionalist, defines beauty. Another called the philosopher a “ludicrous curmudgeon.”

But there are bigger problems with Scruton and this commission than his personal preference for Georgian and Victorian architecture, or even the offense caused by his comments. (Scruton maintains his remark on Hungarian Jews was taken out of context.)

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