Guardain – from Interview with him and his partners
The idea of the city has preoccupied much of Rogers’ life as an architect and, in later years, a politician. He was chairman of the Urban Taskforce from 1998-2005, championing high-density cities; brownfield not greenfield for building. The taskforce was appointed by then deputy prime minister John Prescott, about whom Rogers has nothing but good to say. “Contrary to what everyone believed, I thought Prescott was a good minister, because he concentrated, and stuck around, and had a certain flair. It was a very important part of my life.” The question of “how one builds at the density required of a city centre, and still achieves the right feel at the street scale”, as Harbour puts it, is of urgent concern, they argue. “It’s about humane scale in intensified development,” adds Stirk. “It’s about concentrating, rather than spreading,” says Harbour. “You need good design to solve the problems of dense spaces.”
Which is why Rogers has been speaking in the Lords about the government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework. He agrees that the planning laws are due for rationalisation. But he fears the proposed reforms will loosen planning regulations too much: we could end up “like the south of France or the southern coast of Spain, with the whole south-east peppered with buildings”. He agrees with the National Trust’s campaign against the reforms, but from the other end of the argument – their potential effect on cities and towns, rather than just on the countryside. Cities that sprawl lose energy, he says. It’s not so long ago, he warns, that post-industrial city centres, such as Manchester’s, were bleak places, more or less uninhabited. Drawing residents back to the heart of cities has made them more attractive, safer, livelier. Intelligent density is the answer, with old and new buildings cohabiting gracefully, argue the architects. “Cities are about juxtaposition,” says Rogers. “In Florence, classical buildings sit against medieval buildings. It’s that contrast we like.” Harbour adds: “In Bordeaux we built law courts right next door to what is effectively a listed historic building, and that makes it exciting. Can you imagine that in London?” There is some hope that the government will change its position – the MPs of the communities and local government committee have urged ministers, in a report published before Christmas, to drop the notion of the default “yes” to development. But the battle is not yet won, and Rogers will continue to campaign from the Lords.