The idea of a celebrity face of architecture is useless as long as our best designers remain outside the planning system

Architecture needs a "Jamie Oliver figure", according to the Farrell Review, a report into the state of the industry that will be presented to ministers in the new year. Architects need "celebrity champions", the review will suggest, to force good design and planning on to the public radar, as well as a London fashion week-style architecture festival in the capital, to bring a touch of glitz and glamour.

The report, led by the designer of the postmodern MI6 headquarters, Terry Farrell, comes after a year that saw the standing of architects plumb new lows. After such crimes against our built environment as an office tower that burns its neighbours with a solar "death ray", and prison-like student flats that look out directly on to a brick wall, architects risk earning the same contempt as bankers and politicians. Rafael Viñoly, maestro of the Walkie-Scorchie "fryscraper", knew his facade would focus the sun's rays into a concentrated beam, but insists he just "didn't realise it was going to be so hot". He blamed the outcome on a combination of too many consultants and global warming. The planning inspector of UCL's Carbuncle Cup-winning student housing block, meanwhile, waved the scheme through, ruling that student lifestyles meant they didn't require much daylight, effectively enshrining students as a subspecies in law.

From grossly oversized towers that loom over their context, swelling to block light and views from their neighbours, to developments that get away with a fraction of the affordable housing quota, all are won on the developers' dark art of commercial "viability". The snake oil spreadsheets that determine when a scheme is "viable" are why, for example, 1,200 predominantly social-rented homes in south London are being replaced with 2,300 flats for mostly private sale on the site of the Heygate estate.

Architects can fret all they like about their public perception, but until our best designers are embedded in the planning system, and the myth of viability demolished, then a celebrity salesman will be as useful as slapping Jamie's honey glaze all over a rotten ham.1

Farrell: ‘As far as I’m concerned, it’s my review, not the government’s’2

21 November, 2013 | By Max Thompson

Terry Farrell has warned the government that his review into architecture may make for ‘unpleasant reading’, in an exclusive interview

Industry needs its own Jamie Oliver, Farrell Review will say3 

20 December 2013 | By Elizabeth Hopkirk

The report will also warn that Britain risks losing a generation of architects to other countries unless the gap is narrowed between training costs and fees earnt by the profession. The recommendation is likely to centre around educational reform, possibly with the introduction of apprenticeships or foundation courses.

Philip Marsh, director at Architect of the Year de Rijke Marsh Morgan, welcomed the initial findings, saying: “The statement that London is the architecture capital of the world is certainly true and anything we can do to promote it is fantastic.”

Rob Gregory, programme manager of the Architecture Centre in Bristol, also welcomed the report, saying it was good news for architecture centres which could have a role in bridging the identified skills gaps.

But heads of schools, including Flora Samuel at Sheffield and Matt Gaskin at Oxford Brookes, criticised the review for its lack of emphasis on research and innovation and said “academia is only sketchily represented”.

Samuel said: “One of the fundamental problems in architecture is we have a very limited research culture. We are unable therefore to provide any substantive evidence that we are of any use whatsoever.”

Over the course of the year the panel met senior politicians from all parties, civil servants, academics, the chief construction adviser and the leaders of several other reviews such as Lord Taylor and Andy von Bradsky. It also ran workshops at architecture centres around the country.

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