The conservative philosopher who shares Prince Charles’s views on architecture is surely the worst person to head the government’s new commission to improve UK housing
You know the bit in horror movies when everyone relaxes. They think that the zombie/vampire/psychopath/alien is at last dead. But it isn’t. With one more hideous gasp the monster rises up and takes a few more victims down before it is finally, definitely, conclusively polished off. Such is the effect of the news that the philosopher Roger Scruton is to chair the government’s new Building Better, Building Beautiful commission. The stated purpose of the commission is to “tackle the challenge of poor quality design and build of homes and places, across the country and help ensure as we build for the future, we do so with popular consent.” Its chair will in theory wield considerable influence over the built form of the country.
Scruton’s appointment has been met with alarm on two fronts. The first is his record of past remarks on subjects other than architecture – that there is “no such crime” as date rape, that homosexuality is “not normal”, that Islamophobia is “invented” – which have caused MPs to demand his resignation. Luciana Berger, parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement also said he should go, on the basis of remarks that she said reinforced antisemitic conspiracy theories about the philanthropist George Soros.
The second objection came from the architectural world, for whom Scruton represents a throwback to one of the most wearying and sterile phases of British architecture, the style wars that blighted the 1980s. “A tedious hangover”, one called him. For Scruton promotes what he calls “vernacular” architecture – by which he means buildings that follow the details and compositions of past styles – and denigrates “modernism” – by which he means anything that does not. He is entitled to these views, but he pursues them with the dogmatism of which he accuses others.
The reason why this matters is that we have been here before.