I'm probably behind the rest of the world on this one, but a couple of weeks ago on the way to the Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam, I stumbled across Funenpark, a relatively new residential quarter between Amsterdam Centraal and the architects honeypot that is the area around Reitlandpark and Ijburg.
It's conceived of as a wall of accommodation protecting an inner zone composed of object buildings which form their own context, protected by this ambitiously scaled outer skin. It's a scheme worthy of a little post in its own right and, if you're interested, here are a few of the photos I took there, but what it got me thinking about most was how and why it could never be built in th UK.
One of the most infuriating conversations I have repeatedly with Planning Officers in the UK regards 'breaking down the mass'. Mass is evil and it's rising tide must be stemmed, or so one understands from conversation with officers here. These diagrams on the masterplanners website make a cogent and intelligent case for the necessity of a mss-ive building here. I wince at the idea of trying to introduce a continuous facade treatment spanning 200 metres or more like this one to a case officer. The mass might crush them.
But sometimes mass is good right? The monolithic facades and repetitive windows of Liverpool's dock buildings is now central to the realisation of a high value, highly desirable residential type across not just that city but many others around the world.
So why is mass bad? I think it is because of all the many and varied facets of architectural design, mass can be measured.
UK planning professionals are not required to have any design training, but yet are expected to assess abstract notions of architectural quality or appropriateness. 'Mass' or at least the application of a recognisable integer of development from the buildings next door is something you can measure with a stick. Most civil service jobs consist of the application of a fixed compendium of criteria to a given situation to judge its appropriateness, quality or fundability. This is why specific training to job roles is not necessarily a prerequisite for most civil service jobs. However, our planning officers are regularly faced with criteria less prosaic than 'How many beds should be funded for this hospital ward?' They are told that developments should be of 'appropriate scale' and of 'high design quality'. How can they apply the policy if they don't have any training in what the policy means?
Even the football has full time professional referees, why can't we have trained planning officers?