I’ve searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees.” So said GK Chesterton. I once sat on a committee. We met weekly and nothing ever got done. In the wake of Boris Johnson scrapping the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Advisory Panel, I was fascinated to read about his new Design Advisory Panel (committee by any other name) headed by Lord Rogers – no surprises there, he was part of Ken Livingstone’s earlier group.
Along with Rogers is fellow architect Sunand Passad and Joyce Bridges – with wide experience in urban policy, and chair of yet another committee for English Heritage. Lastly Roger Madelin, ceo of property developers, Argent Group plc. With this group the term ‘design’ is very much architecturally centric. No seeming interest in the wisdom of the digital, graphic, product, motion or engineering communities – important ingredients in the design of our daily life.
Introducing the panel, Johnson said “Great design has been the hallmark of our great city from our historic palaces and squares to our modern offices.” He clearly views design as the built environment too. Are the other components seen as mere decoration?
Keen to know what former London Mayor Ken Livingstone had achieved with his panel, I phoned the Mayor’s office. A bubbly young woman from the ‘cultural desk’ – visions of a Ron Arad construction come to mind – came on the line.
I posed a flurry of questions, two of which seemed a little taxing.
Q: “Could you give me examples of some of the achievements of Mayor Livingstone’s earlier panel?”
A: “Er well, that was before my time, I’ll have to get back to you on that.” q: “I understand that Boris Johnson is very keen on design?’ a: “Oh yes, he is very keen.” q: “Well, I can’t recall any evidence of his passion for design prior to becoming Mayor. Could you perhaps give me a few examples?” a: “Er – not off the top of my head – um, I’ll have to get back to you on that.” I’m still waiting.
It would seem the mofl is the fount of all committees; casino, walking, surface, fraud, refugee etc etc, the list goes on. To complicate matters more, this new Design Advisory Panel will feed into the Design Advisory Forum and will be managed by Design for London, which now sits within the London Development Agency’s Design, Development and Environment Division. Got that? I would hate to be responsible for all the tea and biscuits for that lot.
Most design committees are a recipe for disaster or inactivity, mainly due to not having an overarching design supremo with an in-depth understanding of all design disciplines. These are rare animals, but when they are allowed to function things really blossom. Last month saw the death of the great American designer Lou Dorfsman who presided over all things designed at cbs television for 40 years. He was a master in understanding how creativity, care and consistency can make for a powerful design statement.
We have witnessed the disasters when committees self-destruct under the strain of egos and interference, the Millennium Dome being the prime example, and I have my fears for the Olympics design strategy. So far we have had the embarrassment of the logo, and its accompanying illegible and non-inclusive font, both universally loathed by the design community, but held up by Lord Coe as a shining example of creativity aimed squarely at the hip young. Respect bro’.
So, I will be following the progress of Boris Johnson’s illustrious committee over the coming year, in the hope that when I next speak to my bubbly contact sitting behind her MofL cultural desk, she will have a stream of achievements to report, and that designers from a wider range of disciplines will have been invited for tea and biscuits.