Chester Design Debate 2014

The Chester Design Debate was held in the Molloy building at University of Chester on
6th February 2014. The debate was organised by the Cheshire Society of Architects and the Chester Civic Trust.

Please click on the photographs if you wish to see an enlargement.

The Seven PanellistsThe event was a ‘Question Time’ style of debate with an invited panel and public audience. The panellists were:
Stephen Mosley MP Member of Parliament for Chester.
Cllr. Mike Jones Leader of Cheshire West & Chester Council..
Cllr. Carolyn Graham Design Champion, Cheshire West & Chester Council. Phil Mayall Development Director, Muse Developments.
Stephen Langtree MBE Vice – President, Chester Civic Trust.
Stephen Hodder MBE President, Royal Institute of British Architects.

Design Debate PanelThe back ground to the debate was expressed in the following Point of View:
Chester is extremely fortunate to have so many buildings, structures and artefacts from nearly every period of its 2000-year history. Some are very obviously typical of their time, but we also have many stunning works of deception!; the neo-Classical theme of the late 18th century, the exuberant mock-Tudor of the 19th century and even the fake ‘warehouses’ of the late 20th century – apartments, of course!

View from the AuditoriumIt’s hard to say when fashion began to rival the mere functionality of buildings, but for the last 300 years Chester has produced an abundance of architectural styles which very often disguise the purpose and provenance of the structures within.

 

Panel as seen by audienceBy the 1960s whimsical pastiche and facadism were temporarily banished by bare concrete and steel or aluminium and glass. This architecture was certainly ’true to its time’ but only some was successful. The backlash was a very necessary and effective focus on conservation, and then ‘safe’ heritage-style architecture which strayed back towards pastiche without quite getting it right.

Question TimeThen, sometime in the 1990s Chester began to “lose the plot”; many of our new buildings were neither one thing nor the other. A more generous interpretation might be that most new buildings since the mid ‘90s have been relatively harmless, but there have been several occasions on which the planners have ‘taken their eyes off the ball’ with quite disastrous consequences. Whichever is true, the past 20 years or so have produced some good design in small doses but will be remembered for overwhelming mediocrity which leaves Chester with little to admire from recent times.

Panellists at Question TimeWe can but hope for better things to come: more imaginative clients, more adventurous architects, more enlightened public opinion and much more resolute development control. The policies, the guidance notes, examples of best practice and high expectations are all there for the taking.
Stephen Langtree
Vice President Chester Civic Trust January 2014