Recent suggestions that at least one chamber of the British Parliament might relocate to York, either temporarily during refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster or even permanently, prompted us to call for the highest standards of contemporary architecture in any new legislative bulding. Our President, Lord Foster of Thames Bank, wrote to The Times to that effect, leading to an invitation from Make it York, a local business group, to inspect the most likely location, an 111-acre brownfield development site (known as York Central) adjacent to York railway station.
The coronavirus pandemic has since forced a fundamental reappraisal of plans for the Palace of Westminster, calling into question consequential moves such as relocation to York, but the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust remains committed to helping find the best design solution for whatever route is eventually chosen. To this end it welcomes to the opportunity to work with local organisations from the public and voluntary sectors and with philanthropists such as Hamish Ogston CBE, who privately funded a report on options for the York Central development site. Kirsten England, Chief Executive of the City of York (2009-2015) notes that as a result of the report “the City of York took the decision, during the break up of regional development agencies, to acquire a key parcel of land within the site…and position York Central as a pivotal project for the nation”.
For the whole of what might be called the ‘short’ Twentieth Century, from the aftermath of the Great War to the eve of the Third Millennium, the finest architects and designers in Britain applied their minds, through the medium of the Royal Fine Art Commission, to improving the quality of the built environment. From Edwin Lutyens, Henry Moore and John Piper to Elisabeth Frink, Hugh Casson and Nikolaus Pevsner, those who contributed form a roll-call of our greatest practitioners and critics. Together they put in hour after unglamorous hour analysing the design of buildings, street furniture, roads and bridges, not in expectation of reward but out of conviction that ordinary men and women who encountered these designs in their daily lives deserved the best. It is a remarkable story of civic duty performed freely in the public interest, against the background of high politics, difficult personalities and the physical disruption wrought by wars, the motor car and advances in technology. The Commission’s intervention was decisive in giving us some of our modern icons – the red telephone box, Coventry Cathedral and Bankside Power Station, now Tate Modern – but much of its work lay in painstaking graft that was under-appreciated in its time. This volume, making extensive use of Government papers, puts that work in its historical perspective and pays due tribute to the people who made it possible.
The Duke of York has accepted an invitation to become our Patron, in succession to the late Lord Carrington, K.G.
To mark the association, His Royal Highness has contributed a foreword to our new publication Design Champion, a history of The Royal Fine Art Commission and its role in encouraging good design in the twentieth century.
The Duke of York writes that “the care shown by the Royal Fine Art Commission had its roots in the work of Prince Albert, my great-great-great-grandfather, who chaired its nineteenth century predecessor. His aesthetic sense, insistence on the highest standards and attention to detail inspire me today. I am proud to become Patron of The Royal Fine Art Commission Trust in 2019, as we mark the bicentenary of the birth of Prince Albert, at a time when there is a resurgence of interest in the need for beauty in our environment.”
Stephen Bayley, who succeeds Lord Palumbo of Walbrook as our chairman, adds that: “We are delighted to be working with The Duke of York to spread awareness of how well-designed buildings and places benefit everyone. And RFACT is not afraid to discuss beauty. The more so since there is a growing disparity between the levels of beauty in rich and poor areas: because aesthetic deprivation cannot be quantified does not mean it does not exist. We believe that better design is good for the spirit, the culture and the economy. We will do what we can to ensure that is understood, appreciated and acted upon wherever possible.”
Lord Foster of Thames Bank O.M. has been appointed President of the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust, with effect from 15 January 2018.
Announcing the appointment, the charity’s Chairman, Lord Palumbo, said:
“We are delighted that Norman Foster has agreed to serve as our President. Britain’s most eminent architect, renowned across the world as a master of his profession, he combines huge accomplishments with a laser-sharp strategic vision of how our cities should develop. We look forward to working with him to help ensure that the good design is seen across the country, especially in the context of the Northern Powerhouse, as something that both creates and enhances economic growth”.
Lord Foster took the opportunity of the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust’s annual lecture in Manchester just over a year ago to argue that the cities of the north could once again drive growth and innovation in Britain, but were being hampered by short-sighted planning strategies. “It is ironic”, he said, “that one of our prime exports – design and engineering skills – continues to fuel investment and growth globally, while being restricted by indecision and short-termism in the UK.” He challenged decision-makers to rediscover the traditions of intelligent design, innovation and civic pride that had provided a blueprint for growth in the rest of the world.
Lord Foster’s predecessor as President of the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust, The Rt. Hon. Lord Carrington K.G., G.C.M.G., C.H., M.C., has been appointed the charity’s first Patron.
The architect Sir Terry Farrell and Dr. Maria Balshaw C.B.E., Director of the Tate Galleries, have been appointed to the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust’s Advisory Board for three-year terms beginning on 1 January 2018.
Our 2017 Architectural Drawing Summer School, held in Somerset in association with Kingston School of Art and Drawing Matter Trust, gave a talented group of 17 year olds from across the country an intensive, hands-on introduction to the art of drawing.
Taught by Professor Andrew Clancy, Bushra Mohamed and Nana Biamah-Ofosu from Kingston and Niall Hobhouse from Drawing Matter Trust, the course (funded by the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust) was offered free to students between the first and second year of A Levels and nominated by their schools. Sixteen students – about 60% girls and coming from a mix of comprehensive and grammar schools and sixth-form colleges – were selected on merit from over fifty applications.
Students were accommodated in Vicars’ Close, Wells, the only intact mediaeval street surviving in England, from where they enjoyed privileged access to Wells Cathedral and other historic buildings.