Central to the debate was what a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ architectural design looked like. Considerations included the resources and labour used for a project; its functional purpose; and whether buildings have a relevant aesthetic value that affects wellbeing and prosperity.

Skene Catling chronicled the changing expectations of architects in the 20th century, as visible in the seminal buildings of this period. The public perception of architects has changed over time, she argued. People are increasingly quick to demonise the architect—without considering the responsibility of their client.

“You can’t protect from the tyranny of taste”

At the same time, many architects are working unconventionally, particularly in impoverished areas. They are listeners and problem-solvers in addition to designers and because of this they must integrate sociology, culture and economics into their design ideas.

Participants included architects, urban planners, developers and academics, who also discussed the moral responsibilities of policy-makers when dealing with the expansion of informal building structures or slum development. The challenge is often passed on to architects. Clearly defined property rights are also important. Legatum Fellow Nicholas Boys Smith surmised that if architecture is to be perceived as ‘moral’, its inhabitants should be happy to be living there.

The discussion was moderated by Hywel Williams, Senior Adviser at the Legatum Institute.


Background Reading

  • A Raked Progress, by Charlotte Skene Catling, April 2015 [PDF]
  • The Naked Truth - Architecture or Revolution, by Charlotte Skene Catling, October 2014 [PDF]
  • Uneven Growth - Tactical Urbanism for Expanding Megacities, by Charlotte Skene Catling, April 2015 [PDF]

About the Speaker

Charlotte Skene Catling, is an architect and Director of Skene Catling de la Peña. She has written about architecture, design and fashion and collaborated with Malcolm McLaren on a number of film scripts and music projects. She has contributed to the Sunday Telegraph, The Burlington magazine, ARCH+ and writes regularly for The Architectural Review.

About the Architecture of Prosperity Series

The Architecture of Prosperity, which forms part of the Legatum Institute's 'The Culture of Prosperity' programme, evaluates the impact of the built environment on human wellbeing and the capacity for creativity. The series of lectures, seminars and conferences address the central question of why some forms of architecture promote prosperity while others are linked to vicious effects.