UK architects celebrate sacking of Roger Scruton as housing design champion

UK architects have applauded the sacking this week of conservative writer and philosopher Sir Roger Scruton (pictured) from a government housing-design commission following his comments to a magazine that were deemed racist.

Past and current presidents of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the director of the London Festival of Architecture, and a number of heads of notable practices celebrated Scruton’s sudden dismissal as unpaid chair of the "Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission" after comments made to the New Statesman, published Tuesday, resulted in a blizzard of condemnation.

In a condensed account of a wide-ranging interview with the magazine’s deputy editor George Eaton, Scruton is recorded as defending Hungarian president Victor Orbán from accusations of anti-semitism and Islamophobia, amid what he called "the sudden invasion of huge tribes of Muslims".

He is also recorded as referring to a "Soros empire" in Hungary, meaning the investments and influence of the Jewish investor and philanthropist, George Soros.

Commenting on the rise of China, Scruton said the Chinese government was "creating robots out of their own people", saying "each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing".

Scruton also dismissed the word "Islamophobia" as a term "invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue".

Eaton later tweeted that the comments were anti-semitic and racist.

In a rebuttal published in The Spectator yesterday, Scruton dismissed the accusations as "an unscrupulous collection of out of context remarks".

Within hours of the article’s appearance online, UK Communities Secretary James Brokenshire fired Scruton from the "Building Beautiful" commission, while a spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May told the BBC the comments were "deeply offensive, completely unacceptable and it’s right that he’s been dismissed".

Critical of Modernist architecture, Scruton was appointed to the commission in November 2018 to press for housing designs that respect "the integrity of our existing towns, villages and cities" with a view to reducing local opposition to proposed developments, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government said at the time.

A speech Scruton gave that same month promoting traditional design drew criticism from the UK architectural community, as Architects’ Journal (AJ) reported.

Some of his critics at that time applauded his firing yesterday.

They include serving RIBA president Ben Derbyshire, who told AJ: "Roger Scruton’s comments were completely unacceptable and it was right for the government to dismiss him as chairman of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission. 

"At RIBA we also argue for better building quality but our doubts about the impartiality of this commission were clearly justified. Time and effort has been wasted and we should now move on from stylistic obsessions to the issues that lie at the heart of solving the housing crisis."

Tamsie Thomson, director of the London Festival of Architecture, called Scruton’s appointment "ludicrous" in the first place.

"Time-wasting and division seems to be the Government’s stock in trade, and it was entirely foreseeable that the ludicrous appointment of Roger Scruton would end badly," she said, according to AJ.

"Our housing crisis is very real and very pressing, and the Building Better Building Beautiful agenda was flawed from the outset thanks to its narrow focus on subjective notions of beauty."

Former RIBA president Angela Brady told AJ: "May Scruton’s replacement be a knowledgeable competent architect with housing expertise, who champions new ways of providing a rich and diverse choice of housing options and who encourages innovation and creativity in great design and place making."

She added: "Time to get someone who can really make a difference."

  • Updated 12 April to include Roger Scruton’s response

Image: Sir Roger Scruton giving a lecture in Budapest, Hungary, 19 September 2016 (Elekes Andor/CC BY-SA 4.0)

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