Nitin Bhasin

Upon Nitin’s concluding talk of the Autumn series the Trust hopes to establish a panel discussion, to open the idea for the development of a town plan – but in taking this forward we now look to you – our members and residents of the town. We have hopefully initiated an open and ongoing dialogue.

Nitin Bhasin concluded the first series of Trust Talks appropriately by opening his talk to a lively discussion with the audience. Nitin is currently working on projects that create a framework to support better design in Cornwall and has been responsible for establishing and running the Cornwall Design Review Panel[i]. The purpose of the Panel is to encourage design excellence in both the public and private sectors. Its role is to review development proposals within Cornwall and provide constructive criticism.

Nitin began by stating an objective to promote design and better quality building, Planning has been seen as an obstacle and Localism is intended to be enabling, informing and encouraging participation.

The speaker invited the audience to think about design firstly in terms of their own personal choices and invited the speculation; how does the Council develop rules on an even platform that does not engender uniform and disinterested design. The challenge: to raise quality in setting policy and guidance and find universal principles.

Video: Nitin addresses another well attended Talk at the Guildhall, in the ‘Plan for St. Ives’ series.

Nitin illustrated the guidance originally published originally by CABE[ii] (which merged with the Design Council in 2011). The publication ‘Building for Life 12’[iii], asks broad questions applied at various scales, though he cautioned this should not be applied as a tick box panacea but a prompt to ask the right questions to instigate an appropriate design approach.

‘Building for Life 12’ invites twelve questions within three categories that are divided:

I) Integration II) Creating a Place  III) Street and Home. This is being developed and adapted for the current Cornwall Council Design Guide with the additional categories: Architectural Integrity and Sustainability.

Nitin Bhasin suggested ‘character and context’ are tricky to understand and initiated a discussion giving examples of houses recently built that refer to vernacular types. Showing how buildings readily translate into pastiches with disregard to the context they sit in. Then discussed the problem of the inflexibility of volume house building that revolves around fixed costs derived from standard units (to keep costs low). This is currently being addressed by Cornwall Council through introducing guide lines to improve quality including setting minimum space standards for inside and out.

A scheme, he suggested, cannot be successful if it does not address context, though context is not subjective there is no singular prescribed way to address context. So how can a building address the recognised context; if the design is of similar form, materials and scale – it risks becoming a pastiche of the context. These questions sparked a lively discussion with the audience. Nitin suggested that design guidance is not intended to describe the building; it is an open platform for discussion and not a prescription. The audience discussion that had been initiated opened into a thoughtful debate of the architectural character of St Ives. Observations were offered that the Victorian buildings that predominate the town in their time would have been seen at complete odds with the traditional Cornish vernacular and disruptive of the townscape.

There were many useful contributions from the audience: building is about budget and design guidance cannot impose more cost – in brief the speaker responded that good layout and correct specification of materials wouldn’t cost more. In the long run getting design wrong costs more – buildings have to be useful and useable. Another audience contribution offered that need had to be established for any hope of buildings becoming useful and useable. A final audience contribution offered that there are a lot of positive things happening within the town, these should be talked up and encouraged to become a platform to launch larger initiatives.

Nitin Bhasin concluded his talk, leaving the audience to continue the lively discussion.


[ii] Council for Architecture and the Built Environment


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