A. W. N. Pugin's highly influential Contrasts, published at the tail end of the Georgian era in 1836, uses paired illustrations to demonstrate what he saw as a descent into degenerate design. It was also a manifesto for a return to proper, honest design, rooted in moral principles. In the run-up to the General Election on 6 May, we offer our own series of paired illustrations to show how design quality in the public realm has fallen off alarmingly; it is an indictment of recent practice, but also shows the huge opportunities for improvement. Civic space has been badly degraded, with a whole range of negative consequences that go far beyond aesthetics. The second decade of the twenty-first century should be a time when, individually and collectively, we get a grip on the design, management and maintenance of shared urban space.
Left: Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's K2 telephone kiosk for the GPO, 1920s. Every detail carefully considered. Note the fluted door surround, the Crown perforated for ventilation and the domed roof based on the tomb of Sir John Soane.
Right: No known designer. The modern telephone kiosk is essentially a pre-vandalised product, but graffiti artists and flyposters can still leave their mark. These models have been made largely redundant by the widespread use of mobiles; newer versions are actually advertising hoardings with a token handset attached and should not be classified as permitted development, under which utility companies can circumvent normal planning rules.