A hot summer and a dream project - a fantasy too far?
In London we had balmy weather. Schools were out and everyone had gone - except the few who resisted the supposed escape to ever more densely populated locations to remain in town, where we enjoyed the dizzying effects that the heatwave had on our lives: strange happenings reshaping projects.
At feasibility, the specialist surveyor advised that we had no need to concern ourselves with adjacent walls and windows.
'After all, ' she remarked, 'there is no sensible reason why one small window burrowed in a basement should shape adjacent sites in perpetuity. It's ridiculous, no one reads The Times by candlelight!' Her anger grew on mention of neighbouring walls: 'Nonsense, no one should be held to ransom in a partywall city.' The planning adviser then confirmed it was now accepted that 'daylight factors', privacy and overlooking issues were an unnecessary constraint on essential densification. He quoted the recent remark of the chair of a planning committee, responding to protesting local residents: 'If you think you're overlooked, pull the curtain; if you want less parking in the street, get rid of your own car.
Don't dictate to others.' In conclusion, he pointed out: 'Everyone is consulted as part of the democratic planning procedure, so don't over-consult. Fear of the new makes people irrational and emotional. All planning committees accept this, that is why they listen to the advice of their paid officers.' And thus it carried on. The statutory authorities responded swiftly to the team's enquiries. 'There is no need for a substation.
Why should you pay to upgrade our network?
We're not a monopoly.' Building control was more than helpful: 'We all want to move things forward - we're not afraid of new materials and ideas. Think of us as members of the team. We know the planners, we work next door, so if you need us to help chivvy them along, we'd be delighted.' There was no need. The planning, design and conservation officers liked the scheme that dwarfed its 'outdated' neighbours.
Their parting shot was: 'You're the skilled designers, we're only here to comment on the really shocking amateur submissions.' Of the Urban Development Plan's insistence on the uses of yesteryear, they joked in unison: 'If we looked at that outdated political document we'd get nothing through, and what did pass wouldn't be built because no one could fund it. Anyway, you're delivering a great building, 35 per cent affordable housing and an improved public realm, so we see no need for Section 106 payments.' The building contract was agreed on a handshake last summer and completion was achieved in 12 months. As is the way, the building was not quite on time or budget: practical completion was three weeks early and some unspent contingency was retained. As the site agent remarked:
'We can play games, but what's the point?
We know the pressure everyone is under.
We're paid a large amount of money to manage the subcontractor process, not to invent unrealistic programmes for information flow.' All this is not actually as envisioned in a Carlsberg advert. ('We don't run an architectural practice but if we did it would probably be the best in the world.') Fantasy summer? Fantasy architecture? Well, yes and no. I have actually experienced all the above during recent summers, which has left me wondering what the dream project would be like and whether the lack of pressure would ultimately aid the process. If everyone else could change, could we? Would it make for better architecture? Perhaps we have been trained as guerrillas for too long.