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Architects not always up the right street in Tower Hamlets


The Architecture Foundation's second roadshow had its moment of truth this week when residents had their say on what the designers had proposed for their communities. It was not all praise.

The public meeting, Up Your Street, brought residents together with the architects working in Tower Hamlets since last October. These included Penoyre & Prasad, Adams and Sutherland Architects, De Rijke Marsh Morgan and Kinnear Landscape Architects on projects such as improving pedestrian and traffic access and security in areas including Whitechapel Road, Wellington Estate and parts of Shadwell. The architects relied on heavy resident input to come up with joint visions for under-used or abused areas.

Richard Rogers, the foundation's chairman, said: 'If I can think of one bitching point since I've started architecture, it is the importance of participation, social inclusion, quality of design and environmental impact, rather than quantity and paternalism.'

Richard Burdett of the London School of Economics spoke of the 'two diametrically opposed aspects of cities: fear, lack of schools and facilities, opposing the great potential for intensity and conflict which you don't necessarily get from a Bovis development.'

A few locals voiced concern about drawing more people into their areas and losing community spirit. Resident Tom Geoghegan, an installation artist who publicised the event by hanging from buildings for 24 hours at a time, was critical. He said: 'I take my hat off to the architects but they haven't gone far enough and explored the sensual qualities of the sites. Are they talking to us now because they made such a hash of things in the past and wouldn't get away with it now?'

Lee Mallett of Wordsearch Communications suggested that designers are trying to 'repair' some of the past, and questioned the wisdom of architects forgoing their talents for deciding some issues and handing them over 'lock, stock and barrel' to tenants. But Sunand Prasad said consultation did not mean that, but raised the level of discussion and helped design.

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