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Claws are out for catwalk kings over housing design

The latest big-name fashion designer to switch from catwalk creations to housing design has been greeted with catcalls from annoyed architects.

Hong-Kong born John Rocha has collaborated on a £40 million scheme for 317 flats in Birmingham for Crosby Homes and BLB Architects that started on site this month. The Orion Building is due for completion in 2006 and flats are selling fast thanks to the association with Rocha, who bought one, said Crosby Homes.

However, architect Richard Murphy said the idea was 'absurd'.

'Housing doesn't need to be fashionable, it needs to be good, ' Murphy said. 'It is bloody difficult and beset with regulations. Do fashion designers know about ventilated-lobby regulations?

'We made massive mistakes in the '50s and '60s by approaching housing as if it were an essay on formulaic mass sculpture.

The private sector has just about woken up to the fact they don't have to do nicky-nacky-noo, and are now leapfrogging architects. What on earth are they talking about?'

BLB partner Ed Baverstock claimed the collaboration had worked well. 'Though John has an architect of his own, he hasn't really influenced our design. He has helped refine some ideas.'

These included the use of alternative interior materials, colour sampling and water walls in the E-shaped building with a 26-storey tower and 1,300m 2ofshops and offices.

Crosby Homes managing director Keith Pepperdine said recent high-profile schemes such as Future Systems' Selfridges spotlighted the city's desire for designer names. The heightened awareness of Rocha, he said, 'makes the kudos of his involvement greater than ever'.

Rocha, who has also worked on projects in Liverpool and Dublin, where he is based, said: 'We don't just do fashion design, we have two architects who take a professional approach though they don't touch the building itself.'

Fellow fashion designer Wayne Hemingway also caused a stir after teaming up with Wimpey Homes on a mass housing development in Gateshead last year.

Richard Feilden, senior partner at Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects, joined the chorus of criticism of designer housebuilders: 'This sort of thing is becoming a fashion It makes me sad rather than angry. I respect what Hemingway talks about - the humanising of volume housing - but I think architects could and should be doing it.'

Feilden, who has designed award-winning housing and reviewed the work in Gateshead, said it was 'folksy Milton Keynes'. But it was easy for polarisation in housing design and 'perhaps it's in this context that fashion designers have crept in to argue for a more userorientated approach.'

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