By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

I do not like being dismissed as another failed Modernist

Conventional wisdom suggests that anyone being criticised publicly via the media is best served by not responding. I usually observe this rule but on this occasion I will break it.

This is not only unusual for that reason but also because the critic I am referring to wrote a letter in another publication whose name I cannot bring myself to mention.

My critic's subject is my role in the Aylesbury Estate debacle, where he suggests that my 'conceptual and intuitive approach' to architecture is ill-suited to the 'rigours'of housing design. I find this attitude all too convenient. First, he suggests that concept and intuition serve no purpose in this field, and second, that housing requires a rigour which perhaps other types of building do not.

Sadly, the housing sector in this country has largely failed because there is no concept, idea, sensitivity, desire or individuality in it. It has been guided by an idea of the 'market-led' syndrome which is mistaken for public agreement as the only logical outcome of public consultation. As far as I can see, there has been no rigour applied to the process at all.

My critic also suggests that I have no notable success in the field of housing. This is true, because, until recently, no one has asked me to design any, although as I write, I am happy to report that I have 225 homes under construction in Groningen. I would remind him that none of the architects for the Jubilee Line extension had designed a tube station before, but the result is a series of beautiful stations. The Groningen housing is the result of a lengthy round of workshops, consultation, shared bottles of wine and discussion. I know very well the meaning of the word compromise as well as its advantages, namely 'agreement'and 'ownership'. My critic's remarks are illinformed and partisan, although I cannot wholly blame him if his opinion is formed by only reading the publication in which his letter is published.

My concern is that housing associations have been given the responsibility to provide and manage an enormous programme of housing regeneration, and that to date, their track record of useful consultation, innovation, listening and celebration of individuality is dire. They have little interest in architects and even less in the users of the homes they are providing. Yet they are entrusted with huge budgets and will, in my opinion, result in similar housing replacement programmes in 30-40 years' time.

In the case of the Aylesbury Estate, the housing association never included any of my work, either on masterplanning or house design, in their package to residents. Their document was so thick that it would not fit through letter boxes, and as a result was largely unread. Alsop Architects was not allowed by the housing association to carry out meaningful public workshops.

I do not like being dismissed by my critic as another failed Modernist who should simply allow the 'grown ups' to get on with the serious work of housing. Consultation, process, joy and delight are a bigger part of our vocabulary than the majority of architectural plodders who peddle their wares on the mistaken slogan of responsibility.

In my brief windows of opportunity to talk and work with the people at Aylesbury, I discovered they wanted to make a unique place that others would like to visit. They wanted the chance to express their individuality and have it reflected in architecture and planning. I fear that Graham Towers'attitude simply results in yet more meaningful mediocrity.

WA, flight No BA 707, London to Vienna

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters