Founder of ft'work, a not-for-profit company with a strong ambition – to create thriving communities and to ensure that clear social principles underpin all new development. www.ftwork.co.uk
In response to the point by Caridon’s managing director, that people would otherwise be homeless and so have less space, privacy and security... Why should this group be subjected to sub-standard homes, particularly as a matter of policy? And are we really to believe that developers are doing these office-to-residential developments for altruistic reasons? Yes, it makes sense to allow some reuse of existing office buildings, as a contribution to providing much-needed homes , but design and space standards must apply.
As an LFA patron, ft’work supports its decision to distance itself from this competition. The festival encourages all designers to take part in projects and competitions. It’s a big time commitment and to discourage participation on the grounds of affordability is against the festival’s ethos and sends entirely the wrong message.
There are good reasons to applaud the appointment of Urban Splash to Homes England’s ambitious Northstowe new town, but they will need all their skills as innovators to achieve the eloquently described ‘vision and objectives’ in the Northstowe brochure.
Given the need to deliver large numbers of homes, modular construction and an ambitious delivery timeframe demonstrate serious intent to rise to the challenge. If this can be delivered with the design and delivery quality required, it will provide an exemplar of good practice for others to follow.
What worries ft’work is the lack of clear social ambition. Located 8kms from the centre of Cambridge, it’s hard to see how an ‘edge of centre character’ is to be achieved. The brochure gives no clues either, beyond brief reference to bus routes. Yet lack of connectivity is the biggest social issue for out of town housing developments, with residents often feeling ‘disconnected’. ‘Character’ cannot be sprinkled like fairly dust, as shown in the brochure’s bustling images. It is about people and how they interact with each other and their environment. This place will be home to 25,000 people. What is required is a well-planned long-term vision, which ensures a social mix at the onset by anticipating who is going to live here, where they will work, how they will engage.
This is all about social infrastructure, defined as “the uses and activities which contribute to making an area more than just a place to live”. While ‘formal’ social infrastructure typically refers to amenities, such as schools or GP surgeries, ‘informal’ social infrastructure encompasses the diverse social networks that evolve and interact over time. They are interdependent and provide the glue that helps bind communities together. To ensure inclusivity, equality of access and opportunity, both must be properly facilitated in new developments. At Northstowe, how and where are diverse social groups, representing different age groups and interests, going to form and interact? How are the seeds of this community going to be established and grow?
The brochure says: “Northstowe will have its own unique community. Friends and families drawn together around the reality of town life with all the amenities and facilities they could need on their doorstep.” Well, the ‘Positive community’ section consists of branding and signage; and the ‘Life in Balance’ section is illustrated with a photo of a hedgehog highway.
The brochure might talk the talk, with promises of ‘education, employment and leisure uses’, but on closer examination the proposals include a wholly inadequate provision for a town of this size. Phase 2 is described as including ‘a new town centre’ yet, besides a small community centre and a primary school with nursery, almost all provision is outdoor. Few of the features that we now identify with thriving town centres are proposed. Where are the affordable workspaces for start-ups, small retail or industrial units, pubs, live/work units, workshops, community cafés, communal facilities, gym, cinema? Where are the social services, the day care centre for an ageing population, the indoor sport facilities, the youth centre? Where will people work? What will bring them out of their homes, unless it is to get in their cars to go elsewhere? Yes these things are costly, but the payback will be in social value, a thriving local economy and growth.
Even with their capacity for inventive regeneration and collaboration, without proper investment and a very clear social plan it is not in Urban Splash's power to prevent Northstowe becoming yet another soulless satellite town.
Let’s not underestimate the milestone this represents. Ballots acknowledge the value to communities of self-determination and the evidence suggests that autonomy builds resources of mutual support and collective action, which in turn help build successful communities. There are a number of thriving estates where the decision to demolish has been taken against the vehement opposition of residents. Take Cressingham Gardens in Lambeth (https://savecressingham.wordpress.com/about/), a well-designed 70s estate on Tulse Hill, overlooking Brockwell Park. Here is a successful, longstanding mixed community with a low crime rate, about to be displaced (with existing residents – whether social renters or owner/occupiers – priced out of the planned new development). And why? Because when redeveloped Lambeth with make a hefty income which, they will assure you, can be ploughed back into more social housing. Even if that claim were true (and where’s the evidence to support it?), it is dangerously short-sighted. It takes decades to build successful communities. These are the places where people stay put, creating those illusive qualities of a sense of identity, inclusion and social capital (precisely the ‘good growth’ that the GLA and New London Plan seek to achieve). We destroy them at our peril. Meanwhile, on the other side of Tulse Hill is one of Lambeth’s failing estates, with high levels of gang-related crime… www.ftwork.co.uk
Alan Penn will be leaving an admirable legacy, but on tackling the lack of diversity within architecture schools and the profession there is still much to be done. As a mentor with the Social Mobility Foundation, supporting young people who for one reason or another would not otherwise opt to study architecture, I am aware of some fundamental obstacles. All four I have worked with have lacked the right A’levels, having had no continuity or advice as they moved from GCSEs into six forms. On that basis alone, without a mentor they would have rejected architecture outright. Nor had any of their teachers had a clue about studying architecture (in fact some had simply told students that it takes years and the pay is crap at the end of it). Then there are the entry requirements. UCL as a whole leads the way on widening participation, which at least enabled 2 of my mentees to apply there (in fact I myself was accepted there after a previous career and without qualifications in maths or physics). Elsewhere, though, bright students are reduced to applying for poorly-rated courses (if at all), because the good schools will not consider them on the basis of their projected grades. Apprenticeship schemes are a great idea – indeed some very well-established architects entered the profession through that route. However the recently validated schemes have precisely the same entry requirements as the standard degree courses. Surely that defeats the purpose? It is of course a huge advantage to receive a salary instead of paying fees, and I applaud the idea of Bartlett Scholarships, but unless these other points are addressed I cannot see how these schemes will achieve the aim of creating a more diverse profession.