Comment on: RIBA Stirling Prize 2017 shortlist revealed
It's that time of the years again, when the Royal Institute of British Architects flexes its flabby muscles, and with the world's eyes upon it (well, the architectural world, that is), nominates 'the building in the UK which has made the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture over the past year'. So let's kick off the ASH review of the six buildings nominated for this year's Stirling Prize.
The Spruce Apartments comprise 6 new flats located at 42 Barretts Grove in what the estate agents call 'newly gentrified' Stoke Newington. In fact it's much closer to Dalston, so you can use the former address for your bank manager and the latter for your date. Part of the colonisation of the area as London's Hipster Central (though it's already looking like desperately untrendy Shoreditch), the apartments have all sold - most likely off-plan before they were built - except for the one on the ground floor, where you'll have to put up with drunk yuppies urinating on your wicket-basket balcony. Flat 6, presumably at the top (and therefore away from the micturaters) sold for £865,000 in January 2017. But let's be generous and look at 2-bedroom flat 4 and the figures you won't find in any architecture magazine (including this one):
Sale price: £685,000
Rental value: £2,150 pcm
Mortgage repayment: £1,818 pcm on a £500,000 loan
Council tax: £162 pcm
Estimated energy costs: £99 pcm
Water charges: £26 pcm
So, if you've got £185,000 lying around for a deposit, this lovely 2-bedroom apartment can be yours for just £2,105 per calendar month (not including broadband), which just happens to be exactly what Zoopla reckons you'll get from renting it out to a young 'professional' couple (i.e. account executives) too broke to break up. Welcome to our new home-owning democracy.
What a contribution to the evolution of architecture! No wonder they're the bookies' favourites.
Architects for Social Housing
What a sad, self-pitying, desperate article. With regard to winning back trust from the public, this paragraph, which is the only covert reference to estate demolition I can find, says everything about the lies and self-deceptions by which architects justify their role in the social cleansing it produces: 'Existing communities where built change [i.e. the demolition of their homes and their replacement with unaffordable investment opportunities for the rich] is proposed [i.e decided in advance and implemented against their will by unaccountable councils] are understandably confused about [i.e. don't agree with and oppose] what architects do [i.e. act as funeral directors for the working class]. The multiplicity of actors in any scheme is complex [i.e. supposedly too difficult to explain to the residents architects are employed to hoodwink], and architects are often seen [i.e. universally regarded], however unfairly [i.e. accurately identified], as just another consultant [i.e. unprincipled vulture] reaping fees from [i.e feeding upon the carcass of] a ‘regeneration’ initiative [i.e. imposed demolition] whose efficacy may be questionable [i.e. complicit in a programme that threatens the homes of hundreds of thousands of residents on nearly 240 estates in London alone].
ASH recently held an exhibition of our design alternatives to estate demolition at the ICA. We didn't expect the AJ to turn up and we weren't disappointed. But dare I suggest that if more architectural practices were engaged in saving people's homes rather than destroying them, the trust the profession so craves may start to return. Until it does, architects will be treated accordingly: as servile yes-men by the building industry, with suspicion and anger by the communities they threaten.
Architects for Social Housing
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Just got the latest edition of the Architects’ Journal, and as expected there’s a lot of talk about the Grenfell Tower fire, including an editorial by Emily Booth moaning about the lack of architectural representation on the independent group set up by Sajid Javid to advise on the immediate measures necessary to ensure the safety of tower blocks; a detailed article by Ella Braidwood on the failings of the Building Regulations in ensuring the fire safety of cladding added to tower blocks; and an opinion piece by Catherine Slessor looking at the fire in the context of changing attitudes to council housing in the UK; plus a bunch of letters on the failure to retro-fit sprinklers in tower blocks, the failure of the RIBA to show leadership (surely not!) in the wake of the fire, and the failure of architects in general offering professional insight into its causes.
Not once, though, in all this breast beating, is estate regeneration mentioned. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the application of flammable cladding to a reinforced concrete tower block was just some crazy idea that the council came up with, rather than part of a UK-wide programme of estate regeneration being implemented through Private Finance Initiatives which – whether as the Haringey Development Vehicle that is handing £2 billion of land and 21 council estates over to property developer Lendlease, or with Homes for Lambeth, which will similarly hand the redevelopment and management of 6 estates over to private contractors and management teams – is replicating the same managerial and technical conditions that led to the Grenfell Tower fire. There are 170 London estates that we know of that are threatened with, or already condemned to, privatisation, demolition and social cleansing by Labour councils alone.
Sure, call loudly for a review of Document B on fire safety that the Department of Community and Local Government has sat on for 4 years, bleat about not having a seat at the big table, or shed a few tears over the treatment of the poor, but for Christ’s sake don’t say anything that might damage our commissions on one of the largest sources of income for architects through the estate regeneration programme in which the entire profession is complicit but which it refuses to question. No wonder architects haven’t been invited to share their professional opinion on what caused the Grenfell Tower fire: they can’t even speak the truth to each other.
Architects for Social Housing
So the answer to London's shortage of homes Londoners can afford to live in is not - it turns out - to demolish our council and social housing in the middle of a housing crisis and replace it with property investments for international capital designed by social cleansing practices like HTA Design, Mae, PRP Architects, Hawkins\Brown, dRMM, Haworth Tompkins and Karakusevic Carson (which the Evening Standard this week identified as the 'go to practice for estate regeneration' for the social cleansing of the King's Crescent estate in Hackney - a bargain at £120,000 for a 25 per cent share in a 2-bedroom flat or rent from £1,100 per month), but to increase their housing capacity with infill.
Now why didn't we think of that?
Who knows, maybe Patrik Schumacher will turn the full 180 degrees and suggest the funds raised from the private sales and rents are invested not only in building more homes for social rent on the estate, but invested in refurbishing the council homes that have been neglected by councils for so long?
Go on Patrik! You may not have the courage to meet us in a public debate, but one day you could be known as the Saviour of London's estates, and no-one will remember your 'theoretical' speech in Berlin. And we promise you and whoever this bloke Kelly is can take all the credit. Architects have short memories.
Architects for Social Housing
P.S. Once again, and for the umpteenth time, we remind the AJ that ASH are not activists but architects. Our alternative designs to the demolition of West Kensington and Gibbs Green, Central Hill and Knight's Walk, using infill and roof extensions and refurbishing the existing homes, can be viewed on our website here: https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com
Oh dear, where to start with this issue? Three paragraphs devoted to how Michael Heseltine inconvenienced the AJ photographer, another repetition of the story about the ceremonial mace, but nothing to say about the confession by the man placed at the head of our national estate regeneration strategy that he was ‘surprised to hear’ about what is happening at the Heygate and Aylesbury estates.
For future reference, the question the cutting-edge journalists at the AJ should have asked is: how does the enforced eviction of thousands of residents from these and other estates conform with with Heseltine’s statement that estate regeneration should be ‘resident led’? Instead, we get the unquestioned reporting of the usual platitudes about ‘putting residents at the heart of shaping their estates’. We would suggest the question on everyone’s lips here would be: then why has neither the Estate Regeneration National Strategy nor the GLA’s Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration made resident support a condition of such regeneration – which as we know in practice means demolition?
And why you’re at it, perhaps another question you may have liked to have asked Lord Heseltine (in between listing the architects he likes best) is how demolished estates are meant to remain in public hands when the government has allocated a mere £140 million for the ‘Blitz’ on 100 estates, and he himself says the money will come from the private sector? His suggestion that it will come from the local authorities his Party have deliberately starved of funding is, of course, another meaningless statement this article fails to challenge.
What else? Perhaps ask why a man with an estimated fortune of £264 million – who has never lived on, known anyone who has lived on, or visited a council estate without a retinue of bodyguards – is in charge of the nation’s estate regeneration strategy? Or whether his justification for the demolition of Robin Hood Gardens estate because he ‘doesn’t like the look of it’ is a criterion he will be applying to the 100 as-yet unidentified estates his panel intends to ‘Blitz’?
But let’s pass on to the other burning (but apparently unrelated topic) of this edition of the AJ – MIPIM, the International Market for Real Estate Professionals. The subject of both Will Hurst’s editorial and its own article, this, it seems, is where our post-Brexit architectural practices must go now to sell their services to the world.
Unfortunately, neither editorial nor article mention what is also being sold at MIPIM. Even in that little bubble where the AJ editorial board meets to discuss world affairs over sushi, it can’t have escaped your notice that the Haringey Development Vehicle that was announced this week, and which will demolish thousands of council homes on Broadwater Farm, Northumberland Park and Sky City estates, was brokered at MIPIM. Or that the development partner selected by Haringey Labour council for this mass privatisation scheme is Lendlease, whose comparable deal with Southwark Labour council for the demolition and redevelopment of the Heygate estate was also cut at MIPIM.
While celebrating MIPIM as the panacea for all those lost commissions for British architects, perhaps the AJ would like to reflect on where the land for all these new projects is being found? You excitedly announce that 2,000 architects will be in attendance next week; but what you fail to mention is how many Leaders of London councils – accompanied by their Cabinet Members for Housing and Regeneration, regeneration officers from the private sector, advisors from Savills, and of course members of the national estate regeneration panel headed by Heseltine – will also be there, selling off the land on which the homes of hundreds of thousands of council tenants live.
It is on the mass eviction of these residents, and the privatisation of the land their homes are built on, that the commissions British architects win next week in Cannes will be built. Is this not something your readers in the profession – who in our experience are ostrich-like in their ignorance of estate demolition – should be told about? Or would they rather hear about what colour jumper Tarzan was wearing?
Architects for Social Housing