Architect, Expert Witness, Course Leader
Rarely do I agree with all other respondents to articles but I do so here. However the warning was given directly to government at the coroners inquest after the Lakanal House fire, when combustible cladding was known to be the cause. Eric Pickles was asked about the issue and he responded with an anodyne reply, and nothing was done. During the "Bonfire of Regulations and Red Tape" instituted by Cameron, to meet a political agenda (remember the expression "Nanny State") these warnings had to be ignored because no upgrading of regulations was allowed.
My students wrote a 40,000 word research project on the subject. It was based on excellent research, and in the conclusions condemned pretty much everyone involved.
One issue that the inquiry does not seem to have covered is the degree to which the project was monetised. A fire escape was removed from the lower floors to squeeze more flats in, because the redevelopment of Grenfell Tower had to "pay for itself".
Perhaps I should send the students' research report to the inquiry for some light reading during the lockdown.
While this may not be the last episode in the saga for the architects involved, it is a salutary lesson for the profession. Four of my fourth year students determined that the architect had made the design of the building more dangerous, nearly two years before this was declared at the inquiry.
Life and asset safety are not seen as priorities in architectural education, by comparison to making a building pretty. Control over these issues are taken away from the architect in practice when procurement control falls directly from an arms length body with no interest in the long-term outcome into the hands of a contractor who can walk away from the project simply by liquidating every few years.
There needs to be a rebalancing on all levels, in education, in procurement and in the roles, duties and competencies of those in charge and those overseeing the design, delivery and ongoing occupancy of all structures. And someone needs to be held accountable for the fact that the Building Regulations in England were not changed to protect life, throughout an eight year period, even after the government were told that many people would die in a fire just like Grenfell.
Comment on: ‘First we storm the building, then we take back the asylum’: Allford slams ‘irrelevant’ RIBA
While I agree with the indignation of someone who sees a layer of administrators separating the exponents from the decisions as unwelcome, I disagree with much of the detail.
Personally I have no interest or a bar or a restaurant away down in London, indeed I didn't know that the RIBA had one. What is surprising is that I did not know this. By comparison what is obvious is that most architects in the UK wouldn't care. Also, I don't really care too much about a library of old pictures in London. Am I a philistine, or is it that we are missing the point as a profession if we are still loving the pictures?
What I have seen RIBA Council presiding over has been all that they should have been preventing, from Latham to the collapse of the promotion of professionalism, and onwards to more recent tragic events and the attitudes that a recent inquiry appears to expose. Architects are now in a sharp, critical spotlight. It is time for us to get our act in order. The RIBA needs to be competent. Its governance needs to be robust and straightforward. Yes RIBA Council should be a sounding board, but in truth they have always been just that. All that has happened is that the decision makers are out in the open.
We don't need a restaurant and we don't need a club in London. All the lessons being learned about remote working need to be embraced by the RIBA right now, in order that it can better serve its members. We need the RIBA to be with us, supporting us, where we are working.
The scheme is of course utterly repugnant. What I find intriguing is how the architect intends to resolve the fire and sound transfer issues of the separating walls between "units" or people's houses being drawn at 150 mm thick, and how he intends to resolve the flanking sound and fire issues where the wall between these little hutches meets a window pane. I think as the design is developed for poor old Alexandra House, the units are going to get a whole lot smaller, as the walls get fatter.
That of course is only one of myriad issues detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the occupants. Density is another, exacerbated by over-occupation of accommodation designed for a lower density, made desirable out of necessity, because of its location and the high cost of ownership or rental.
We had problems of density of occupation in Glasgow, being social problems and crime, spread of disease and low life expectancy. However they were largely resolved over sixty years ago by Acts of Parliament and by community groups supported by architects, resulting in mass demolition, rehousing and in some cases clever and sympathetic reuse of existing buildings. Seems like we have gone full circle here, and those same detriments to human wellbeing as existed in our unenlightened past are knocking on the door in this scheme.
In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, where part of the problem was that the redevelopment works were entirely monetised, there has been a lot of talk of rebalancing of the role of the architect, away from Lathamesque satisfaction of the client at any cost, towards balancing that requirement with the needs of the users.
What this layout for the Alexandra Poorhouse shows is a reversal of that thinking, demonstrating a movement away from any concept of habitability, travelling, deliberately deregulated towards the satisfaction of a wish for profit. If the Government in England and Wales, in its infinite wisdom, still thinks that deregulation in the construction industry is a good idea, I for one don't think that an architect should be involved in that, and I think we should be campaigning against it.
Well done, Colin Kerr, Architect. We should all do what you have done.
Would it be only DUP members that were allowed to cross it, and only if they propped up the Tory Party? This wouldn't possibly be a populist idea to buy votes, would it? Will the feasibility study for the bridge that will never be built, be likely to cost as much as letting a contract for a pointless bridge in London when you don't own the land at its ends, I wonder?