Will Alsop's vision on the best mechanisms for exciting and enthusing residents to get involved in the redesign and regeneration of their estates should be applauded and become an essential prerequisite for any housing association wishing to succeed in wholescale urban regeneration. While not knowing the full facts of the Aylesbury Estate tenant rejection, I have every sympathy with Alsop's difficulties in trying to promote a contemporary solution to residents via a housing association which has not the courage to promote radical solutions to its residents.
Too often housing associations adopt the role of advocate for the tenants against the architect's more imaginative ideas, as opposed to that of working in partnership with the architect to promote good contemporary design. The problem for housing associations' development staff is that they tend not to understand or appreciate the issues and solutions that the architect is promoting, and therefore fall back into that safety zone of design. Perhaps it is because they do not know any different, or that they are paralysed by the design malaise that has afflicted public housing in Britain throughout the 1990s. At Irwell Valley, we are continually trying to push the boundaries of our thinking on urban design by sending our staff to cities in Europe that have implemented radical design.We will not accept mediocre thinking, and therefore are more able to promote modern ideas to our tenants.
My only criticism of Alsop is the labelling of housing associations based on his bad experience at Aylesbury. If we took the same perspective and labelled all British architects through one bad experience, or public housing designs produced in the 80s and 90s, we wouldn't employ any architect that didn't have an office in Barcelona or Rotterdam.
Phil Summers, Irwell Valley Housing Association, Manchester