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GLA's Gavron fires broadside at 'dangerously elitist architects'

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London's out-going deputy mayor, Nicky Gavron (left), has launched a sweeping attack on architects for their attitude to housing design.

Gavron - who remains Ken Livingstone's strategic planning advisor and will be Labour's candidate in next year's mayoral elections - accused architects of having an 'elitist attitude to design' and a 'dangerous disinterest in mass housing'.

And she warned that unless 'this problematic attitude' changes rapidly, London's vast Thames Gateway development will be a 'horrific homogeneous plain of box houses'.

'We could have the most wonderful homes in this country, ' she told the AJ. 'But architects are more interested in elitist rubbish and landmark buildings. They seem happy to allow most housing to be designed by accountants.

'Architects and schools should be leading the way by producing extraordinary prototypes but in the mayor's office we simply cannot get their interest. I want to know where the leadership is.'

Gavron praised a limited number of housing schemes. 'I think Bill Dunster's BedZed and Marks Barfield's Skyhouse are both wonderful, ' she said.

'But where are all the others?'

She said: 'I am worried about how the Thames Gateway will turn out if the architecture profession's elitist attitude continues. I have been trying to get architects to change for years, but have not managed to get anything like a real response.'

Gavron's comments provoked a chorus of dissent from housebuilders and architects alike. Newly elected RIBA councillor Clare Wright, a partner in housing specialist Wright & Wright Architects, dismissed the criticism, claiming there was a great deal of interest in good design and innovation.

'The Housing Corporation has forced some real changes in the quality of social housing in the past few years, and at the same time there has been a step change in mass housing, ' she said. 'Look around and everywhere you can see innovations in sustainability and regeneration.'

RIBA president Paul Hyett agreed. 'I am sorry that Nicky - with all her extraordinary experience in local authority planning - feels this way, ' he said. 'But I disagree because there has been a massive transformation.

'The profession has made a huge impact on housing - such as in the work of Piers Gough.

'To say that architecture has not had a huge impact on housing is fundamentally wrong, ' he added.

The House Builders Federation also dismissed Gavron's criticism, insisting that 'some real progress has been made in design in the past few years and housebuilders are now keen to work with architects as much as they can'.

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