There is a deliberate challenge in plonking a piece of rusting steel among mediocre, visually undemanding housing, but Michael Trentham relishes the coming fight (see page 14). His proposal for a building in the London Borough of Southwark takes as its 'precedents' the nearby lipstick-pink Fashion and Textile Museum and Alsop's equally strident Peckham Library.
Buildings of character, Trentham argues, can lift an area, and the borough's 'rich cultural variety needs to be reected in its architecture'. He may have made his case more difficult by proposing to clad his building in Corfiten which, while undeniably exciting, is very much an aficionado's material. There is a slight attitude of de haut en bas in imposing something on the community that, Trentham believes, it should learn to love.
Contrast this with Islington's Paradise Park (see pages 23-35). In another borough fraught with social tensions, this building has made major concessions to local concerns. Thus the café serves mugs of tea rather than cappuccinos, and a terrace was vetoed on the grounds that it might have been used for champagne-swilling summer parties. Islington's middle classes are seen rather like grey squirrels, colonising everywhere and driving out their quieter and cuter cousins.
This is not just about the threat of gentrification, where architects' efforts to make areas more attractive are hijacked by developers driving up property prices. In a society more economically polarised than for several decades, architects' lengthy education places them firmly in the privileged camp. Designing buildings for people with fewer advantages is one of the great challenges for architects today, especially when relationships with end users are so often mediated through the behemoths of PFI consortia.
Achieving an architecture that neither patronises nor imposes is rare, but to be applauded.