Residential redevelopment of pub and backlands sites are both established patterns of development about which there seems to be no professional discussion.What is missing is any professional overview of the urban implications of the wholesale changes involved.
Around my area in London, 10 pubs have recently disappeared. In only one has the ground floor been reused for a non-residential function. As for backland development, it is everywhere.Light industrial sites ensconced in the middle of residential blocks or behind neighbourhood frontages are snapped up by social housing groups or private developers, and turned into islands of safe housing. David Chipperfield's offices in Camden represent an intelligent counter-example to these norms.
What is so odd is that backlands in particular constitute the most indigenous form of mixed-use urbanism in UK cities. Wonderful examples of the rich urban grain which it has generated exist in every town.
So why are architects who believe in cities, and in mixed-use approaches to urban development, content to do the dirty work of social housing groups and developers and sniff out these sites in order to deliver them up for conversion into stuffy, single-use development? Like professional vandals, they help lay waste to sites of key urban ecologies, all the while viewing development control as an annoying hindrance to the realisation of the job.
Planners at least pretend to think about the overall health of the city, some even do, and certainly their audit of proposals provides the only opportunity - normally wasted of course - for intelligent discussion of the job within a larger framework of urban thinking.
How can architects enlarge the range of their professional contribution to match their true perceptiveness and capacity for thoughtful action? Or must architects vandalise places they actually care for, and suppress understanding with common sense in order to get work? Is there an alternative?
Tom Young, Tom Young Architects, London NW5