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Architects call on developers to protect London's LGBT+ venues

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A number of architects have called on developers to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) spaces in London 

The architects’ comments come after Planning Out – a network for LGBT+ planners – celebrated its first anniversary at a City Hall event last week. 

Tom Guy, founder of Architecture LGBT+ and National Student Pride, said that architects should encourage their clients to maintain LGBT+ venues in the capital.

‘Where possible architects should help influence the retention of LGBT+ venues in the city and, where possible, work with developers in retaining them’ he said. 

Guy acknowledged that it was sometimes ‘tricky’ for architects to do this, as they were responding to the client’s brief, but said they should work on a case-by-case basis and ‘do all they can to push’ for the need to keep these venues.

‘Developers and planners need to try and retain these venues,’ he said. ‘In future years we don’t want people to look and regret what has is being done currently to diversity of the city.

’The broad mix of LGBT+ venues is part of the cultural diversity and history of London, providing a safe space for those who still face bigotry and discrimination. It is important that development and conversions don’t come at the cost of our cultural heritage.’ 

But he said that while architects could try to influence developers, ultimately ‘planning laws are going to save or destroy these venues’. 

Earlier this month, a report by University College London Urban Laboratory revealed that London had lost 58 per cent of its LGBT+ venues in the last 10 years.

Speaking at the Planning Out event last week, deputy mayor James Murray said that people working in planning, regeneration, infrastructure, transport and housing had a ‘huge role’ to play in changing the city and ensuring that this ’embraces’ London’s diversity.

London’s night czar Amy Lamé, who was also at the event, said the new report ’shows that LGBT+ venues are closing because of external pressures such as developments, lack of safeguarding measures in the existing planning system, and also the sale and change of the properties by landlords’.

Alastair Keyte, an associate partner at SimpsonHaugh, said that the profession should show developers the advantages of protecting or building LGBT+ spaces.

‘The profession, as they do with all projects, should be pointing out the benefits and opportunities to their clients of development, and this may include maintaining or starting a new LBGT+ venue,’ he said. ‘The benefits range from placemaking, the wider community benefits, to commercial advantages.’

Keyte added: ‘Architects, as individual members of the LBGT+ community, should not be frightened about getting involved to raise awareness of LBGT+ issues within the built environment.

‘LBGT+ venues have played, and continue to play, an important role within the cultural diversity of London, and should be treasured and fought for.’ 

There have been a number of high-profile campaigns in recent years calling for the protection of LGBT+ buildings against planned development.

Last year, The Yard Bar in Soho – with the backing of the Soho Society and Historic England – won a two-year planning battle after developers attempted to get planning permission to develop the Victorian stable courtyard bar into flats.

And, in 2015, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern – a gay pub in south London – received a Grade II listing after campaigners, including celebrities Ian McKellen, Paul O’Grady and Graham Norton, fought to protect the pub’s future. The fight came after the closure of other iconic LGBT+ venues in London such as the Black Cap and Madame Jojo’s.

However, Danni Kerr, a RIBA role model and architect at Huddersfield-based Superhistory, said the issue of having LGBT+ safe and distinct spaces was more complicated than it might seem, as LGBT+ people become more accepted in wider society. 

She said: ‘As a transgender person, I’m sensitive to the fact that many transgender people need safe and discrete contexts but also many need to be accepted in mainstream contexts, so it’s a more complex issue than appears on the surface.

’London, in particular, is an unrelenting commercial centre, driving the wax and wane of social values, boundaries and expression. How can the LGBT+ community be resilient within this model? We can certainly purchase exclusivity or maybe gain funding to celebrate a vibrant, valid and contributory history. But moving forward, should we be arguing to maintain hard edged identities and exclusive spaces?’

Kerr, who said Manchester’s ‘Gay Village’ was facing a similar debate about its LBGT+ spaces, added: ‘As an architect, I see this as the politics of space, so the issue is revealed in all our urban centres … London is a truly vibrant place and its very fabric is in constant flux, so can Londoners develop a forward looking reforming vision which both embraces change and is resilient in the face of it?’ 

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