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Astragal: Kit Malthouse – from risible tweets to Tory leadership bid

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Astonishingly to many, housing minister Kit Malthouse has joined the race to succeed Theresa May as Tory leader and prime minister

His ministerial post is not the highest-profile, particularly outside the built-environment world. So has his reactionary architectural grandstanding been a strategy to build the ground for his campaign?

Following his tweeting last year, where he highlighted a Neoclassical Alabama courthouse as his apparent architectural ideal, the minister was busy trying to alienate the profession again this month, cautioning councils against setting architects free to shape modern homes – a move he claimed could cause ‘social disaster’.

Speaking at the launch of a New London Architecture report and exhibition celebrating a ‘comeback’ for high-quality public housing in the capital, Malthouse warned about trusting those who design buildings.

Alluding to the previous council-housing drive, he said: ‘We now know that bad housing leads to all sorts of other bad things for the people who live there and the people in the surrounding areas …

‘What we once thought was leading-edge, world-beating, innovative, pushing-the-envelope amazing architecture actually turned out to be a social disaster. We are busy correcting that now.’ 

It’s all a bit of a contrast to the sentiments he expressed in the AJ last year, when he wrote that those who viewed his Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission as ‘an attack on the profession’ were ’misunderstanding its intent’. 

Which of these statements, Astragal wonders, reveals his true feelings about modern architecture?

Brutal chess

Brutalist chess crop

Brutalist chess crop

‘Trellick Tower is perfect as a knight, Petty France plays the bishop, Centrepoint is a regal queen and Cromwell Tower from the Barbican Centre stands proud as the king of Brutalist London.’

So reads the sales blurb for the latest architecture-inspired chess set, Concrete London, which also includes pawns modelled on Neave Brown’s Alexandra Road Estate. 

The mini-Brutalist battleground has been designed by the co-founders of Skyline Chess – trainee architects Ian Flood and Chris Prosser.

Six years ago, the same team shrank a series of London landmarks, casting the London Eye as a knight and the Gherkin as a bishop.

Other architectural chess sets have included efforts by Zaha Hadid, Richard Meier and Santiago Calatrava. In 2009 Mobile Studio Architects brought out a colourful Style Wars: Modernists v Traditionalists version, while Caroline White came up with a confrontational Liverpool v Manchester set. 

But the all-new Brutalist plaything doesn’t come cheap. The price tag is a towering £395.

At least the pieces are made of resin rather than carbon-spewing concrete. Small victories. 

A brush with greatness

Everybody’s favourite gardener, Monty Don, described it as a ‘huge pleasure to meet and talk to architect Elsie Owusu’ on his massively popular Instagram page. The Gardeners’ World presenter had bumped into last year’s unsuccessful RIBA presidential candidate at the Chelsea Flower Show. 

Sadly for Don, the social media love-in was not reciprocated. Perhaps Owusu’s head is turned more easily by politicians than horticulturalists. 

Attending the opening of the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre in Leicester this month, she was quick to post a pic of her with Jack Straw and her niece, writer Afua Hirsch. 

Monty-snub or no, Astragal would love to see architect and gardener collaborate. Owusu co-led Feilden + Mawson’s masterplanning of Green Park station, so something in Green Park perhaps to combine both their talents?

Pinning its colours to Change UK’s mast


Amid architects’ general Brexit moaning, one practice has got directly involved by backing the newest remainer party.

Makower Architects hosted a ‘Questioning Brexit’ event for Change UK the night before last week’s European elections. It featured drinks, street food, music and the chance ‘to meet the candidates … and hear from them about the changing political landscape of Britain and Europe’. 

The group might not have felt in party mood, given its current difficulties. These include leader Heidi Allen’s offer to resign over wanting to advise remainers to vote for the Lib Dems rather than her own party if they were outside London and the South East.

Whether the practice has backed a dead duck – the European election results were hardly sparkling – or just a party having teething troubles, remains to be seen. 

Someone’s prayers have been answered

Three years it launched, the RIBA’s Wall of Answered Prayer competition can finally announce its winner: Snug Architects.

The £10 million structure will be built on a 4ha site – donated by the Edmiston family – located between the busy M6, M42 and proposed HS2 line at Coleshill Manor on the edge of Birmingham. It will be constructed from a million bricks, each one funded by a £10 donation and symbolising a prayer answered.

Visuals of the Southampton practice’s scheme show a soaring structure inspired by a Möbius strip and incorporating a visitor centre. But Astragal has also seen top-secret plans showing a 6.2ha ‘surf lagoon’ outlined next door. We can only guess whose prayers are being answered.

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