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Astragal: There’s a lot to fix at the RIBA

07 futuriba architects retaking the institute new

… but is there any point in a new president even trying?

RIBA presidential candidates often talk tough and then act much less tough once elected. 

While running for the position, Ben Derbyshire called on architects to ‘retake’ the institute and even produced an election graphic showing members of the profession throwing grappling hooks over 66 Portland Place.

The current tough-talking presidential wannabe is Simon Allford, who echoed Derbyshire’s message by urging the profession to storm RIBA’s London HQ and ‘take it back for architects and architecture’ before announcing his candidacy earlier this month.

But are these uncompromising messages misguided? Architect and former RIBA councillor Russell Curtis certainly thinks so, arguing on Twitter that successive presidents have embarked on the ‘futile endeavour’ of trying to reform the RIBA to better represent members.

He said the position of president is merely a ceremonial one and that a two-year term is inadequate to enact meaningful change in any case.

‘Forget about trying to “put right” the RIBA and instead use the position to advocate for wider change in society,’ Curtis said. ‘And stop pondering over whether Portland Place should be more like the Athenaeum or the Garrick. Spoiler alert: nobody cares.’

Another foot in the mouth

There’s certainly a lot that needs fixing at the RIBA, including an unerring ability to fall into elephant traps. This was the case for International Women’s Day last year, when the institute announced plans for a cookery course before hastily abandoning this following a backlash. Now it has come under fire for bungling its response to Black Lives Matter twice in a week.

First, its equality, diversity, and inclusion manager responded to a LinkedIn post about the movement using the ultra-loaded phrase ‘all lives matter’, sparking an internal inquiry.

Now, the RIBA has apologised to Black Females in Architecture after claiming on Twitter that it was in partnership with the group. Black Females in Architecture responded: ‘We aren’t aware of a partnership with you. To our knowledge, we spoke at one of your events (unpaid) and organised a CV and Skills workshop as part of one of your festivals (paid). That’s it.’

Portland Place then deleted its original tweet and replied sheepishly: ‘We’re very sorry for any misrepresentation of our relationship or your work. We are checking and correcting any reference.’

Extinction Rebellion enters Home of 2030 competition

Astragal has been given advance sighting of one of the wittier entries into the government’s Home of 2030 ideas competition, which sought high-quality, low-carbon and age-friendly proposals for new homes able to overcome the challenges of the future.

Organised by the RIBA with support from the Building Research Establishment, MOBIE and the Design Council, the competition sought high-quality, low-carbon and age-friendly proposals for new homes able to overcome the challenges of the future.

The spoof entry by Extinction Rebellion’s Lockdown Festival of Architecture takes judges on a virtual reality journey along the sea floor, where giant tablets spell out decades of failed government policies and other milestones in the ongoing battle against climate change. 

At the end of the trail is Extinction Rebellion’s conceptual proposal – a sunken house on the ocean bed surrounded by fish and molluscs, indicating how catastrophic rising sea levels could render the entire competition meaningless.

In the coming weeks six shortlisted teams will each receive £40,000 to draw up detailed, site-specific plans for 100 homes in a growth area outside London – hopefully above sea level.

Home of 2030 screenshot

Home of 2030 screenshot

Home of 2030

Curse of the carbuncle

Yet more indignity for Sheppard Robson’s Tesco mega-store in Woolwich, described as ‘inept, arrogant and oppressive’ when it scooped the Carbuncle Cup in 2014. To gaze upon it was deemed so unpleasant the council has encouraged substantial development on a site on Love Lane, so views would be obscured. 

A 27-storey pink tower proposed by Formation Architects for the plot was deemed not much better and was rejected on appeal by housing secretary Robert Jenrick earlier this month.

Paul Griffiths, the planning inspector, agreed that the scheme would have helped ‘mask the heinous impact’ of the Tesco store. But he concluded that the tower would ‘loom somewhat oppressively’ over the centre of Woolwich, adding that the ‘incongruity of its height would continue along the unfortunate path’ beaten by Sheppard Robson. Ouch.

Formation woolwich

Formation woolwich

Response: Michael Richter, director, Formation Architects

Your coverage is disappointing… and fails to mention the inspector’s firm support for the proposed appearance.

The existing Tesco scheme was approved as part of an outline consent in 2010 where officers and committee enthusiastically supported a 27- storey tower in front of Tesco as part of the overall masterplan.

The council thus did not encourage substantial development to ‘obscure’ Tesco as the AJ article suggests, but supported the tower as part of the 2010 masterplan.

Unsurprisingly our client wanted to achieve a similar height of building as the original consent allowed but the council has since changed its view and now favours a lower building.

The article also fails to mention that the Inspector praised the architectural approach adopted by Formation Architects:

‘Resolving a triangular plan form into a three-dimensional form is not an easy task but on my analysis the Architect has skilfully resolved the vertical and horizontal structural, and glazing, modules. The building would have a clear base, below the canopy, a middle, and a top, where the glazing is set well behind the structure. Viewed in isolation, the design is a very pleasing one.’

And the: ‘Phase 4 proposal would lift an underused site, hide the unattractive rear of the Phase 2 building, and provide new public spaces. It would, in pure character and appearance terms, enhance its immediate surroundings’.

This is a carefully balanced design which seeks to enhance its context, repair some on the damage done and deliver a substantial amount of housing on a highly sustainable site.



Readers' comments (2)

  • Russell Curtis makes a good point that PRIBA should help push for "wider change in society", though architects pushing for societal change has historically not worked out, maybe the time is now!

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  • "Architects Matter" might be a good place to start.

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