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Kate Macintosh leads criticism of ‘affordable’ criteria for RIBA’s Neave Brown award

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Architect Kate Macintosh has led criticism over an RIBA award established in honour of the late social housing pioneer Neave Brown but only requires a third of the homes to be ‘affordable’

The institute announced last month it was launching the Neave Brown Award for Housing, to celebrate schemes which demonstrate evidence of meeting the ‘challenge of housing affordability’.

But the minimum criteria of one third ‘affordable’, which under the government’s definition includes intermediate units such as shared ownership as well as rented units at 80 per cent of market rate, has sparked criticism.

‘The very term “affordable housing”, is talismanic of the hypocrisy of the government’s housing policies,’ said Macintosh, ‘and would have been anathema to Neave to have been included in a prize in his name.

‘He wished his work to be judged on the quality of the life that it offers to the occupants and on the enhancement it gives to areas of the city in which it is embedded.’

Macintosh said the award should recognise council housing, homes built through Community Land Trusts or any vehicle ’not purely set up for profit and aims to meet human need’.

The architect added that bringing in rent control would permit the term ’affordable’ to have meaning. ‘London boroughs which are making genuine endeavours to provide decent shelter for their residents, eschewing the international housing-casino which is forcibly deporting Londoners; these are the ones who deserve recognition,’ she said.

Neave Brown, who died last year, designed some of Britain’s most imaginative post-war public housing including Alexandra Road and Dunboyne Road Estate, both in Camden.

In 2018, the Modernist architect was awarded the UK’s highest honour for architecture, the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture.

Macintosh’s concern was echoed by Hari Phillips, director of south London-based Bell Phillips, who pointed out that 33 per cent of affordable housing is the ‘minimum provided by default for any private housing scheme’. 

This, and the ‘lack of definition’ in the prize criteria around what constitutes affordable, ‘undermines its credibility as an award for affordable housing’, he said.

‘This could have been an opportunity for the RIBA to support the good work being produced in an undervalued and challenging sector, in particular to recognise the increasing number of councils delivering their own genuinely affordable housing again.

‘Instead, let’s all be honest, drop the term ‘affordable’ and call it what it is: the RIBA Award for Housing.’

Former RIBA president Jane Duncan also voiced concern over the prize, tweeting: ‘I am sad that this is an award for (partly) “affordable” not “social” housing which is what the UK needs.’ 

However Peter Barber, of Peter Barber Architects, backed the award. He said: ’I’m really pleased to think of Neave’s name being commemorated in this way. I feel angry about the commodification of housing and what this means for hundreds of thousands of people in this country.

’It going to take a revolution to solve it not an architecture award.’

In response to the criticism, RIBA president Ben Derbyshire said: ‘The criteria for the Neave Brown Award for Housing has been developed with Neave’s family and our expert member group for housing and is intended to recognise well-designed housing that, in the spirit of his work, rises to the challenge of affordability and enhances the wellbeing of its occupants.

‘We do not regard the government’s definition of affordability as anything other than a minimum requirement, and its reference in the criteria should not be taken as an endorsement of the approach.

‘We and Neave’s heirs are keen to reward well-designed housing schemes that genuinely meet local need, and we recognise such projects are disappointingly all too rare.’

To be eligible for the Neave Brown Award for Housing, a scheme must be a 2019 RIBA Regional Award-winning housing project with 10 or more homes and completed after October 2016.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Every aspect of housing in this country is in a mess, non more so than “council” housing. Central and Local Government should concentrate on providing shelter for the genuinely poor, a poverty often caused by their policies and laws. The Supreme Court has recently recommended that minor offences shouldn’t appear on a job applicants CV. Unemployment causes rough sleeping. A capital gains tax at 10% should apply to all residences at time of sale, and stamp duty should be abolished as it distorts the housing market for all buyers, first time through to last time.

    So leave general housing to the private sector, and it will be provided efficiently at every level for all. Let planning work properly, with a light touch. Building Standards to reduce energy use and prevent global warming need to be raised, and retrospectively applied by using Green Bond money to install proper foundations to Victorian properties, with basements and insulated ground floor slabs. And no gang nail trusses!

    It goes on and on. Scruton’s Beautiful review only scratches the surface. So come on RIBA, get it together, and we can sort this out for all, and all our futures.

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  • And refurbish Alexander Rd in the way that the Brunswick Centre has been, replacing old single glazing and removing aerial walkways. Painting the grey concrete. It could be done as a fitting memorial to Neave Brown, a great pioneer. Come on Kate?! And let’s have an architect or architects having a say in every Central and local government authority at an urban design level to co ordinate the private sector alongside schools, health centres, transport links, parks and recreation.

    And while we are on a roll, decriminalise most drugs. Put an end to 21st Century prohibition, and tax and regulate the supply above board. And let medical cannabis do it’s work. Our children will thank us, and we can have a relaxing puff with our pint!! And while we’re at it, charge for doctors like we do dentists. A properly and fairly funded NHS with fitness for all?

    All on a Wednesday before PMs Qs have started. Perhaps Mrs May should go to Brussels more often, and leave it to her Nelson lookalike Liddington?!

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