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What will be making headlines in 2020?

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The AJ team predicts the biggest issues in architecture that could make the headlines over the next 12 months

A political sea change

Shutterstock boris johnson eection december 2019

Shutterstock boris johnson eection december 2019

The Conservatives’ resounding electoral victory gives them a majority of 80, something which will have a significant impact on the profession.

The prospect of a Labour government delivering 100,000 local authority-backed homes built a year by 2024 is no more. The more interventionist responses to the climate emergency promised by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party will also fail to see the light of day.

Many within the profession will be deeply disappointed that this election has essentially confirmed the result of the 2016 EU referendum. Yet others – whether they be leavers or remainers – probably feel a degree of relief that at least some of the uncertainty swirling around Brexit has dissipated. Huge question marks remain, not least over Johnson’s ability to strike a trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020, but the prime minister now has a decisive mandate to push through Brexit, perhaps even a softer version than the kind previously envisaged, should he so choose.

That said, it’s apparent that this new Conservative government will differ markedly from those of recent years. The Tory manifesto promised at least a partial ending of austerity with an underlying economic position of borrow, tax and spend.

We can now expect (some) hospital building, investment in railway projects, particularly in the north and presumably in HS2, as well as green infrastructure and energy-efficiency projects, given the legally binding commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 as well as the fact that Glasgow will host the next major UN climate change summit, COP26, in November. Given Johnson’s preoccupation with bridges, we also cannot discount the prospect of a new crossing between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

What this election means for Scotland and its relationship with the UK as a whole is another matter. The huge gains made by the SNP suggest pressure will grow for a second independence referendum. The Conservatives may end up securing Brexit at the expense of the union. If that came to pass, talented architects on either side of the border would end up practising within separate nation states following starkly different paths. WH

Will slum housing be stopped?

Slum housing

Slum housing

Could 2020 see the tide turn on ‘slum housing’ created by permitted development rights (PDR) planning rules? This year has seen a slew of poor-quality office-to-resi conversions, and ministers have so far taken little notice of growing opposition. 

Despite ex-RIBA president Ben Derbyshire’s call for architects to boycott PDR, many are still taking the work. Ben Adams Architects recently faced a backlash over its plans to convert an ex-office block in Haringey into 219 homes. Some of the flats in the so-called ’human warehouse’ came in as small as 16m2

But the tail end of 2019 brought a glimmer of hope after Haringey refused the Ben Adams scheme. Its decision notice has been described by campaigners as a potential turning point in the fight to stop PDR conversions. EJ

Architects unite against poor working culture



Source: Louis Hellman

All eyes will be on the actions of architecture’s brand-new trade union, which launched in autumn. Claiming to be the profession’s first union for 40 years, the Section of Architectural Workers (SAW) was formed to combat what it calls the ‘toxic culture’ of overwork, underpay and discrimination. It hopes to tackle issues such as stagnating wages and architects being pressured into opting out of the working time directive. 

Reaction to the new body was mixed. Some argued that protecting architects’ rights should be the job of the RIBA whereas other, mainly director-level, architects questioned whether it was needed. 

In the capital, meanwhile, the London Practice Forum, an informal collective of 21 practices, has set up to share staff and knowledge. The collective also plans to publish a set of ethical principles for how its members should operate. EJ

Fire safety in focus

Shutterstock towers in plymouth cladding replacment post grenfell 2019

Shutterstock towers in plymouth cladding replacment post grenfell 2019

Source: Shutterstock

Towers in Plymouth

Around 300 buildings will enter 2020 still clad in potentially flammable ACM material. Expect this issue to return to the public gaze with phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry focusing on the causes of the 2017 tragedy. 

After the first stage, chairman Martin Moore-Bick said he believed the ‘principal reason’ for the rapid spread of flames was ACM cladding, which ‘acted as a source of fuel’. Phase two will see a range of parties, from contractor Rydon and architect Studio E, to Kensington and Chelsea Council and cladding manufacturer Arconic, argue they were not responsible for flammable cladding being installed on the tower. 

While the full implementation of Judith Hackitt’s recommendations will take years, 2020 should also see some tightening of regulations. A consultation on urgent changes to fire-safety measures wrapped up at the end of November, and the housing ministry is likely to update the law on sprinklers. 

In Scotland, an investigation into the 2018 fire at the Mac has been extended into the New Year while further excavation takes place. However, 2020 should see the fire brigade name the likely origin and cause of that fire. WI

Schemes to look out for… 

Five new buildings

Five new buildings

  • Norman Foster’s opinion-splitting Tulip has not yet been fully killed off. Expect an appeal in early January against Sadiq Khan’s summer refusal for the controversial neighbour to the Gherkin.
  • Will 2020 be the year the long saga surrounding Hoskins’ plans for the historic Royal High School site on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill is decided? The outcome of a planning inquiry into the hotel plans, held in late 2018, is finally on the horizon. 
  • David Adjaye and Ron Arad’s Holocaust Memorial has sidestepped a potentially tricky borough planning committee by being called in. Instead of Westminster Council, housing minister Esther McVey will now decide whether the contentious scheme goes ahead.  
  • SOM became Gary Neville’s third architect to work on his St Michael’s tower in Manchester earlier this year. The plans have been revised again – mainly internally – but work is due to start in the next 12 months. 
  • The Barbican insists its plan for a major new concert hall is on track, despite nothing having been heard or seen of the Diller Scofidio + Renfro-designed project since its big reveal in January. Perhaps fresh plans will be shown off when an updated business case is submitted to the City of London in the New Year.  
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