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Architects are in the thick of it

Rory Olcayto
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Architects are at the heart of the housing debate. Here’s a few examples, says Rory Olcayto

Our Garden Bridge investigation has not gone unnoticed. Last week Peter Hendy, Transport for London’s commissioner, instructed a public review of ‘the overall process of procurement of the Garden Bridge design contracts’. This follows our Freedom of Information requests, which suggest Heatherwick Studio was picked despite being more expensive and less experienced than its rivals. How this project has been procured is at the heart of the problems facing the troubled project.

Despite Boris Johnson’s description of those questioning the bridge as having a ‘Taliban-like hatred of beauty’, the AJ is concerned with accountability, due process, democracy and fair play – because this is a public project with UK citizens’ money behind it. As both a member of parliament and the Mayor of London, we assume Johnson backs our endeavour.

Save Robin Hood Gardens

The campaign to save Robin Hood Gardens is back on. Led by Richard Rogers, a pantheon of architectural greats – Gehry, Hadid and Nouvel among them – is urging Historic England to list the Smithsons’ ‘streets in the sky’ housing scheme in Poplar, London.

The passionate support the profession is willing to give to see this building preserved is interesting. If we can put aside the admiration many of these architects have for the Smithsons, (who practically invented today’s image of the architect as savvy, fashionable lifestylers), a key message being communicated is the need to refurbish well-built housing rather than replace it.  This matter lies at the heart of Mae’s work in King’s Lynn, our building study this week, which has seen the firm revive the fortunes of a failing 1960s estate. Yes – that is the same Mae targeted by protesters over its plans to replace the Aylesbury Estate in South London with new build housing.

Exemplar housing estate regeneration: the book

Clever refurbishment is of course, very much part of the future of housing. This week we’re giving you a specially-commissioned book that explores exemplar housing schemes across Europe, with contributions from Park Hill architect Ivor Smith, as well as Owen Hatherley and Ellis Woodman.

We’ve teamed up with Karakusevic Carson Architects to throw the spotlight on great projects, including work by Lacaton & Vassal that has shown how refurbishment is less disruptive to residents and cheaper, too, for public clients.

Ironically, our publishing partner, renowned for its public housing, has designed homes on the Robin Hood Gardens site, replacing warehouses south of the Smithson scheme. What further proof do we need that shows architects are in the thick of it? 

With enough peer support, you can effect real change. Architects calling for residents to be central to plans to regenerate housing might well win the profession some friends.


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