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This is a time for constructive thinking, not endless moaning

Paul Finch
  • 17 Comments

The grumbling about Boris Johnson’s back-to-work TV address reminds Paul Finch of Dad’s Army

For decades, the cult of density has informed the way architects and space planners have thought about everything from office layouts to the way we organise our cities. The assumption has generally been that density is good for you. When Ricky Burdett curated his Venice Biennale show a decade ago, it was all about the way we needed to densify.

Suddenly, all this is starting to look irrelevant. The new mantra is space, not density; homes and gardens, rather than high-rise residential boxes; and office floorspace layouts based on separation, not proximity.

Since most of the proponents of density themselves live in substantial houses with gardens attached, not to mention their second homes well away from fashionably dense urban environments, we don’t need to shed too many tears for them or their nostrums. 

In the meantime, wonderful new workstreams are opening up for designers as employers get to grips with the implications of new ways of living and working. The useless teaching unions objecting to children going back to school seem to be oblivious to the excellent work undertaken by teachers, some presumably their own members, in rethinking classrooms and routes through schools, as part of the programme to let the children of key workers remain at school.

This is a time for constructive and creative thinking, not endless moaning about how everything is impossible. It’s a bit like Dad’s Army, where ingenuity is at a premium while regulation fetishists like Warden Hodges go around squeaking but contributing absolutely nothing to the overall effort.

Arp hodges

Arp hodges

I found it extraordinary that intelligent people claimed to be ‘confused’ about the prime minister’s back-to-work television address. They apparently didn’t know whether they were supposed to go back to work or not. Since the message explicitly stated that people who can work from home should continue to do so, I was only confused by the alleged confusion. (Boris’s critics include people who dislike or hate him for being a Conservative; object to him because he won the Brexit referendum; and are furious that he won the last election. None of this, of course, has anything to do with the virus.)

Critics should note that Boris was the only politician to achieve any increase in residential space standards since the abolition of Parker Morris regulations

When it comes to space planning, critics should note that Boris was the only politician to achieve any increase in residential space standards since the abolition of Parker Morris regulations 40 years ago. His London minimum space standards should become mandatory nationally, and possibly made bigger to take account of possible future pandemic scenarios in which people have to work from home to an even greater extent than they are likely to anyway.

The designers who have won awards for their school architecture in recent years should be mobilised to do speedy revamps of classroom layouts, and to plot out routes in and around schools, recognising the requirement for social distancing. If I have a criticism of government, it is that it has not been centralist enough on this subject, instead leaving it to local education authorities and, of course, the sniping from dozy, self-serving teaching unions.

You have to laugh

It came as no surprise to hear that Sadiq Khan is increasing the Congestion Charge in London to £15 a day, extending the tax to cover Saturdays and Sundays, and closing ‘key routes’. This is in the context of worries about congestion on the Underground and buses, and a request from government to encourage alternative modes of transport (for example walking and cycling), but including the use of cars.

Mayor Khan has never understood a simple rule, not just about transport, but the provision of almost anything: you shouldn’t reduce capacity at a time of maximum demand. Thank goodness he is not in charge of PPE.

  • 17 Comments

Readers' comments (17)

  • Finger 'off' the pulse as usual from Finch: maybe his sentiments about sending our children back to school with an upcoming second wave and the relatively unknown long term effects on children mark that he is also 'off to Durham'.

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  • Children of key workers have been going to school, as have their teachers and ancillary staff. The 'we are all doomed' predictions are neither accurate nor constructive.

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  • Hi Paul interesting comment re back to school layouts? Have you seen our proposals for existing school layouts and external pop up summers schools? The AJ Richard W reported last week ... also Dezeen, Telegraph, Evening S....
    We are ready to roll out the templates and now teamed with industry suppliers of marquees and tents

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  • Yes and congratulations. We need the power of creative thinking in this situation -- and not the endless, pointless belly-aching that has occupied too much of the mainstream media in recent days. Architects and designers are needed more than ever to improve things for us all.

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  • Agree re bellyaching
    But what can we Collectively do to have the UK Gov pay more attention to our professions responses to the crisis? It’s a two way concern. The DfE isn’t listening...Michael Gove...?... he did all he could to reduce circulation and class sizes ...

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  • Sorry back to bellyaching there!

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  • Direct approaches to building owners or occupiers, whether public or private, looks like a good approach— and architects/designers will be able to cite what they have done in their own studios as test-bed thinking. All to play for!

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  • Paul Finch makes a point of saying "Boris’s critics include people who dislike or hate him for being a Conservative; object to him because he won the Brexit referendum; and are furious that he won the last election. None of this, of course, has anything to do with the virus."......but Mr Finch says it anyway.

    Something that certainly IS to do with the virus, is the recent stories concerning Dominic Cummings's conduct and the Prime Minister's response to it. Would Mr Finch also apply the "this is a time for constructive thinking, not endless moaning" attitude to this too?

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  • Yes.

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  • Paul Finch has definitely improved engagement with AJ. Nobody gets more comments as far as I can see. Whether you agree with him or not (I'm not sure myself - no offence, Mr. Finch), he's clearly an excellent writer touching many a nerve. A highly enjoyable read and his responses are priceless. All of a sudden the AJ has become a more interesting place to go - worth the subscription.

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