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.
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.