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Weekend roundup: Architect stands as Labour candidate as support for party falls

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This week’s top stories reviewed by the AJ’s Simon Aldous: Bell Phillips associate stands as Labour candidate • Tributes paid to Ted Cullinan • Court convicts XR activist architect 

While the latest results of the AJ’s reader survey on voting intentions shows a marked dip in support for Labour compared with just before the 2017 election, at least one architect has taken her enthusiasm for the party to another level.

Jay Morton, an associate architect at Bell Phillips is standing as Labour candidate in the Chichester constituency. She is believed to be the only architect standing for parliament, and unfortunately for those who feel the house would be improved by a representative from the profession, her chances of electoral success seem a little slim.

Aside from one year in the 1920s, the West Sussex constituency has been Conservative for as long as there’s been a Conservative Party, and the incumbent, Gillian Keegan, is defending a majority of 22,621.

Bell Phillips has a reputation for well-designed social housing projects, and Morton said the local party selected her because of her ‘good knowledge of the built environment’. A decent campaign and toeing of the party line may, however, see Morton rewarded with a more promising seat in a future election, so there is hope for an architect MP yet.

But has the profession as a whole fallen out of love with Labour? The AJ survey shows readers backing for the party at 37 per cent which compares with 64 per cent on the eve of the 2017 poll. But it is the Lib Dems (30 per cent) rather than the Tories (13 per cent) that have benefited.

One reason for this shift is likely to be Brexit. The AJ’s 2017 survey showed 24 per cent thought it was their biggest priority when deciding who to vote for – tying in first place with the NHS. The Brexit percentage has now risen to 49 per cent.

Understandable, if Barbara Weiss’s experience is anything to go by. Writing in the AJ she says the Brexit limbo has meant ‘our phones are not ringing [and] haven’t really rung for months and months’. The answer to this is not, as Boris Johnson would have it, to get Brexit done, but to ditch it – so a party pledging to revoke Article 50 may seem particularly attractive.

Also of note is that the second most important issue – if trailing somewhat on 19 per cent – is the environment, though that only translates into 10 per cent support for the Greens.

Poll: If an architect was standing for election in your constituency, would you be likely to vote for them?
• Yes
• Yes, if I liked their party
• It would make no difference
• It would put me off them
Vote here

Last week’s poll asked whether the government’s call-in of the Holocaust Memorial proposal was a cynical stitch-up to bypass local opposition or appropriate for a nationally significant project? A cynical 75 per cent of voters plumped for the stitch-up option.

Wrestling with tricky design concepts

Cullinan wrestling

Cullinan wrestling

Many architects have been paying tribute to Ted Cullinan, who died on Monday. The architect and teacher, who was 88, was behind several innovative buildings, notably the 1990 Ready Mix Concrete headquarters in Surrey, where an existing Arts and Crafts building was restored and augmented by a series of single-storey offices and courtyards camouflaged with roof gardens; and the 2002 Stirling-shortlisted Weald and Downland Museum Gridshell.

But it wasn’t just his buildings that broke from the norm. His practice was set up in 1965 as a co-operative with no member earning more than three times what the lowest-paid member was paid.

Sasha Bhavan was its director for 10 years before founding Knox Bhavan. She recalls Cullinan as ‘full of infectious energy and enthusiasm’ saying ‘he built a world of sharing and collaboration. We worked with, not for, one another’.

As a relative latecomer to the practice, though, she may have missed out on its rather unusual way of resolving design disputes in the early days. According to Ellis Woodman’s tribute, disagreements between team members in the 1960s were sorted out through wrestling matches. For some reason, Ken Russell’s film version of Women in Love springs to my mind.

Woodman says that this ‘hands-on’ approach feels emblematic of Cullinan, who at the age of 22 played an active role in the building work on the restoration of a lighthouse that his father had taken a lease on – the first in a number of self-build projects he undertook – notably his own London home in Camden.

XR architect fought the law – and the law won

Shutterstock judge

Shutterstock judge

An architect at London practice Studio Bark has been found guilty of a public order offence committed during last April’s Extinction Rebellion protests. Tom Bennett was arrested after refusing to move from Waterloo Bridge when asked to do so by police officers, who then carried him off the bridge, and put him in police custody overnight.

He appeared in court on Wednesday where he pleaded not guilty to the charge. While not disputing the facts surrounding his arrest, he argued in a 16-minute speech that his action had been necessary to draw attention and provoke action to tackle the climate emergency.

Unpersuaded, the court ordered him to pay £640 in court fees and gave him a nine-month conditional discharge, meaning he will not be sentenced unless he reoffends during that period.

Studio Bark’s architects are no strangers to fighting the law. The practice’s director, Nick Newman, was arrested last month after memorably chaining himself to a plywood modular tower of his own design. Newman and other colleagues were present throughout Bennett’s trial.

Bennett must now report his criminal record to the ARB, which has the power to suspend or expel individuals from the Architects Register if they are convicted of a crime. Whether he has brought the profession into disrepute or in fact enhanced its standing will be an interesting matter for the registration board to consider.

Also this week



  • A house in Northern Ireland by McGonigle McGrath has been named RIBA House of the Year. House Lessans (pictured) in County Down was built for £335,000 in a rural setting and features white rendered concrete walls capped with zinc pitched roofs, echoing a neighbouring corrugated barn.
  • AHMM has been appointed to plan an overhaul of Denys Lasdun’s IBM Building on London’s South Bank. The 1983 Brutalist structure sits next to Lasdun’s Grade II*-listed National Theatre which opened seven years earlier. According to a report lodged with Lambeth Council the scheme would add three storeys to the existing five while demolishing some of the existing structure.
  • The opening of London’s Crossrail service has been further delayed until 2021with costs set to rise a further £650 million taking the total to £18.25 billion. The east-to-west rail line had been set to open last December at a cost of £14.8 billion. Meanwhile, a report into HS2 is set to favour pressing ahead with the high-speed line, according to a leaked draft report, even though its £56 billion budget is now predicted to rise to at least £88 billion.
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