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Weekend roundup: Architects down tools

Ukgbc climate 019
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This week’s top stories reviewed by the AJ’s Simon AldousArchitects take part in climate strike • Heatherwick profits soar • RSHP temporary housing ‘stigmatised residents’ • Stirling shortlisted house for sale • George Clarke launches housing design degree

It all started with one Swedish schoolchild missing lessons on a Friday to go and protest at the Swedish parliament over the climate emergency. Yesterday, Greta Thunberg’s ‘climate strike’ action was adopted by millions around the world, with protests in thousands of cities.

And architects, whose designs can have a major effect on the level of carbon emissions, were among those taking part. More than 100 assembled outside London’s Building Centre before going on to a rally in Westminster, while outside the capital, architects took part in protests in numerous other towns and cities.

As the Weekend Roundup has previously remarked, for many architects this doesn’t resemble a normal strike since in most cases walking out is positively embraced by their employers. Among the numerous practices encouraging their workers to down tools were Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Stanton Williams, Bennetts Associates and PRP – and RIBA staff also joined the protests.

Even Grimshaw tweeted that it would be proudly supporting its teams from around the world as they took to the streets. It can only be hoped that those included the team working on its proposal for a massive expansion of Heathrow Airport which will facilitate a significant increase in air travel.

Poll: Do you support architects taking part in Friday’s climate strike?
• Yes, I support them
• Yes, I took part
• No
Vote here

Last week’s poll asked whether a multibillion bridge linking Northern Ireland with Scotland was a good idea. Only 25% of respondents thought it was. Of the naysayers, 52% said it was a waste of money while a further 22% felt the scheme was tainted by its backing from the prime minister.

Correction: Last week’s newsletter said that the world’s longest bridge over the sea, linking Hong Kong with Macau, cost £120 billion. In fact, this was the price in yuan, making its actual cost closer to £14.5 billion.

Reversal of fortune at Heatherwick Studio

Heatherwick profit 3

Heatherwick profit 3

Thomas Heatherwick’s practice appears to have navigated a swift turnaround in its financial performance, announcing a tripling in pretax profits for the year ending March 2019.

It was only in January that it was painting a very different picture announcing figures for the previous year, which showed a nosedive in its pretax profits. They had slumped from £9.5 million to £1.7 million – a drop of 82 per cent. The following month the company said it was laying off a dozen staff from its London office.

But the latest figures show pretax profits rising to £5.2 million. Meanwhile, the practice’s turnover, which fell from 27.5 million to £19.1 million in 2018, has sprung back to £26.5 million in the latest figures.

The boom in work seems to be the result of work outside the UK, following the trend reported by Foster + Partners last week. Heatherwick’s UK earnings fell from £5.2 million to £3.3 million while it rose in its four other geographic regions. The US remains its biggest source of income, accounting for £8.8 million of turnover, while income from Asian projects was close behind at £8 million.

RSHP’s high-profile temporary housing is ‘stigmatising’

Rshp ladywell place

Rshp ladywell place

A Rogers Stirk Harbour project has come under fire for being too conspicuous. Its brightly coloured PLACE/Ladywell ‘pop-up village’ for homeless families takes the form of a series of stacked prefabricated units prominently positioned on Lewisham High Street in south-east London.

The housing has been in place since 2016 as a meanwhile use on the site of a demolished swimming pool. It is due to be dismantled early next year and moved to a new site. It has been acclaimed by the homeless charity Shelter while Lewisham’s mayor Damien Egan made much of his involvement in securing the scheme during his election campaign last year.

But now a study exploring residents’ experiences of living in the block has suggested that its distinctive appearance has made them feel they are on show or stigmatised. It suggests that future designs for such structures could adopt ’alternative aesthetics, such as imitation brick’.

The report, by Royal Holloway, University of London, also said the term ‘pop-up’ had problematic connotations and reminded residents of their ‘provisional’ status as residents. 

The mayor has had experience of being homeless himself while growing up and has said he is determined to make social housing less grim. Last year he told Inside Housing that when graffiti appeared on the RSHP units during construction saying ‘no more homes for yuppies’ he regarded this as a positive demonstration of the scheme’s quality.

The scheme was partly the inspiration for the launch of a not-for-profit modular housing company, PLACE, set up by London Councils, a cross-party organisation representing all of the capital’s local authorities.

The organisation said the report had produced some ‘useful findings’ while confirming that ‘modular housing can offer a significant improvement on other forms of emergency accommodation’.

Clients put Stirling-shortlisted house up for sale

Insideoutside10charleshosea

Insideoutside10charleshosea

It’s not every day that a Stirling shortlisted building comes on the market. All indications are that Bloomberg is pretty happy with its Fosters-designed HQ and not planning to relocate any time soon.

However, Loyn & Co’s Outhouse, a 490m² country house in the Forest of Dean, is currently on the market with a price tag slightly shy of £3 million. The building was at one point the favourite to win the Stirling three years ago but lost out to Caruso St John’s Newport Street Gallery. It did, however, win that year’s Manser Medal for best new house.

Sadly, the original clients have never disclosed how much the house cost them so it’s not possible to judge whether its Stirling experience has raised its price (or indeed deflated it).

However, while the scheme is undoubtedly a beautiful piece of architecture, its appeal may be quite niche. It was designed very specifically for two artists and combines living spaces and courtyards with studio spaces. It’s also in the middle of nowhere, which is why its owners, Jean and Michael Dunwell, feel they can no longer stay there.

‘Neither of us wants to move but we are getting less confident about driving, which is necessary to live here,’ Jean told the Modern House estate agent, which is marketing the property. The couple found the site in 2010 and it then took four years to design and build the property, which they have lived in for just five years. They are now looking to move to a small town.

Those feeling Out House isn’t quite what they’re looking for, but still wanting some of that Stirling magic, may want to consider a house on the 278-home Accordia development in Cambridgeshire, which won the Stirling in 2008 and remains the only residential scheme to do so.

George Clarke launches housing design degree

George clarke

George clarke

TV architect George Clarke is involved in creating a new degree course in housing design to be run by Birmingham City University.

The course will be run by the university’s School of Architecture and Design but, with its focus solely on housing, will not be accredited by the RIBA or count towards qualifying as an architect.

Instead its merits may be more practical. As well as borrowing some modules from exiting architecture degrees, it will teach marketing, branding and business, will look at the planning process and the economics of housebuilding and have a focus on offsite manufacturing.

Head of the school Kevin Singh says the course aims to produce graduates with the skills to improve the quality and quantity of new housing.

‘The problem with any normal architecture degree is that there is so much ground to cover,’ he said. ‘We will drill down into housing … Developers, housebuilders, local authorities, housing associations and other bodies are crying out for these people.’

The course will start in September 2020 with 30 places available, though this allocation could double in the future.

Clarke, who will be giving workshops as part of the course, presents the Channel 4 TV series Amazing Spaces. Last month he called on the government to commit to building 100,000 new council homes every year for the next three decades.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The inside out house is not 'in the middle of nowhere' - unless you consider the vast areas of the country where rural bus services have more or less ceased to exist to be to be 'nowhere'. Perhaps in the same way that around half the population of the country is seen by some to consist of 'non people'?

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