This week’s top stories reviewed by the AJ’s Simon Aldous: Man blames son for abuse-of-title conviction • Architecture firms unite against excessive working hours • Liverpool schemes halted after developer’s arrest • Antepavilion developer hits back at council • Architect hails change to Oxford’s affordable housing policy
Watford designer Sohail Chohan has pointed the finger at his teenage son after receiving seven convictions for falsely describing himself as an architect. He has since described himself as ‘an idiot’.
Chohan pleaded guilty at Westminster Magistrates Court to misusing the title ‘architect’. But he told the AJ that his son (not pictured), who was doing his A-levels at the time, had set up both his website and LinkedIn profile, and that he himself had never seen them.
He didn’t, however, seek to blame junior for the word ‘architect’ appearing on his company drawings and with companies house – the subject of some of the convictions. So it’s maybe understandable that his beleaguered son could have got the wrong idea about exactly what daddy did in the office.
Chohan said he was grateful that the judge had only fined him £1,700 rather than the £35,000 maximum. ‘They understood I was an idiot and were as lenient as they could be,’ he admitted candidly.
He also admitted that he had ignored multiple warnings from the ARB because he had ‘not realised the seriousness of claiming to be an architect’. Chohan studied architecture in Leeds but dropped out for personal reasons before he could complete his Part 1.
Chohan insisted he was not annoyed at his son, which is nice, but did express surprise when the AJ informed him, some days after the conviction, that his website still had ‘Professional Architects based in London’ emblazoned at the top of it.
The intergenerational duo would appear to have since concluded that taking the entire website down was the most expedient course of action as it is no longer coming up in Google searches.
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Can architects unite to halt the climate crisis? Probably not – particularly if they keep designing new airports. Can they unite to bring an end to excessive working hours? That sounds a lot more doable.
The problem, it would appear, is that too many practices rely on ridiculous hours as part of their business model. And it’s an issue that could well become more acute if the Brexodus of European talent continues – unless of course Brexit also leads to a downturn in work, in which case we can all have the rest of the week off. Hurrah!
But an alliance of London-based practices have decided to crack down on lengthy hours themselves. The London Practice Forum is an informal collective of 21 smaller firms, which shares knowledge, experience and resources.
As the AJ reported last July, those resources include employees, with a loan system in place so that overstretched practices – rather than simply making everyone work till midnight – can temporarily use the talents of architects at firms that are going through a quiet period.
The network’s new Principles & Ethical Charter obliges member practices to ‘commit to standard working hours of no more than 40 hours per week’. They must also have a ‘written overtime and time-off-in-lieu policy which compensates staff appropriately’. Asking staff to opt out of the EU Working Time Directive is most definitely forbidden.
The member firms count for a tiny proportion of London practices, collectively employing only around 300 of the 26,000 or that work in the capital’s architecture sector. Nevertheless, they include many up-and-coming names, such as Alma-nac, vPPR, Bell Phillips and IF_DO. And past experience suggests that at least some of these could grow to become major employers.
There’s also the hope that by publicly taking such a stance, they will inspire (or shame) others to make similar commitments in order to attract staff. The charter also includes sections on ‘who we work for; addressing inequality; addressing the climate crisis; and promoting good design’. It was drawn up by Bell Phillips director Hari Phillips and associate Jay Morton. Last month, Morton failed to be elected as MP for Chichester after standing as Labour candidate in the safe Tory seat.
Work has stopped on two Liverpool schemes designed by Falconer Chester Hall following the arrest of its developer. The projects – a £100 million hotel and student accommodation scheme and Infinity, a £250 million group of three residential towers – are both for the Elliott Group, operated by 32-year-old Elliott Lawless.
Last month, he was arrested on suspicion of fraud alongside an employee of Liverpool Council as part of a bribery and corruption investigation. Both have been released on bail and neither has been charged, but contractor Vermont has suspended on work on both schemes.
Falconer Chester Hall director Adam Hall played down the situation, saying that his practice was continuing to work on both schemes, adding that he thought the stoppage of work was just for this week ‘as people come back to work’.
The developer has described the allegations as ‘completely baseless’ and vowed to ‘clear his good name’ – which is an interesting choice of phrase when your name is ‘Lawless’.
The architect will be hoping the arrests do indeed come to nothing as, according to Hall, it has about 20 projects with the developer in the pipeline.
The backer behind the Architecture Foundation’s annual Antepavilion commission has hit out at Hackney Council after it ordered him to remove two of the previous pavilions.
Russell Gray owns the Columbia and Brunswick Wharf sites in north-east London, which have been the site of the previous three pavilions, two of which have been built on the wharves’ rooftops.
But the council says those schemes – by PUP Architects (pictured) and Maich Swift Architects – are ‘incongruous’ with their surroundings and result in a loss of amenity.
Not only is Gray appealing against the notice, he is expressing his frustration through the brief for the latest Antepavilion commission. This asks entrants to ‘respond to the tension between authoritarian governance of the built environment and aesthetic libertarianism’.
The fourth Antepavilion is less likely to attract the council’s critical attentions since it will be a floating structure, standing on a series of steel pontoons on the Regent’s Canal. Competition entries can be designed to move around London’s canal network though, so if Hackney does find fault, they can always be paddled to another borough.
Adrian james oxford
Oxford architect Adrian James has welcomed the end of the city council’s affordable housing policy, saying it will mean more homes are built in the city.
The council had insisted that, for all developments of four houses or more, 15 per cent of the sale price should go towards council housing. But it was forced to ditch the policy after government planning inspectors said it was not in line with the National Planning Policy Framework – a ruling it described as frustrating and disappointing. The levy will now only apply to developments of at least 10 homes.
Since the change, James’s practice has won approval for a seven-flat scheme (pictured) which he says would not previously been viable. And he says the ditched policy had in practice meant ‘effectively zero small housing developments like this in the city for a decade’.