Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Poundbury residents’ ‘unauthorised’ alterations • Does housing’s future lie in subscription services? • Holocaust Memorial PR shenanigans • Thames Barrier pedestrian bridge proposed
King Canute attempted to halt the tide in an effort to show those around him that there was a limit to his powers. Prince Charles, it seems, is rather more ambitious, hoping to use his royal power to halt any tide of change at his traditionalist-style settlement of Poundbury.
The Dorset ‘urban extension to Dorchester’ has not only been designed to represent some imagined ideal of the past but seeks to resist any ideas of evolution. Residents must sign up to strict conditions on buying property there. These stipulate that residents may not erect television aerials, install different windows or change the colour of their front door. Alarmingly, residents must also allow Prince Charles access to their property to examine its condition!
Personally, when I see photographs of Poundbury I always think it looks a deeply creepy place. But the prince’s tastes are at least partly shared by the current and former chairs of the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. Roger Scruton and Nicholas Boys both argue that this is the kind of place people would choose to live if they had the choice.
Certainly, there have been no problems in populating Poundbury, though it does only have about 1,500 homes to fill. But it seems even some of these residents – who you might have thought would have fully bought into the prince’s ideals – feel there is room for improvement.
The Duchy of Cornwall, the prince’s estate, reports that some Poundburyites have been making unwelcome alterations to their homes. The duchy reports residents observing unauthorised work taking place, assuming it has been approved – because who would dare challenge the heir to the throne? – and then seeking permission to make similar changes, citing the unauthorised changes as precedent.
The duchy is disappointingly vague about the nature of these interventions. Surely we’re not talking about the odd wrong-shade-of-beige door.
It says duchy officials will be inspecting homes, armed with clipboards and cameras, to establish the works are in harmony with Prince Charles’s original design philosophy. If this prospect whets your appetite, there are plenty of properties for sale there!
Architect Tarek Merlin has looked at the housing crisis and wonders whether the Netflix business model might be the way forward.
Writing in the AJ this week, he looked at the increasing popularity of subscription models, where customers pay a fixed monthly fee for TV (Netflix, Amazon Prime), food (weekly recipe boxes) and even clothes (Rent the Runway).
How could this translate to housing? He envisages a future of extensive communal areas and facilities with minimal personal space – ‘communal living rooms and kitchens; a café, bar and co-working spaces, as well as gym/cinema and external green spaces; with smaller private spaces, bedrooms and bathrooms’.
And, of course, with radically new housing typologies come new opportunities for architects.
It’s an interesting idea that would certainly have some degree of takeup – indeed Merlin points to The Collective as a company already developing this kind of housing.
But for a lot of people, such a lifestyle will sound like a living hell. And what about those wanting to start a family? The envisaged cool urban chic might feel a whole lot less attractive when those communal spaces start to fill up with bawling infants and toddlers throwing tantrums.
But perhaps most questionable is Merlin’s conflation of an interesting new housing model with the housing crisis. That crisis is caused by an inadequate number of new homes being built as the population rises. Whether that shortfall is made up by owner-occupied homes, rented accommodation or a subscription model is a separate issue.
Or is it that rented options are more attractive to developers, who see the opportunity of making more money in the long run with tenants paying rent right into retirement? It’s all a very far cry from Margaret Thatcher’s dream of mass home ownership.
Poll: Where would you rather live?
• Subscription housing
• A modern new-build home
• Traditional terrace
Last week’s poll asked: What is your take on 17 Stirling Prize-winning architects declaring a climate emergency? A majority (51%) backed the initiative as ‘an important move’, while 28% felt it was ‘an empty publicity stunt’ and 21% found it ‘deeply hypocritical’. Several respondents, however, said they agreed with all three options.
In the week that Ron Arad, co-designer of the Holocaust Memorial, robustly defended the choice of site, evidence has been uncovered of certain PR shenanigans to garner support for the project.
A vociferous campaign has been run against building the memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens, claiming that it will ruin the park – but Arad argues in the AJ that siting it near Westminster is crucial.
He acknowledges that some felt it would be better placed in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum, but says the memorial ‘is not about the Holocaust in the context of war; it is about the Holocaust in the context of government … it is about our role as a democracy in standing up to injustices’. He concludes: ‘I cannot imagine a more appropriate choice of site.’
Also helping make the case for sticking with the site is ‘engagement consultant’ Big Ideas, to which the government has paid £118,000 for its work supporting the scheme’s planning application.
This work seems to take the form of collecting responses to a questionnaire which asks respondents whether they support the proposed location. It then takes the positive replies and sends them to the planning authority, Westminster City Council.
According to the Save Victoria Gardens campaign, the number of supportive comments sent to the council has subsequently grown from one a day to 149 a day, with Big Ideas overseeing a ’complete reversal in the balance of comments’. As it stands, the application has attracted 965 objections and 2,834 messages of support.
A reassuring Westminster Council spokesperson said: ‘We have processes in place for handling – and giving the appropriate weight to – organised campaigns.’
Thames barrier bridge
Architect Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands has revealed its concept for a cycling and pedestrian bridge next to the Thames Barrier, which protects London from flooding.
The proposal – devised on the practice’s own initiative with marine engineer Beckett Rankine – has been submitted to Transport for London. The 530m-long bridge would link Charlton in south-east London with the Royal Docks in Newham and, as the visualisations show, comprises four 61m lifting sections, which could be opened to allow taller river traffic to pass, something the practice envisages taking place around 10 times a day.
Should the scheme prove too expensive, I have a suggestion for reducing the cost: just have one lifting section. If only 10 tall vessels are expected a day, the chances of four of them turning up at the same time would be pretty minimal.
In other bridge news, Suffolk County Council has revealed that it spent £8.1 million on its Foster-designed Upper Orwell Crossings project, which was scrapped after projected costs rocketed. Congratulations are surely due to the council for funding one of the cheaper unbuilt bridges of recent years.
Also this week
- John McAslan Architects has become the fourth practice to have proposals rejected for the development of land around a Tesco at 100 West Cromwell Road in west London. Kensington & Chelsea Council turned down a plan to build 427 homes on the car park site around the supermarket. Councillors raised concerns over the quality of the housing and the scale of the development. McAslans follows in the footsteps of Benson + Forsyth, Bolles + Wilson and Woods Bagot, all of whom have had schemes for the site fail to be realised in the past 12 years.
- Meanwhile Westminster City Council has turned down Eric Parry Architects’ £400 million plans to overhaul Dolphin Square. The 1930s estate in Pimlico is the UK’s largest private residential development and the proposal would have added 230 homes to the existing 1,225 flats. The Twentieth Century Society had warned the scheme would harm the significance of the Dolphin Square Conservation Area.
- O’Donnell + Tuomey has won a competition to design an extension to Liverpool University’s school of architecture. The Dublin-based architect, which has been shortlisted for the Stirling Prize five times, was chosen over entries from 6A Architects, Eric Parry Architects, Carmody Groarke and Grafton Architects. The £23 million scheme will sit between the school’s existing Leverhulme building and Basil Spence’s Chadwick Laboratory physics building.
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