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Weekend roundup: Meet the minister for hosing

Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Another new housing minister • Meet the RIBA candidates • Fosters on the moon as Rogers cuts staff

Political crises, ministerial resignations, cabinet reshuffles – whatever the catalyst, one thing we can be certain of is that when the dust settles, there will be a new housing minister

The man who had held the job for the last six months – Dominic Raab – was promoted to Brexit secretary on Monday, leaving the post vacant once more. Presumably, Theresa May scanned the depleted list of available Tory MPs, saw the name ‘Kit Malthouse’, and thought: ‘It’s got “house” in the name, that’ll do.’ And so Malthouse becomes the eighth housing minister in as many years. 

One insight into his attitude towards his new brief might be gleaned from his tactics as deputy leader of Westminster Council, where he sought to reduce street homelessness by hosing doorways used by homeless people. 

‘We analysed the problem,’ he told a GLA hearing in 2008, ‘and one of the issues was that in many ways – it sounds counterintuitive – life was too comfortable on the street.’ 

Compare this departmental turnover with Tracey Crouch, who has now been sports minister for more than three years

‘Counterintuitive’, isn’t really the word though, Kit. Indeed, intuition would suggest that drenching doorways would indeed encourage people to move (to other boroughs, it has been suggested). ‘Callous and cruel’ is, I think, the term you were looking for. 

One wonders how this kind of exciting ‘counterintuitive’ thinking might be used to solve the housing crisis? 

Malthouse has refused to give up his £40,000 a year second job as director of a loan company. Though with the post’s current level of job security, it is probably prudent to have something to fall back on. 

But compare this departmental turnover rate with, say, Tracey Crouch, who has now held the position of sports minister for more than three years. I’m not, of course, suggesting that her lengthy tenure has anything to do with England’s best showing in the men’s World Cup for 28 years, merely that it is possible to give a minister the time to get to grips with their brief. 

Yet despite housing being one of the most pressing concerns of our time, the government seems blasé about giving anyone the chance to get a handle on this complex issue. 

Poll: Given that time may be short, what ‘counterintuitive’ measure do you think Malthouse should adopt to reduce the shortage of social housing? 
• Make homes less comfortable to reduce demand 
• Axe all planning controls for house-building 
• Abolish right to buy 
• Outlaw all second homes 
Vote here

Last week’s poll asked what the phrase of the moment was. ‘It’s coming home’ received 57 per cent of the votes, comfortably beating both ‘Architect First’ and ‘Cease and desist’. Those were the days eh?

Snog, marry, avoid …

Riba presidential hustingings 2018 (9)

Riba presidential hustingings 2018 (9)

With barely three weeks left to cast your votes – and candidates forbidden from campaigning now voting is in progress – the AJ sought to shed light on the three RIBA presidential candidates by asking them to complete a questionnaire. 

Topics covered included the big issue of marginalisation, which Phil Allsopp believes property insurers could help reverse. He would look to persuade them to charge lower premiums for buildings where the entire construction had been overseen by an architect – on the grounds that they were less likely to be problematic. 

The questionnaire also referred to the AJ’s recent race diversity survey, which pointed to the profession being perceived ‘as a predominantly white old boys’ club … largely unwilling to recognise it has a problem’. Did the candidates agree? 

Alan Jones was robust in his answer. ‘Those making such corrosive comments are not being helpful,’ he responded. ‘Other bodies that are eroding our position surely smile with glee as they read such headlines in the press.’ 

The questions also covered less serious matters, such as ‘what is your biggest extravagance?’ For Jones this is his all-electric car; ‘it is important to lead by example’ – an answer akin to the job interview cliché of being asked if you have a weakness and replying: ‘I work too hard’. 

And what do the candidates collect? Books, said Allsopp; white mugs, revealed Jones, intriguingly; while Elsie Owusu collects ‘memories’ – like Dumbledore then?

Rogers in retreat while Fosters looks to the stars

Foster partners lunar base1

Foster partners lunar base1

When Foster + Partners said it might consider moving its HQ out of the UK, the assumption was that it would be considering setting up in another country. How very small-minded.  

The practice is demonstrating that it won’t be constrained by such conventionally terrestrial preconceptions, presenting designs for habitation pods that could be built on Mars or the Moon, possibly 3D printed by robots.  

But it’s been a less stellar week for rival Rogers Stirk Harbour, which is set to lay off up to 10 per cent of its staff. The practice blames the redundancies on a fall in turnover caused by the Brexit vote, which has led to increased delays and uncertainties on a number of UK projects. The firm currently employs around 200 staff, according to its 2017 annual report. 

There is no talk of it reducing its office space at the Cheesegrater, the City high-rise that it also designed. However, businesses eager to operate from a building that reminds them of the popular pulveriser of hard dairy products will be heartened to know that SOM’s proposed neighbour ‘Cheesegrater 2’ has won planning permission.  

Vain attempts are being made to call the 56-storey tower ‘The Diamond’, but it’s hard to see this catching on since its form so strongly resembles the RSHP building. In both cases, the tapering form is the result of rules to protect views of St Paul’s.

Also this week

Pricegore dulwich pavilion

Pricegore dulwich pavilion

  • Emerging practice Pricegore and artist Yinka Ilori have won the London Festival of Architecture competition to design a temporary pavilion outside the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Their ‘Colour Palace’ proposal (pictured above) was inspired by Dutch wax prints on display in a Lagos market, and will be built in time for next year’s festival in June. The competition is one of several the festival has organised this year, including the design of public benches in the City of London, an installation outside London Bridge station and a float representing LGBT+ architects at last Saturday’s Pride event, which was won by Hawkins\Brown
  • The Glasgow School of Art has confirmed that it intends to fully rebuild the Mackintosh building following its devastation by fire last month. School director Tom Inns said the costs would be covered by insurance. He also revealed that around half the fixtures and fittings from the building’s library had been in storage at the time of the fire and so were unharmed. Unsafe sections of the building are currently being dismantled, a process expected to take eight weeks. 
  • One of Will Alsop’s final projects, a shopping centre in Nairobi, has been approved. The ‘vividly coloured’ scheme has a Wonka-esque ‘sweet factory’ theme, with the open air mall including a light monorail with ‘jellybean’-style carriages, a helter-skelter, piano staircase and a merry-go-round. Less indulgently, it also features a seven-storey office tower.

Simon Aldous’s Weekend Roundup is emailed exclusively to AJ subscribers every Saturday morning. Click here to find out more about our subscription packages

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