This week’s top stories reviewed by the AJ’s Simon Aldous: Neave Brown Award shortlist announced • Roger Scruton reinstated to beauty commission • Housing ministry shake-up • Shipping container homes
The RIBA has announced the shortlist for the inaugural Neave Brown Award – set up to ‘recognise the best new example of affordable housing in the UK’. And already there’s a bit of a fuss about the schemes that have made it.
The award is named after the late Neave Brown, an architect who made his name with several outstanding social housing projects, notably Alexandra Road and Dunboyne Road estate.
Several architects have argued that it would, therefore, be appropriate that an award in his name should solely recognise social housing. Instead, qualifying projects only need to be a third ‘affordable’. That term that is controversial in itself with many councils defining it as ‘80 per cent of market value’ – a far cry from Brown’s council housing.
As it turns out only one scheme on the shortlist is 100 per cent social housing: Goldsmith Street in Norwich, by Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley. The 105-unit Passivhaus scheme is also in the running for this year’s Stirling Prize.
The three other developments in the running are: Mae Architects’ Brentford Lock West in Hounslow; Eddington Lot 1 in North West Cambridge by WilkinsonEyre with Mole Architects; and the regeneration of Hackney’s Colville Estate by Karakusevic Carson Architects with David Chipperfield.
Also announced this week was the shortlist for this year’s Stephen Lawrence Prize which recognises schemes with a built cost of less than £1 million. Five of the six finalists are one-off private homes, among them another Stirling Prize contender: Cork House by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton.
The winners of both prizes will be named during the Stirling Prize ceremony on Tuesday 8 October.
Last week’s Stirling Prize poll is still open, but at the time of writing, Goldsmiths Street was the overwhelming favourite. The results so far are:
- Cork House 10%
- Goldsmith Street 33%
- London Bridge Station 17%
- Nevill Holt Opera 13%
- Macallan Distillery 14%
- The Weston, Yorkshire Sculpture Park 13%
Was James Brokenshire worried about his future in government earlier this week? A flurry of activity saw the then housing secretary feature in no fewer than three of Tuesday’s AJ stories. He did not, however, survive the new prime minister’s cabinet cull.
The action that made headlines beyond the architectural press was Brokenshire’s rehabilitation of Roger Scruton, who he invited to resume his former role as head of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.
Brokenshire sacked Scruton back in April following a New Statesman interview in which the right-wing philosopher expressed what were deemed to be extremist views. Why these particular views were deemed beyond the pale was something of a mystery when he had been making similarly off-colour pronouncements for decades (‘no such crime as date rape’ was one of many).
Nevertheless, this interview seemed a particularly poor piece of journalism, running one ‘outrageous’ quote after another with no attempt to give them any context. Once the full transcript was revealed – the magazine published it two weeks after the sacking – Scruton was deemed to have been misrepresented.
Oddly, though, it has taken Brokenshire three months to get round to reading the transcript and realising he’d made a terrible mistake. In the meantime, interim head Nicholas Boys Smith has published its preliminary report. Scruton and Boys Smith are now set to co-chair the commission.
But if Brokenshire – who voted remain in the 2016 referendum – thought bringing back Scruton would be enough to keep him in the cabinet, he was mistaken.
Brokenshire has been replaced as housing secretary by the little-known Robert Generic. Sorry, that’s Robert Jenrick.
The 37-year-old is the youngest member of Boris Johnson’s cabinet and has previously shown some interest in the built environment. He led a debate on the destruction of historic sites in Syria and Iraq; and campaigned to save the historic house Wentworth Woodhouse, securing a £7.6 million government grant to repair the building.
We must also bid farewell to housing minister Kit Malthouse, who having held the job – notorious for its high turnover – for a whole year must have known his time was up.
Malthouse, to his credit, did at least show some interest in his brief compared with his two most recent predecessors: Dominic Raab who held the post for six months and Alok Sharma who was in the job for the seven months before that. Interestingly, both of them have now been promoted to Johnson’s cabinet – Raab as foreign secretary; Sharma as international development secretary.
The new housing minister is Esther McVey, who was herself a cabinet member not so long ago, holding the post of pension secretary until she resigned over Brexit last November. She is most well known for admitting to misleading MPs about Universal Credit as well as defending the rise in the use of food banks – so some may be surprised Boris Johnson didn’t give her a higher-ranking job.
Malthouse – who managed to alienate many architects with his notorious Alabama courthouse tweet last year – has moved to the Home Office where he is now minister for policing.
Aylesbury containers 3
Seldom does a month go by without news of housing being built on the site of garages. But usually the new development is considerably more spacious than what it replaced. That is not the case, however, with Fraser Brown Mackenna’s scheme for a series of homes made from shipping containers.
Among Theresa May’s rash of announcements in the last few weeks – as she suddenly realised she’d been prime minister for three years and had nothing to show for it – was to call for statutory minimum space standards on all new homes. At the moment, while guidelines exist, councils are under no obligation to insist they are adhered to.
Step forward Aylesbury Vale District Council which has given planning permission for the shipping container one-bedroom homes despite their floor area of 26m². The government’s Nationally Described Space Standards suggest a minimum of 37m² for a one-person studio flat.
Still on the upside, Fraser Brown Mackenna has added large windows to the containers and painted them different colours. Plus the seven homes will be supplemented by an eighth containing a laundry room, so at least residents won’t have to fit a washing machine into their boxes.
Also this week
- Grimshaw’s Camden Sainsbury’s has become the UK’s first purpose-built supermarket to be listed. The late-80s High-Tech building has been Grade II listed along with the development’s terrace of houses facing Regent’s Canal. However, a third part of the scheme, comprising Grand Union House, a workshop building on Kentish Town Road, and a small detached building which was formerly a creche, is not covered.
- In one of his final acts as home secretary, Sajid Javid (since made chancellor) confirmed that architects would be added to the UK’s migration priority list to tackle an acute skills gap in the profession. A review by the Migrant Advisory Committee in May ranked architects seventh in its list of occupations with a shortage of applicants.
- Foster + Partners has won an international competition to design a €22 million extension to the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum in the northern Spanish city. It topped a shortlist that also included entries from BIG, Rafael Moneo, Snøhetta and SANAA. The project will restore the museum’s original 1945 entrance and ground-floor spaces while creating a 2,000m² of galleries above the existing structure.
The Weekend Roundup takes its summer break from next week. It will return at the end of August with a comprehensive account of the architectural goings-on during the holidays.