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Weekend roundup: Playground of the wealthy

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Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: ‘Poor playgrounds’ • Unpaid interns and free lunches • London Festival of Architecture disowns ‘unpaid’ High Line contest

While we may bemoan housing estates ‘regeneration’ that displaces social-housing tenants, partly replacing them with private owners, there is surely something to be said for genuinely mixed-tenure housing. This can avoid the creation of vast unattractive ghettos that everyone is trying to escape – see my comments on Thamesmead last week. 

On the other hand, when we witness such crass measures as the ‘poor playgrounds’ revealed this week, the process is rather harder to defend. 

Conran and Partners’ redevelopment of Baylis Old School – a Grade II-listed Brutalist building in Kennington – into mixed-tenure housing won plaudits when completed in 2015. But The Guardian revealed that a communal playground was reserved for residents of the privately owned housing, with children from the social housing flats barred from playing there. 

Original plans showed the playground would be accessible through a gate, but the designs were then altered, replacing the gate with impassable hedges – a change Lambeth Council says was carried out without planning permission. 

In Bristol, security guards rather than fences are used to keep social tenants’ children from playing outside

A spokesperson for Conrans said the design approved by Lambeth in 2013 included play areas intended to be accessible by ‘all residents and their children’. It added: ‘The changes go against the fundamental ethos of inclusive development which was the original aspiration for the scheme.’ 

Warwick Estates, the company that manages the private part of the development, robustly defended the arrangement, arguing that the social-housing tenants did not contribute to the service charge. ‘This is in no way discriminatory but fair and reasonable,’ said associate director Emma Blaney. 

The estate’s developer, Henley Homes, meanwhile argued that the social housing element of the 149-home complex, Wren Mews, was an entirely ‘separate building’. 

It possibly didn’t expect the ensuing outcry to include condemnation from, not only Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan, but also housing minister James Brokenshire. 

By Thursday, it was wildly backtracking, saying the firm had ‘never had any objection’ to the social-housing residents having access to the main playground. It has yet, however, to say whether it will be removing the hedges and walls that keep it separate. 

There is, of course, something particularly emotive about barring under-fives from a playground. That’s probably why it has attracted far wider condemnation than similar devices that dilute the mixed-tenure philosophy, such as separate ‘poor doors’ for social housing tenants. 

But even this instance of exclusive playgrounds is not unique. Writing in The Guardian, Hilary Land, a professor of family policy at Bristol University, said that in her city ‘security guards, rather than hedges, are used to keep social tenants’ children from playing outside in some mixed housing developments’.

Working for free or working for food

Shutterstock smiley lunch

Shutterstock smiley lunch

There are some weeks when you wonder whether it is possible to earn any money doing architecture. 

Last week saw the revelation that this year’s Serpentine Pavilion architect Junya Ishigami was using unpaid interns, working 78-hour weeks and supplying their own computers. 

Artist and designer Adam Nathaniel Furman has been running an #archislaverycampaign on Instagram, naming and shaming practices that had similar arrangements. A lot of the offending practices he has highlighted seem to be based in Japan, though they also include Chilean studio Elemental, led by Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena. According to Dezeen, Elemental has responded by closing its internship positions. 

The Serpentine Gallery has now told Ishigami to pay any interns working on the pavilion. The practice will now have to decide whether to actually pay the interns in question, or whether to simply move them on to other projects. 

But while this sort of carry-on is in most cases illegal in the UK, there was a reminder that a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work is still far from the norm here. 

The Maggie’s organisation announced that London practice Coppin Dockray had won its ideas competition to design a 280m² cancer care and support centre, for which the prize is lunch at Maggie’s Newcastle. We do hope they use their Instagram account to post pictures of the lavish dishes that are set before them (or Pret sandwiches – who knows?)

Festival joins the fight against unpaid work

Also getting upset about unpaid work was the London Festival of Architecture. It disowned an ideas competition for a Hammersmith High Line, which was initially announced in its name. 

The festival said that it was ‘not something we would want as part of LFA’, describing it as an ‘unpaid competition’. 

Which does raise some interesting questions about what constitutes ‘unpaid’ since the two winners of the ideas competition will both receive £5,000. Selected teams may also receive extra funding ‘at the discretion of the organisers’ if they are asked to further develop their schemes. 

Compare this with some of the competitions the LFA is running this year. The winner of its Parklets competition will receive £6,500 to ‘design and deliver’ its mini-park. Similarly, the successful entrant to its St Paul’s Plinth contest will receive £12,500, but this needs to cover all production costs: materials, transport, construction and de-installation. 

If they can do that for £7,000 then they get £5,500 for their time and efforts; should it cost £12,000 then they end up with only £500. It’s up to the winners, of course, to manage their budgets accordingly, but it does leave a £5,000 prize looking not too shabby. 

Weekend poll: What is the biggest threat to architects making a living?
• Unpaid internships
• Unpaid competitions
• Working for food
• The impending Brexit apocalypse
Vote here

Also this week

Purcell redundancies Conservation specialist Purcell is believed to be about to lay off 15 per cent of its workforce. The practice currently employs 247 staff at 11 studios across the UK, and is expected to make around 30 of them redundant. The news comes just weeks after it reported a pre-tax profit of £2.7 million, though according to sources, most of this has been swallowed up by payments to senior staff. The practice’s current projects include refurbishments of both the National Gallery and neighbouring National Portrait Gallery.  

Dome vs Sphere There was a lack of solidarity between curvaceous music venues as the owner of London’s Oarena – formerly the Millennium Dome – complained about Populous’s proposal for a 90m-tall spherical arena in nearby Stratford. AEG says it is concerned that locating another venue so close to the O2 could cause congestion, particularly on the Jubilee tube line. The Sphere, which was recently submitted for planning, would have a capacity of 21,500 compared with the O2’s 20,000. When plans were first revealed last April, a Weekend Roundup poll showed that readers favoured nicknaming it ‘the Hamster ball’.  

Milton Keynes uni shortlist Five teams have been shortlisted to design a new university in Milton Keynes. Among the big names vying for the MK:U job are submissions from Stirling winners WilkinsonEyre and dRMM working with Dutch firm Mecanoo; Hopkins; Hawkins\Brown; and Rem Koolhaas’s OMA. The shortlisted teams will each receive £30,000 to draw up a masterplan and concept designs for the university’s 61,120m² first phase, which has a budget of £188 million.

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

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