Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Architects struck off for certifying unfinished flats • End of university spending boom? • Assael moves to shared ownership • Traditional practice designs homes for Disney • RIBA launches housing award
No sooner does the profession manage to claw back some respect, along comes someone with a somewhat casual attitude to improving architects’ image – and I’m not referring to his taste in suits.
Stuart Duffy of Liverpool practice KDP Architects has been struck off the ARB register after its professional conduct committee heard that he approved properties as being practically complete when in fact they were ‘unfit for occupation’ with construction work unfinished.
But surely it didn’t take seven years of architectural training to spot that these projects weren’t ready to be handed over.
An ITV news report this week showed footage of a flat in Liverpool’s Richmond Aparthotel with unfinished walls, no ceilings, swathes of mineral wool insulation still exposed, and interiors filled with unused building materials.
Duffy certified that flat – and four others in the building that were in a similar state – as ‘practically complete and safe to rent out’. As a result one client paid £190,000 for what turned out to be an uncompleted property.
Speaking at the ARB committee hearing, Duffy accepted that he had acted dishonestly in certifying the buildings, but said he had been under undue pressure from the developer.
The case has been a long time in gestation. Duffy certified the Liverpool flats in 2013 – they still remain incomplete; but then in 2017 he signed off units in the Sky residential building in Newcastle-under-Lyme, a building that also remains unfinished.
While his actions have spanned five years, the ARB committee said that, in considering an appropriate sanction, it took into account Duffy’s ‘previous unblemished record’ – ie, until he started signing off unfinished projects he had never signed off an unfinished project.
Duffy will be able to apply to be reinstated on the register in two years’ time.
Poll: Is Stuart Duffy’s two-year suspension from the register an appropriate sanction?
• Too lenient
• About right
• Too harsh
University building programmes have been an important source of work for many practices over the past few years, with £8.8 billion spent on capital projects since 2014. But as the empty glasses are collected and the hoover comes out, the party appears to be over.
The bonanza kicked off following the controversial near tripling of tuition fees to £9,000 per year, bringing with it the prospect of considerable income to universities, but only if they could attract the students. Fancy new buildings were seen as an important lure.
This could change, however, with the publication of the Augar report, a government review of higher education funding. The review is a reaction to Labour’s 2017 election pledge to scrap fees, a policy that may have cost Theresa May her parliamentary majority. Many expect it to propose cutting fees for most subjects to £6,500 per year.
It’s not so much that students will react by saying: with fees this low, I don’t care what kind of shithole I study in; more that it will lead to a substantial reduction in university income.
As an alternative, universities are increasingly looking to refurbish existing buildings rather than demolish and replace with new-build.
Which is interesting because it wasn’t too long ago that the AJ was reporting on the increasing threat to post-war campus buildings, with Durham University’s acclaimed Dunelm House student union building among the many lined up for demolition.
Brutalist concrete buildings did not, apparently, provide the required UCAS bait, their appeal limited to architecture students and then only after they’d been suitably ‘educated’.
The Twentieth Century Society is optimistic. ‘If the slowdown encourages more considered decision-making about existing buildings, it could be good news,’ says its director Catherine Croft.
Happy office crop
Assael has turned down a big-bucks buyout and is instead to become employee-owned.
Co-founder John Assael revealed that he had been offered ‘significant money’ by a large US practice to buy it out, but was ‘worried about how they would treat our staff’.
Indeed, selling out would have been a bit of a turnaround for a practice that prides itself on how it treats its team. Assael was named AJ100 Employer of the Year in 2017 (and was shortlisted in 2016 and 2018) and has also featured in the Sunday Times list of best companies to work for.
It prides itself on its mentoring, a determination to avoid long hours, and providing a caring culture, so letting its staff own the company seems the logical next step.
Assael will be the 18th AJ100 practice to become employee-owned, joining the likes of Make and AHMM.
The AJ100 award citation included, in its list of praiseworthy qualities, the presence of a practice puppy – now presumably a practice dog – marking a trend that seems nearly as popular as employee ownership.
Following the AJ’s profile of Amin Taha which featured a photograph of the architect with his own practice dog, Moo, a plethora of practices have been in touch with pictures of their own dogs, many of whom seem to enjoy knuckling down to some office work (unless these photos have in some way been staged).
Disneyland paris castle
Finally, a use for Classical architecture – as part of Disneyland. Traditional practice Stanhope Gate Architecture has won a contest to design a 90-home development in the French district of Val d’Europe, home of Disneyland Paris.
The scheme will be part of the Classically styled new town Serris, being built by Nacarat, a subsidiary of the theme park’s construction conglomerate. Other architects delivering schemes for the area include Prince of Wales favourite Leon Krier.
The old-fashioned look should perfectly complement the fairytale castle (pictured) that provides Val d’Europe’s architectural highlight.
So when housing minister Kit Malthouse and the rest of the government have to flee the country following the inevitable breakdown in civil order that follows a no-deal Brexit, he should consider relocating to Serris where he can finally enjoy some built environment beauty as he sets off to work each day in his Mickey Mouse costume.
The RIBA has launched the Neave Brown Award for Housing, named after the social housing pioneer who died last year.
Any housing scheme that wins an RIBA regional Award will be eligible, providing it contains at least 10 homes of which at least a third are ’affordable’.
The announcement follows criticism of the institute’s House of the Year prize, which goes to a one-off house. After Caring Wood, a 1,500m² country home, won that award in 2017, then housing secretary Sajid Javid questioned how relevant the building was to mainstream housing.
‘I’m not sure your average new-build three-bed home has space for an art gallery, performance area and 27,000 fruit trees!’, he remarked, adding: ‘good design doesn’t have to mean grand designs’.
There was some sympathy for his remarks, with Hari Phillips of Bell Philips suggesting the RIBA launch a Council House of the Year prize to recognise that everyday architecture can also be stunning.
The new prize appears to recognise that existing awards were ignoring this very relevant strand of new architecture – though the RIBA has yet to clarify what exactly constitutes ‘affordable’ housing.
If it plumps for the ‘80 per cent of market value’ definition popular with some councils, it may be hard to reconcile the award with Neave Brown’s own philosophy.
Also this week
- Elizabeth Diller, co-founder of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, has been awarded the 2019 Jane Drew Prize, part of the AJ/AR Women in Architecture awards. The prize celebrates those who have ‘raised the profile’ of women in the profession, with previous winners including Zaha Hadid and Denise Scott Brown. Meanwhile, architectural photographer Hélène Binet has won the Ada Lousie Huxtable Prize for women in the wider industry who have made a significant contribution to architecture.
- Malcolm Fraser has launched a new practice Fraser/Livingstone Architects, co-founded with former colleague Robin Livingstone. This comes almost four years after the Edinburgh architect’s previous practice, Malcolm Fraser Architects, went into liquidation. In 2002 it received the Doolan award for Scotland’s best building for its Dance Base scheme in Edinburgh, which was also shortlisted for the Stirling Prize.
- KPF’s proposal for a £500 million redevelopment of a former biscuit factory site in Bermondsey, south London, is set to be rejected because of its lack of affordable housing. The project includes 1,342 private rented sector flats, plus offices, retail and leisure space and a secondary school, in buildings of up to 28 storeys. But planners say they have failed to reach an agreement on the amount of affordable housing and the quality of some of the homes. Southwark Council will vote on the scheme next week.
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