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Weekend roundup: Watch it come down (your pay, that is)

Shutterstock building demolished wv
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This week’s top stories reviewed by the AJ’s Simon Aldous: Architects’ pay falls • Unsafe cladding used on FAT housing • high-rise demolition dilemma • Olympic housing job for Stirling winner • Populous up for San Siro replacement • Meet the new boss of Farrells

The current Oslo Architecture Triennale’s main message is that architects need to reject excessive economic growth, abandoning the pursuit of ever-rising GDP as a measure of human progress. Great news then that the latest survey of architectural salaries shows an average drop in pay levels – or a ‘degrowth’ as the triennale’s curators would have it.

The survey, by 9B Careers, shows that overall pay has fallen by 0.8 per cent in the past year –  against an inflation rate of 1.9 per cent which means the decline is greater in real terms. This is at odds with the bigger national picture, where overall average pay rose by 3.8 per cent.

Also bucking wider trends, in a somewhat egalitarian manner, is the fact that the fall in earnings has been at senior levels, while the lowly cad monkeys at the bottom of the scale have fared rather better – Part 1 and Part 2 level employers have seen pay go up by 3.5 per cent and 3.2 per cent respectively, while recent Part 3s saw a more modest rise of 0.4 per cent. Project architects have also benefited from a 3.5 per cent boost.

Instead, it’s the senior architects, associates, partners and directors who have been taking the hit. And the finger is being pointed at the continuing Brexit purgatory for both sides of this picture.

On the one hand, the uncertainty means lots of construction projects are on hold, which dampens income at the top end of the scale.

On the other hand, the Brexodus of EU nationals not sticking around in the UK, waiting for a Faragist lynch mob to hound them out of their offices following a no-deal Brexit, means greater competition for staff at the lower end of the pay scale.

For those still on some kind of bread-head money-earning trip, the best news comes for those working outside London, which seems less affected by Brexit, as well as those with BIM skills – BIM co-ordinators saw their pay increase by an average of 9 per cent.

Weekend poll: What is your own experience of pay levels in the past year?
• My pay has risen
• My pay has stayed broadly the same
• My pay has fallen
Vote here

Avoiding a FAT fire proves costly

Fat ciat

Fat ciat

Bad news for those living in the visually arresting Community in a Cube (CIAC) building. The Middlesbrough housing block, designed by FAT, opened to acclaim in 2012, but its timber cladding has now been deemed a fire risk and residents now face a collective bill of at least £350,00 to carry out remedial work.

Sadly for those seeking some kind of redress, pretty much every company involved in the building’s construction has ceased trading. The contractor GB Solutions went under in 2015; developer BioRegional Quintain, wound up its operations at the time the scheme was completed; while FAT disbanded at the end of 2013.

In any case, the practice’s former directors are washing their hands of any blame. Sam Jacob, who now heads Sam Jacob Studio, argues that, while ‘this is terrible news and awful for the residents’, the blame lies with the design-and-build process under which the building was procured – a system he calls ‘the pursuing of efficiency over quality’.

He adds: ‘FAT was the concept architect … It is not really possible for us to comment on who is responsible for any deficiencies arising out of processes which were not part of FAT’s appointment and in which FAT had no involvement.’

The building’s freeholder, E&J Estates, said that under the terms of the lease, responsibility for the costs of the work fall to the leaseholders, though it suggested that these might be able to be claimed back under the terms of a building warranty policy.

High-rise housing presents ethical dilemma

Balfron tower by studio egret west

Balfron tower by studio egret west

Many blocks of flats put up in the 60s and 70s quickly gained a reputation as low-quality, soulless hell holes. So, as much of this housing reaches the end of its useful life, there may seem to be a fantastic opportunity to knock it down and start again.

However, as the AJ’s RetroFirst campaign argues, it is actually far more sustainable to upgrade existing buildings than to replace them.

Ella Jessel’s report in the AJ this week explains that cash-strapped councils are unlikely to be able to afford borough-wide retrofit programmes and so often defer action until a block has become so run-down that demolition is the cheaper option.

But with a spate of councils declaring ‘climate emergencies’, that course of action is becoming harder to justify.

On the other hand, retrofitting can have its own downsides. The AJ’s Fran Williams this week reviews Studio Egret West’s revamp of Balfron Tower (pictured), the east London housing block designed by Ernő Goldfinger.

The upgrade’s environmental credentials are pretty-much impeccable – not just its comprehensive thermal upgrade, meaning far less fuel is needed to heat the flats, but also in terms of whole-life carbon by extending the building’s life.

And yet, as Williams explains, such an extensive upgrade was only made possible by emptying the building at the start of the process. And most of its former tenants aren’t coming back; just six leaseholders are returning. The now-luxury flats are up for private sale, attracting accusations of social cleansing.

But with councils hit by serious funding cuts, it can be hard to refuse such cash-raising initiatives.

Also this week

  • Good news for Mikhail Riches, whose Stirling Prize victory appears to have paid immediate dividends. It has been picked by the London Legacy Development Corporation to design the latest batch of homes on the Olympic site in east London. The practice will work with RCKa, William Matthews Architects and BBUK Landscape Architects to design 600 homes in the Pudding Mill neighbourhood, along with community and retail facilities.
  • Sports architecture specialist Populous is one of two practices in the running to design a new San Siro stadium in Milan. It is up against US/Italian consortium Manica/Sportium. The £630 million structure will be built to the east of the current stadium, which will remain in use during construction before being demolished. The plan to flatten the original 1925 stadium was met with outrage earlier this year for both heritage and sustainability reasons.
  • Want to feel like a bit of an underachiever? Then read Richard Waite’s profile of Farrells partner Shevaughn Reick, who has become, in all but name, Terry Farrell’s replacement as the practice’s head. At the age of 32! Ten years ago she was a Part 1 student at Newcastle University, getting her first experience as an architectural assistant at the practice. She qualified as an architect in 2013 and subsequently rose from senior architect to associate to partner in just four years. Nor will there be the chance to take it easy any time soon; she’s just weeks away from having her first child. 
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