This week’s top stories reviewed by the AJ’s Simon Aldous: Architecture in a time of Covid-19 • Singing sharks win Antepavilion competition • Robert Adam steps down • Competition wins for Feilden Fowles and Grafton
So the domestic decamp Is pretty much complete and the vast majority of architects are now working from their own homes – many of them combining it with new home-schooling responsibilities.
It may take some getting used to, but by and large, the technology seems to be there for work to be carried out remotely, with video-conferencing becoming the new normal and Zoom and Teams a familiar part of our vocabulary.
But how long will there be work to do? This week’s AJ – which apart from the printing bit was produced entirely from our homes – has its usual double-page spread of competitions, presenting a wealth of work opportunities. Judges can assess entries and interview shortlisted teams without leaving their home.
Similarly, many councils are looking at ways of keeping the planning system functioning. When the AJ spoke to a selection of planning authorities earlier in the week, many were looking at reducing committee sizes, though with social distancing rules getting stricter, some councils were looking to the government to bring in emergency powers that would allow council meetings to be conducted remotely.
This all may, however, be a bit academic if nothing is being built anymore. At the time of writing, the government had not prohibited construction work but many building firms had decided to halt proceedings anyway.
This was a reaction to concerns not only that effective social distancing was not practical on many sites, but also that construction workers travelling to work were leading to overcrowding of a much-reduced public transport service.
But with some sites still functioning, the Architecture Foundation’s Young Network launched a petition calling for a complete shut-down. Architect Hanna Benihoud said she had been shocked by the lack of social distancing on site, adding: ‘I hope practices put their head above the parapet and speak up. Responsible developers have closed by choice, but hundreds haven’t. We must stand together as an industry.’
The government’s announcement that it will pay 80 per cent of employees’ pay if they are temporarily ‘furloughed’ should prevent a previously feared wave of redundancies. For the many self-practitioners, similar payments to the self-employed will prevent much hardship – if they can hang on till June.
The ‘magic money tree’, much-derided by some politicians during the austerity of the past decade would appear not only to exist but in fact to be an orchard. Just as well, since this extraordinary injection of cash is essential to stop many otherwise healthy businesses going to the wall. And when we do come out of this crisis, a major surge in building activity could be just the boost our frail economy will need.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus took a high-profile architectural victim this week. US architect and critic Michael Sorkin died aged 71 from complications resulting from contracting Covid-19. Sorkin was a leading polemical voice on urban space. His New York-based practice worked on several major masterplans, notably in New York and China, where his firm also has a studio.
Poll: Should work stop at all construction sites?
• Just larger sites
• Decide on a
• No Vote here
Last week’s poll asked where you had been working in the past week. This was before Monday’s introduction of rules that only allow people to travel to work if it is essential, but nevertheless, 56% had worked solely from their homes. Meanwhile, 14% had worked from their office, while 25% had combined home and office, and 4% said they had been unable to work at all.
To some people’s astonishment, a scheme involving singing sharks has won this year’s Antepavilion contest.
The description of Jamie Shorten’s Sharks! proposal sounded like someone had been on the hallucinogenics, with its explanation that the six sharks ‘will sing Charles Trenet’s La Mer as well as delivering lectures on architecture and urbanism.
What will have weighed in the entry’s favour was its enthusiastic embrace of the competition brief. This had requested concepts that raised the debate over the ‘authoritarian’ nature of planning decisions – a reaction to Hackney Council’s attempt to have two earlier Antepavilions taken down.
Sharks! refers to the Headington Shark, which was installed on the roof of an Oxford house in the 80s and became the subject of an ultimately unsuccessful attempt by the city council to have it taken down.
Also, it transpires that the sharks will, disappointingly, not be real but rather models installed with audio equipment. The Architecture Foundation, which organised the competition, says that Sharks! will be constructed in the autumn if public health conditions allow.
Meanwhile, in our ‘no shit Sherlock’ corner, news that this year’s London Festival of Architecture has been postponed from June to later in the year, while the MIPIM property fair, originally bumped from March to June, has been cancelled entirely.
Also this week
Classical architect Robert Adam is stepping down as a director of ADAM Architecture after 44 years at the company. The 71-year-old says he is leaving to focus on academic interests. George Saumarez Smith, one of four remaining shareholding directors, said the practice would not be changing its name as many people were familiar with it ‘and it has served us very well’.
Feilden Fowles will design a £16.5 million entrance hall for the National Railway Museum in York. The practice, which featured on last year’s Stirling Prize shortlist with its Yorkshire Sculpture Park pavilion, was chosen for the job ahead of shortlisted architects Carmody Groarke, 6a, Heneghan Peng and France’s Atelier d’Architecture Philippe Prost.
Grafton Architects has won a competition to design a $16 million (£12.5 million) timber design and fabrication facility at the University of Arkansas in the United States. The Dublin-based practice, which won this year’s Pritzker Prize earlier this month, will design and deliver the Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation for the university, which is in Fayetteville in the north-west of the southern US state.