ASH first encountered the Architects’ Journal in June 2015 when, together with Fight for Aylesbury and Class War, we organised a protest at the AJ120 Awards, and Will Hurst, at the time the Deputy Editor, appeared among our motley crew of squatters and class warriors resplendent in a navy blue suit, and engaged me in debate. The idea had been inspired by Fight for Aylesbury’s occupation the previous May of the offices of HTA Design, the lead architects on the Aylesbury estate regeneration, during a meeting in Camden with their fellow practices Mae, Hawkins\Brown and Duggan Morris Architects, and which had drawn Ben Derbyshire’s memorable response: ‘Well, thank you very much for your point of view. Would you be so kind as to leave now?’ Rather symbolically, the AJ120 Award ceremony was being held in a huge tent erected in the moat of the Tower of London, and in order to get our message past the line of bouncers we had printed out our protest on about two hundred sheets of A4 paper and folded them into airplanes. I remember opening our protest by launching the first plane, and by lucky chance it flew over the heads of security, across the battlement walls, down into the moat, and landed in one the champagne glasses lined up on the tray of a waiter. On the back of these sheets we had printed in large black letters:
Q. Why do architects always wear black?
A. Because they’re the funeral directors of the working class.
As any good Deputy Editor should, Will tweeted this on his Twitter account, and the following week the protest was widely covered in the Architects’ Journal, with a mention in Rory Olcayto’s editorial, a feature by Colin Marrs including the full text of our protest, and even in that drunken-uncle-at-a-wedding rant of intellectual ideas that is Paul Finch’s personal column, then was followed up the following week by a page of responses from architects on the ‘ethics of regeneration’. Great, we thought, the conscience of the profession has been pricked! In the words of Humphrey Bogart, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
As it turned out, this was the last time anything we wrote would appear in the pages of the Architects’ Journal. Shortly afterwards, Will asked us to write something about the Open Garden Estates event we had organised. We did, and sent it to him, but it was never published. A week later Owen Pritchard, the technical editor of the Architects’ Journal, contacted us to ask for an 800-word piece in response to the question: ‘Should architects view inhabited council estates as brownfield land?’ – an issue our previous text had already addressed at length. We wrote one, and sent it to them. The following week we received an edited version of our text with suggested deletions and requesting additional information to expand on and support various points we had made. We provided them, while also arguing for the inclusion of the political arguments the Architects’ Journal wanted to remove.
We were then informed that no lesser personage than Lord Adonis – the editor of the IPPR report City Villages that had proposed we view council residents as comparable to the toxic waste that requires clearing up from actual brownfield land – would be putting the other side of the argument. We would have hoped his 100-page report would have been sufficient; but in the light of George Osborne’s emergency budget, in which the then Chancellor introduced stronger compulsory purchase powers over brownfield land, we insisted on the importance of exposing the political motivations driving Lord Adonis’s proposal and the catastrophic effects it would have on Londoners. This, it seemed to us, was a far more pressing issue than debating the shortcomings of Section 106 agreements and the other technicalities to which we were being directed by the Architects’ Journal. Since we had also been informed that ASH’s contribution to the debate would still only be 800 words even with the numerous requested additions we had sent in, we asked to see the final proposed edit of our text before the Architects’ Journal went to press, as it increasingly seemed that we were being asked to fill in the blanks in an article they had already written.
The final edit was a sort of Frankenstein’s monster, crudely stitched together from the few remnants of our original text plus excerpts from the additional information we had supplied, all of which has been further reduced to 750 words. The pages above show how much of our original text was cut out and, in the highlighted lines in the pages below, what it was the Architects’ Journal felt it so necessary to censor. We leave it to you to judge why; but our own suspicion was that the Architects’ Journal wanted to use us as the straw man in the appearance of a debate that would allow Lord Adonis to answer and refute the few minor concerns the Architects’ Journal wished to publish under our name, while refusing to print our arguments against his re-definition of the council estates on which millions of UK citizens live as ‘brownfield land’. We withdrew the article from publication in the AJ, of course; but the entire process confirmed what ASH had previously argued: that the fixation on technical issues by architectural periodicals presenting themselves as open forums for the architectural profession functions to suppress genuine debate about the role of architects in the programme of estate regeneration, as well as about the wider social context of what they design. As architects for social housing, ASH had no intention of contributing to this ideological myopia.
For the rest of the year, however, the Architects’ Journal could barely publish an issue without mentioning us, with no less than a dozen articles bearing our name in the seven months to Christmas. In none of them, however, was any reference made to our design alternatives for Knight’s Walk, Cressingham Gardens, West Kensington and Gibbs Green or Central Hill estates. Instead, we were consistently referred to as a ‘protest’ or ‘campaign’ group. And although both our protests and our campaigns were repeatedly covered – our demonstration at the 2015 Stirling Prize award, in particular, finding wide coverage in the architectural press – never again would we be asked to contribute to the pages of the Architects’ Journal. As for so many journalists and academics since, ASH would remain a megaphone-wielding band of easily dismissed protesters – good for a quote every time another government policy announced another assault on council housing, but whose critiques of the estate regeneration national programme, and whose design alternatives to the demolition of estates, represent far too dangerous a threat to the lucrative contracts of the numerous architectural practices complicit in that programme.
Nothing’s changed since then. But that doesn’t mean our conversation with the Architects’ Journal hasn’t continued – although at times it’s been a little one-sided and – given the profession’s head-in-the-sand attitude – repetitive. When the London Mayor, for example, reduced his electoral promise for affordable housing quotas on new developments from 50 to 35 percent; or the Secretary of State reversed his decision to stop Southwark council’s Compulsory Purchase Order on the homes of leaseholders on the Aylesbury estate; or when Patrick Schumacher announced he wanted to redevelop Hyde Park as high-density housing for the ‘amazing multiplying events’ of his party friends, the Architects’ Journal was the first to call us, angling for a quote. But after having our considered replies reduced to one-line misquotes once too often, we no longer waste our time responding. Instead, we keep up a lively commentary on those AJ articles which, dropping through our letterbox every Friday fortnight, always raise a smile on our lips at the yawning chasm between the bouncy castle in which the editorial team holds its round-table debates on housing and the very real assault on council estates from which so many Londoners are struggling to save their homes, and in which the architectural profession is complicit right up to its neo-liberal neck. As a record of this gap – and for your entertainment and amusement – here, dear reader, is a selection of the letters from Architects for Social Housing to the Architects’ Journal between June 2015 and July 2017.
19 June, 2015
In response to Alex Ely’s reaction to the AJ120 Awards protest by Fight for Aylesbury and ASH, allow me to correct the factual inaccuracies in the answers he gave to his own question about whether his practice, Mae, is acting ethically in participating in the £1.5 billion regeneration of the Aylesbury estate.
1. The Aylesbury estate is not being ‘regenerated’, it is being demolished for new developments.
2. The estate did not ‘vote in favour’ of demolition; on the contrary, at a 2001 ballot responded to by 76 per cent of residents, 73 per cent voted in favour of refurbishment and against demolition.
3. And far from the council’s decision to demolish being made ‘following extensive consultation’, in 2009 Aylesbury Tenants and Leaseholders First made a submission to the Government Inspector on the ‘systematic failings of the Aylesbury Area Action Plan consultation process’.
4. Finally, rather than ‘designing private housing to pay for social housing’, there will be 680 fewer homes in the projected development for social rent, and these will be for up to 80 per cent of market value, far beyond the financial means of the current council tenants.
The exact opposite of the ‘Robin Hood’ moral standpoint Ely rather grandly characterises himself as taking, Mae architects are stealing from the poor to give to the rich. Behind this facade of misinformation, assumed neutrality, and responsibility passed to no less a Notting Hill sheriff than ‘society as a whole’, it is with such collusion in the social cleansing of council estates and the communities they house that architects warrant their description as ‘the funeral directors of the working classes.’
16 October, 2015
Like Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, developers Native Land claim that Neo Bankside has paid for the construction of 132 affordable homes, 125 of which are completed, 7 of which are still under construction. 82 of these are for social rent and 50 for shared ownership. However, 20 social rent and 18 shared ownership homes were already being delivered or had been planned by housing associations on three of the six sites. Neo Bankside’s actual contribution was a total of 94 affordable homes, of which 62 are for social rent and 32 shared ownership. Even on its reduced affordable housing, Southwark Council has lost 38 homes. For these figures, see the article on Neo Bankside by the 35% Campaign.
25 October, 2015
Rather than sniping at us, why doesn’t the Architects’ Journal publish our petition to the RIBA? We waited until 9pm for a representative to come out and receive it, but perhaps the Taittinger detained you. Here it is in full:
ASH Petition to the Royal Institute of British Architects
Architects for Social Housing reminds the RIBA that in its Code of Professional Conduct published in January 2005, under Principle 3 on Relationships, paragraph 3.1 states that architects should: ‘Have a proper concern and due regard for the effect that their work may have on the local community.’
In addition, we remind the RIBA that in the Guidance Note 1 to the same Code, on the RIBA’s definition of Corruption and Bribery, paragraph 1.13 states that a bribe is: ‘An incentive to act against one’s professional obligations or duty to others.’
On behalf of our 400 members, and of every architect who does not want to collude in the social cleansing being pursued through Government and Council housing policy, Architects for Social Housing calls on the RIBA to lobby the UK government on existing housing policy and the Architects Registration Board for a review of the moral duties of British architects.
Specifically, we call on the RIBA to make the participation of the architectural profession in the following projects not a decision, as it is under current guidelines, for the conscience and ethics of the individual architect or practice, but professionally prohibited by a New Architects’ Code of Conduct:
• Projects in which there is no review process for viability assessments that undervalue the sales value of properties and land, thereby reducing the quota of affordable and social rent housing;
• Projects in which exceptions to Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act regulations on affordable housing and social rent quotas have been triggered by payments in lieu to Councils, and therefore conform to the RIBA definition of a bribe;
• Projects in which affordable housing is not built on-site but relocated to land that is already owned by the Council, often on existing housing estates, which are then demolished without ‘due regard for the local community’.
Further, we call on the RIBA to lobby Government to fix the quota of affordable housing in any given project to a minimum of 50 per cent, and to index the definition of affordable to earnings, rather than the 80 per cent of market value currently in place, which makes a mockery not only of the laws of the English language, but of the London Mayor’s claims to be building homes for Londoners.
Finally, we object to the use of the term ‘brownfield land’ being applied to existing council housing estates, a usage that equates the residents of these estates to toxic or industrial waste that requires cleaning up before redevelopment, and we call on the RIBA to lobby for the rejection of the term’s use within this context in Government housing policy.
8 November, 2015
Oh dear, I didn’t realise I’d been outed by the Architects’ Journal! I thought that was the job of the Daily Mail. Or do I detect the McCarthyite hand of Paul Finch at work?
I wasn’t, in fact, at the Cereal Cafe protest, as I was too busy watching England lose to Wales. But I did write on the event page afterwards:
1. Opening a shop that sells children’s cereals for £4 a bowl in a borough in which 49 per cent of the kids are living in poverty is an insult to the thousands of Tower Hamlets residents who have to eat on less than £4 a day.
2. Estate agents growing rich from people’s struggle to keep a roof over their head are instruments of gentrification and the homelessness that is a direct result of it.
3. Demolishing council housing and evicting the people in them to build luxury apartments for the City boys who profit from their homelessness is social cleansing.
4. Cutting benefits to the poor in the name of austerity while cutting taxes for the rich is class war.
5. If you don’t already know this, you never will, which makes you part of the problem, if only for your choice to remain ignorant of social realities.
If you wanted to report the facts, AJ, you had only to contact me, rather than repeating the lies of the tabloids.
20 November, 2015
With regard to the decision-making process requiring what Ben Derbyshire calls ‘intensive involvement of the affected community’: at a 2001 ballot responded to by 76 per cent of Aylesbury Estate residents, 73 per cent voted in favour of refurbishment and against demolition.
As to reasons ‘to doubt the thoroughness of the process that gave rise to the Area Action Plan, which was adopted by residents of the estate’: in 2009 Aylesbury Tenants and Leaseholders First made a submission to the Government Inspector on the ‘systematic failings of the Aylesbury Area Action Plan consultation process.’
Where architectural practices such as HTA, Mae, Hawkins\ Brown, and PRP – to name just a few – come into estate regeneration with a fixed set of objectives, pre-determined by councils, housing associations, property developers and politicians, for the demolition and rebuilding of the existing estate, and then use the consultation process to generate the reasons and excuses to achieve this, Architects for Social Housing begins by asking the community about their needs and wishes, and uses these to generate objectives and initiatives to bring this about. It is a process that moves from the inside out, from community to genuine estate regeneration – one that leaves the existing community intact.
ASH – which is not, despite the insistence of the Architects’ Journal, a protest group – is employing this consultation model in our current architectural work with Central Hill and West Kensington & Gibbs Green estates. Last month, with just such a proposal, we helped save half the homes on Knight’s Walk estate, which you may read about here, since the Architects’ Journal has refused to publish our architectural work.
For those wondering – and it seems there are many who are, in the profession and outside – this is what an ethical architectural practice looks like.
23 January, 2016
‘A spatially fluid terrain, rich in its potential to support communal life’? You’re admiring the glint on the blade that’s poised over your own head. What form of community could afford to live in these homes? The first, last and only thing you need to say about this new development is that the five-bed apartments cost £2 million. A mortgage at half that price requires an annual salary of £200,000.
The bankers who will live here, or the property investors who invest here, will not be contributing to the ‘communal life’ of Shepherdess Walk. They won’t be drinking in the Wenlock pub, which the local community has fought long and hard to save from similar architectural contributions to the neighbourhood. These are a foothold into the City and nothing more, and their faceless, dark-windowed facades have all the sensitivity to their environment of a stretch limousine. Unfortunately, they’re not passing through.
May I suggest that from now on, as part of the data list accompanying building studies, the Architects’ Journal include the sale price of the resulting homes? Because after all the rhapsodic prose about rendering and form and exciting new typologies, it seems we still need reminding that these are homes for people to live in. If only we could. In the middle of a housing crisis, building homes for £2 million is a disgrace, and will only drive up house prices and rentals in the neighbourhood even further.
27 February, 2016
You don’t mention how much the ‘duplex penthouse’ costs, but building flats that start at £1.75 million in the middle of a housing crisis is a disgrace, only compounded by this article’s rhapsodic and slightly ludicrous (‘a rich bass-baritone of loadbearing brick’?) fetishisation of the building’s materials and forms.
So far so standard for an architectural magazine. But I admit you’ve surprised me by celebrating a building that uses architecture as a form of social segregation, in this case with the design of ‘poor doors’ for the social housing component. Your dismissal of this as a financial necessity is the same argument employed by all excusers of this disgraceful policy, from the poor doors at One Commercial Street to the rich gardens at One Tower Bridge.
I will be making this article and this building public to those in London’s housing movement who, admittedly, cannot afford a mortgage on a £1.75 million flat, but who take a critical and active approach to such social segregation, and the complicity of architects in designing its attitudes into our streets and homes. I wonder what this ‘thoughtful, refined project’ will look like with a group of banner-carrying protesters standing outside.
I hope this article isn’t a sign of what’s to come under your new Editor in Chief, but it’s not a good start, is it?
5 June, 2016
With regard to the options available in March 2015 when ASH was invited in by the Hands off Knight’s Walk campaign, I copy in this leaflet handed out at the public consultation with Lambeth Council on 3 March, 2015, which readers may find on their campaign website. Contrary to Director Alex Ely’s claims that Mae Architects ‘arrived collaboratively at a partial redevelopment proposal’, ASH was brought in by residents of Knight’s Walk to address precisely their dissatisfaction with both the consultation process conducted by Mae Architects and the options it had generated, all of which were for full demolition, as this document shows:
The Facts about the Public Consultation: A Statement by Knight’s Walk Residents
‘On Thursday 26th February, the Knights Walk Residents and neighbours attended a “consultation” evening held by Lambeth, Soundings and Mae architects. In the interests of accuracy, we have summarised the proceedings below:
‘The evening was extremely well attended by the vast majority of Knights Walk Residents as well as residents of neighbouring roads and estates including Ariel Court, Dryden Court, Vanbrugh Court and Renfrew Road.
‘Also present for the whole evening were our MP Kate Hoey, Kate MacKintosh (widow of the architect of Cotton Gardens Estate and Knights Walk, George Finch and herself a former Lambeth architect) and a number of other experts in the field of architecture and estate design.
‘Lambeth officials attempted unsuccessfully to prevent entry of neighbouring estate residents and were reluctant to wait for elderly Knights Walk residents to arrive.
‘The Knights Walk Residents state that the consultation exercise so far is in breach of the fundamental rights for a fair consultation as set out by the Supreme Court in 2014 [the “Gunning” principles] in all 4 principles. There has been no effective consultation.
‘Soundings reported that Knights Walk Residents are generally extremely satisfied with the estate with only minor criticisms.
‘Mae Architects on behalf of Lambeth presented 3 options for Knights Walk “regeneration”:
Option 1 – demolition of the whole of Knights Walk
Option 2 – demolition of the whole of Knights Walk
Option 3 – demolition of the whole of Knights Walk
‘They rejected and misrepresented an option suggested by residents and ignored all their other suggestions
‘All the Options proposed by Lambeth and Mae Architects were rejected outright by all present as totally unacceptable, including our MP Kate Hoey.
‘It was also revealed that there would be private housing included in the redevelopment despite the stated aim of the project to be to increase public housing.
‘It was admitted that residents would not receive “like for like” housing when rehoused.
‘Knights Walk residents fully accept the need for increased public housing on Knights Walk and Cotton Gardens Estate, are fully willing to cooperate and have many ideas of their own as to how this might be provided, but will not accept the planned complete destruction of their homes or this long established community.
‘Yes in our backyard – but not on our homes!’
Alex Ely, as he has in Building Design, may continue to lie about both Mae’s involvement in pushing through demolition schemes under the guise of regeneration, and about their practice of ignoring residents’ wishes at the behest of their council clients; but fortunately residents’ accounts of their campaigns to save their homes from demolition are a matter of record. As, too, is the appalling record of Lambeth Council’s ongoing assault on council housing, specifically in their plans to demolish Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill estates. No quantity of denials by the architectural practices involved, whether Mae or PRP, will lessen their role in the social cleansing of these estates.
14 July, 2016
Architects for Social Housing is delighted to announce that this year’s prestigious O. J. Simpson Prize, awarded for getting away with murder, and which in 2015 was won by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners for NEO Bankside, has this year been awarded to dRMM Architects for Trafalgar Place, the first phase of Lend Lease’s £1.5 billion Elephant & Castle redevelopment. Built on the ruins of the demolished Heygate estate, Trafalgar Square comprises 235 high-quality homes, with 25 per cent affordable housing at 80 per cent of market rate, and no homes for social rent. In today’s Zoopla, a 2-bedroom flat in Trafalgar Square is on sale for £725,000. Owners of a 4-bedroom council flat on the former Heygate estate were offered £190,000 in compensation for their demolished home.
In recognition of which, ASH will be awarding the prize to dRMM Architects at this year’s RIBA Sterling Prize Ceremony, to be held outside Portland Place on Thursday, 6 October, 2016.
26 July, 2016
‘Thanks to local involvement we think we’ve created a better proposal for current and future residents.’
– Eleanor Purser, Director of Regeneration, Notting Hill Housing
The Aylesbury Estate, which was completed in 1977, has around 2,700 flats that are home to 7,500 people. Once demolished, these will be replaced by 3,575 new homes, of which 1,470, it is promised by Southwark Labour Council, will be for social rent, a total of just over 40 per cent. However, according to research by the 35% Campaign, Notting Hill Housing, the Council’s development partner, has already substituted ‘affordable rent’ for ‘social rent’ on its Bermondsey Spar regeneration. In actual fact, Notting Hill’s contract with Southwark Council contains no reference to social rent. Instead it refers to something called ‘target rent’, which is set by Central Government. Even on its own planning application for the Aylesbury, Notting Hill Trust admits that there will be a net loss of 934 homes for social rent.
On the Aylesbury Estate, the Silwood Estate, Bermondsey Spar, the Elmington Estate, the Wood Dene Estate, the North Peckham Estate and the Heygate Estate, a net loss of 4,275 homes for social rent has resulted from Southwark Council regeneration schemes. Moreover, as with the Bermondsey Spar regeneration, the 3,168 homes for social rent the council has promised to rebuild are far more likely to end up as ‘affordable’ rents, which means up to 80 per cent of market value, bringing the total loss of homes for social rent to 7,442. In addition, the Greater London Authority has predicted that Southwark will lose an additional 2,051 homes for social rent as a direct result of schemes the Labour Council is currently proposing across the borough. That’s a total of 9,500 homes for social rent lost to ‘regeneration’ schemes.
At a 2001 ballot responded to by 76 per cent of the Aylesbury Estate residents, 73 per cent voted in favour of refurbishment and against demolition. Despite this, in 2002 the then Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition Council announced it was going ahead with the redevelopment. Four years later, in 2005, it claimed that the cost of refurbishment was £314.6 million, far beyond their means, apparently. In 2009 Aylesbury Tenants and Leaseholders First made a submission to the Government Inspector on the ‘systematic failings of the Aylesbury Area Action Plan consultation process.’ And last year, at the Compulsory Purchase Order inquiry, Professor Jane Rendell was able to demonstrate that the cost estimate for refurbishment had been artificially inflated by £148.9 million for what Southwark Council called ‘external improvements’. This made-up figure, for which Professor Rendell could find no justification, constituted half the total cost of refurbishing the Aylesbury estate, and made it, said the Council, ‘financially unviable.’
The total cost of emptying and demolishing the Aylesbury’s 2,500 homes has been estimated by Southwark Council at £150 million. That comes to around £60,000 per home. However, the Council has already spent an extraordinary £46.8 million on the Aylesbury regeneration scheme – £32.1 million on acquisition and demolition, and £14.7 million on management and administration (i.e. their own salaries) – in the process regenerating just 112 homes. That’s an average cost of £417,000 per home. Compare this with the £20,260 per home the Council has spent bringing 611 homes up to the Decent Homes Standard elsewhere on the estate.
The Taxpayer’s Alliance recently revealed that 5 Southwark Council officers have salaries over £150,000, including:
– The Director of Public Health, Dr. R. Wallis, on £169,906
– The Strategic Director of Finance and Corporate Services, D. Whitfield, on £162,489
– The Director of Housing and Community Services, G. Scott, on £155,945
– The Strategic Director of Environment and Leisure, D. Collins, on£154,171
In addition, no less than 28 Southwark Council employees have salaries of over £100,000 per annum.
Is it any wonder they say they can’t afford to refurbish the Aylesbury Estate?
Despite all of which, Ben Derbyshire, head of HTA Architects, defended the collaboration of his practice in the social cleansing of the Aylesbury community last November, even going so far as to claim that it was supported by the residents:
‘The decision-making process for appraising refurbishment versus redevelopment of housing requires intensive involvement of the affected community, professional input and a political process to determine the outcome – essentially a balance of costs and benefits. Although we were not involved in the process that led to the decision to redevelop Aylesbury, we have absolutely no reason to doubt the thoroughness of the process that gave rise to the Area Action Plan, which was adopted by Southwark and the residents of the estate as the basis for the redevelopment brief. Indeed we believe this enabled HTA Design as masterplanners, and the team of architects, including HTA Design, Hawkins\Brown, Mae, and Duggan Morris, to develop the adopted AAP proposals into the scheme now approved by the council and supported by the majority of residents.’
Ben Derbyshire has recently put himself forward as a candidate for the presidency of the RIBA.
4 September, 2016
Council Leader Robert Davis is right to worry about insufficient population density in the City of Westminster, where nearly 1 in 10 properties are owned by off-shore companies, and which, no doubt because of this, has a far lower density of residents (11,109 per km²) than the inner-city boroughs of Tower Hamlets (14,201 per km²), Hackney (13,850) and Lambeth (11,358).
To help remedy this situation, ASH is launching a petition to knock down Downing Street, Whitehall, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament (to start with) and replace them with much needed, high-density council housing. We recommend decanting Parliament to Leicester, which in addition to being the geographical centre of England, and therefore the ideal location for the Tories’ Middle-England voters, is badly in need of the boost to its economy that these company CEOs and hereditary millionaires will bring.
Meanwhile, ASH will be drawing up the plans for what we hope London’s council residents will universally vote for as Option 1: Full demolition of these newly designated ‘brownfield sites’. It’s not as if the Queen, the Prime Minister and Members of Parliament don’t have second (and third, and fourth) homes to go to.
ASH has conducted a preliminary viability assessment of these redevelopment plans, and the savings on state-funded expense claims for MPs and the extended Royal family, aligned with the state already having footed the bill for their homes outside London, makes this a sound financial investment, allowing the new developments to be 100 per cent council housing.
At a rough estimate, ASH estimates we can build 1,500 river-view council homes on Parliament Estate, the first phase of the development, and homes for a further 4,500 homeless families on Buckingham Estate, the latter to be put aside for young families whose children will benefit from the extensive attached gardens. The ASH masterplan for this newly-designated Opportunity Area also includes the James Estate, Home Estate, Westminster Estate, Abbey Estate, Treasury Estate, Guards Estate and Defense Estate.
ASH will shortly be announcing an open competition for architects to draw up plans for this much-needed housing on Westminster’s brownfield land, the development of which will go a considerable way to eradicating London’s current housing shortage.
Please support and sign our petition.
10 September, 2016
‘It would be wrong to ignore the aspect of gentrification or, as the residents’ association has termed it, social cleansing.’
– Laura Mark
Opening with every cliché about council estates (failing, high crime, bland, a no-go zone, and a good trashing by Zadie Smith), this one sentence is the only reference in this article to any resident opposition to this development. Ignoring it is exactly what Laura Mark does; and she’s right, it is wrong. And the one thing missing from the list of project data and specifications – as always with articles in the Architects’ Journal – is the cost of the new apartments. But a 2-bedroom apartment was being advertised off-plan last year for £900,000.
Elsewhere in the Architects’ Journal the tenure mix for Ely Court is listed as 25 for market sale and ‘18 social affordable units.’ Which is it – social or affordable, or don’t you recognise a difference? Disinformation, a mouthpiece for Brent Labour Council and Catalyst Housing Association: the architectural profession in summary.
If this is Britain’s foremost architectural magazine, no wonder architects know nothing about the social consequences of estate regeneration.
30 September, 2016
Are we getting to you, Will?
Declaring the demolition of council estates, the eviction of their residents, and the replacement of their homes with real estate investments for the filthy rich a ‘distraction’ is not exactly the declaration of the social duties of the architectural profession we were looking for.
As you will find at 6pm on Thursday, 6 October, when you attend the Stirling Prize award ceremony at the RIBA, there are one or two people who have a slightly different conception of what architects and architecture is for.
If you, or anyone else in your ivory tower, would like to come down and join us, you’re very welcome to add your voice to the growing protest against the shameful collusion of the architectural profession in the social cleansing of London, and take more than a dim view of institutions like the RIBA handing out prizes to those who do so.
Built on the ruins of the demolished Heygate Estate, Stirling Prize nominated Trafalgar Place contains 235 so-called ‘high-quality’ homes, 52 of which are so-called ‘affordable housing’, which by now even readers of the Architects’ Journal must know means for sale or rent at 80 per cent of market rate. To get an idea of what market rate is for ‘high-quality’ homes in Southwark, in today’s Zoopla a 2-bedroom flat in Trafalgar Place is on sale for £725,000. In contrast, owners of a 4-bedroom council flat on the former Heygate Estate were offered £190,000 in compensation for their demolished home. A disgraceful 8 homes in Trafalgar Place have been allocated for social rent. The site on which this property speculator’s investment opportunity is built was previously occupied by the demolished Wyngrave House, which provided 104 council homes for the local community.
Whether you want it to be or not, Will, architecture is always political.
30 September, 2016
Gosh, how exciting.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, perhaps your judges might try asking dRMM Architects – who on their website claim one of their strengths is ‘our ability to reflect on the bigger picture, discovering through local consultation what residents want’ – whether they consider the demolition of the 1,200 council homes on the Heygate Estate to be part of ‘the bigger picture’, and believe the eviction of its 3,000 residents from the borough to be ‘what they want’?
They go on to claim that ‘as London seeks to cope with its chronic housing shortage and improve inner-city living, we believe that an awareness of the effects of the built environment at a local level should be paramount.’ As you sit down to tea in Tintern Abbey, perhaps you could ask your faux panel of judges if they think the demolition of the 104 council homes of the former Wyngrave House and their replacement with 235 luxury apartments in which a 2-bedroom unit is selling for £725,000 is reducing the housing shortage in London and improving inner-city living for those of us not on a banker’s salary?
As for the RIBA, in nominating dRMM Architects for this year’s Stirling Prize, it described Trafalgar Place as ‘an outstanding site plan which connects the development to the local community.’ If you can drag your conversation away from whether you get ‘that’ feeling when you walk into Trafalgar Place, perhaps you could raise the question of how on-site security guards, gated access, anti-homeless spikes and CCTV cameras connect Trafalgar Place to a local community that cannot afford to buy or rent its luxury housing?
And if you run into the real Stirling Prize jury again, could you ask Rachel Whiteread whether she intends to cast the space where the Heygate Estate once stood?
7 October, 2016
On top of the demolition of 6 council estates, the closure of 10 libraries, the vanity project of the Garden Bridge and the eviction of the Brixton Arches, this is just what Lambeth needs: another Damien Hirst gallery selling Jeff Koons for $58.4 million. Another servile thumbs up by the architectural profession for the gentrification of another working-class neighbourhood. No wonder the Qatari Investment Vehicle has begun to take an interest in the area. As the jury said: ‘A generous asset to an evolving community’ – just not the one that currently lives there. There goes the neighbourhood.
17 October, 2016
Thank you for this brief mention in the otherwise blanket ban on reporting our protest by the architectural press. For the record, our catchy chant was:
Aylesbury Estate: Human Rights Violation
Heygate Estate: Stirling Prize Nomination
The 2016 O. J. Simpson Prize (last year won by RSH+P’s Neo Bankside) was awarded to dRMM Architects for Trafalgar Place, built on the demolition of 104 council homes, now placed with 235 unaffordable homes with gated access, security cameras, homeless spikes and security guards nearly as violent as those guarding the RIBA.
And the inaugural Ben Derbyshire Foot in Mouth Award was won by an overwhelming majority vote for the following comment by the RIBA President elect:
‘Whilst many (me included) are concerned that current housing and planning policies do not serve the ambition to create mixed neighbourhoods particularly well, not everyone believes that public money should be used to subsidise families to live in areas they could not otherwise afford to.’
The often repeated lie that council housing is subsidised by public money is a myth propagated by the property developers and councils that want the land they are built on, and it doesn’t bode well for the future of the RIBA as an institution to hear it repeated from the mouth of its future President. What stops the families Ben Derbyshire so loftily dismisses from their neighbourhoods from being able to afford to live there any longer is precisely the demolition of the council estates they have called home for decades and their replacement with the luxury apartments the RIBA has seen fit to nominate for this year’s Stirling Prize.
Unfortunately, although it was a fine evening, very few architects came out to talk to us this year, though we saw much sniggering and tittering from behind your champagne flutes. But if anyone cares to know about the reasons for our protest, see our report here:
See you next year, if not before.
17 October, 2016
Councillor: John, Peter OBE
Registered gifts and hospitalities:
06/10/2016 – Ticket to RIBA Stirling Prize 2016 awards offered by Lend Lease Ltd: value £235
You really have no shame, do you?
6 November, 2016
‘Lacked the combination of finely construed architectural units, integrated into a creative and sophisticated plan.’
‘Wasn’t a pioneer for social housing at the time and much of the success of the scheme is due to the topography, rather than architectural flair.’
‘Not the complexity or quality of detail within the architecture to warrant listing at a national level.’
On such aesthetic judgements is the fate of over a thousand residents’ homes decided. Not that Historic England even considered that.
Snouts in the trough.
29 November, 2016
Someone once said that the overwhelming political motivation of the British middle classes is fear of embarrassment. We saw a fair smattering of that following Brexit, when London’s elite fell over themselves in shame to dissociate themselves from those nasty working-class Ukipers who had the temerity to disagree with them. And we’re seeing it again here with the Schumacher affair.
It is indicative of the moral timidity of the architectural profession that it has sat by in obedient silence while their clients have employed their skills to pursue a programme of social cleansing through estate demolition that has seen thousands of council homes demolished and tens of thousands of households made homeless, but when Patrik Schumacher talks about building on Hyde Park it’s up in arms.
There is nothing in Schumacher’s recommendations – whether about the privatisation of public land, the abolition of social housing and rent controls, or the manipulation of planners to push through private developments – that is not already being put into practice by London councils, builders, housing associations and developers, all aided and abetted by architectural practices like HTA Design, Mae, PRP, Karakusevic Carson, dRMM, Haworth Tompkins, etc.
Following the Government’s Housing and Planning Act, the building of social housing is a thing of the past. Under the estate demolition programme being pursued by Tory and Labour councils alike, social housing is, as Schumacher says, being ‘abolished’. Under the mass transfer of council housing stock to housing associations, public land is being privatised. And under the changes to planning legislation, not Hyde Park, but dozens of previously public parks are being handed over to private developers in sweetheart deals. And the Government, while seeing fit to cap benefits that will affect between a quarter and half a million children, has consistently refused to introduce any rent controls.
While we at ASH disagree with and oppose everything Schumacher has said, he has done nothing more than given voice to the class war that is being waged though housing in this country. I can understand his confusion at what all the fuss is about, and attempts to back pedal on his comments. But I’d have thought that, after all the years Patrik has spent in this country, he’d know that in England what you say – and not what you do – is what matters.
30 November, 2016
Very heartwarming. But Patrik Schumacher’s comments weren’t directed at moving people out of central London because of their ‘race, gender, creed or orientation’, but because of their class, their poverty, and above all because they are living in social housing, and therefore – according to the widely and willingly accepted propaganda about social housing – freeloaders living in homes that are subsidised by the state and standing on some of the most valuable land in the world.
Nor did Patrik wish to replace them with what he called ‘his people’ according to whether these latter came from an ethnic minority or were women, but because they were more ‘economically potent and productive’ and could ‘serve us most effectively’. In its celebration of the multiculturalism of it staff, Zaha Hadid Architect’s letter fails to take account of the class identity of the residents Schumacher’s speech identified for social cleansing.
As for its own claims to an ‘architecture of inclusivity’ delivering projects ‘for all members of the community’, a look at one or two of those projects should illuminate the extent to which Zaha Hadid Architects realised such values.
The Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan is one such project, commissioned by President Ilham Aliyev, an abuser of human rights whose corruption and nepotism has been likened to that of a feudal state. In the words of Baku, a quarterly magazine edited by the president’s daughter, the centre, named after the President’s father, was meant to transform Azerbaijan’s capital into the next ‘global cultural hot-spot’. But the fact it subsequently and predictably won the London Design Museum’s 2014 Design of the Year award must have been cold comfort for the 250 families expelled from their homes to make way for its construction. Does that sound familiar?
As for the Al Wakrah Stadium, designed for the World Cup in Qatar – where 1.8 million migrant workers are kept in conditions of semi-slavery, without pay, with their passports confiscated, living in work camps and working in 50 degree heat – do they count as members of the community that will benefit from Zaha Hadid Architects’ urge to ‘never – ever – stop imagining’? I wonder it any of its architects, whatever their ‘race, gender, creed or orientation’, can begin to imagine what it’s like to work in such conditions in order to build one of their ‘manifestos’.
To help them in their quest to ‘never stop questioning’, the International Trade Union Confederation has predicted that 7,000 construction workers will die on Qatar building sites in preparation for the 2022 Football World Cup. And yes, I know the stadium hadn’t even begun construction when these figures were produced, so you can keep your lawyer’s locked in their kennels. But nothing’s changed since then, and they are a far more accurate indication of the kind of clients and communities Zaha Hadid Architects engages with, the kind of boundaries it is willing to cross, than this fanciful letter.
As Zaha Hadid infamously declared: ‘I have nothing to do with the workers. It’s not my duty as an architect to look at it.’ Now there’s a statement more keeping in ethos with Patrik Schumacher’s wish to abolish social housing and evict its occupants from Inner London!
I am looking forward to debating these and other issues with Patrik in the new year, when he will have a chance to clarify and enlarge on his statements and we to relate the realities of the current programme of estate demolition in London – which we believe, contrary to Patrik, is fully deserving of the description ‘social cleansing’.
We invite everyone in the architectural profession to join us.
4 December, 2016
It’s hard to imagine a clearer image of the ivory tower (or in this case bouncy castle) in which architects live and think than this photograph of the Architects’ Journal roundtable of white men (and token woman) sitting down to sort out the challenges facing the profession. But with unerring – and typical – accuracy, you’ve identified the wrong question for debate.
The crisis in housing is not one of quality – which is another euphemism for the high-cost, unaffordable, luxury housing that is making such profits for builders like Berkeley Homes and (as Patrick Usborne of dRMM will know) developers like Lendlease – it’s a crisis of affordability.
If you look up from your Bento boxes long enough you’ll find that a recent report by the charity Shelter showed that 43 per cent of homes in Britain fail to meet their newly launched ‘living home standard’, and that, unsurprisingly, 73 per cent of these homes are in London. But 56 per cent of London homes fail the living home standard not on the criteria of their quality, the amount of living space, the stability of tenure or the surrounding neighbourhood, but on the fifth criterion – their affordability. Across the whole of Britain, the homes of 41 per cent of semi-skilled and unskilled workers, and 31 per cent of skilled workers, fail to meet the standard of affordability.
Still, I’ve no doubt that if you order another mineral water you can turn this problem into a challenge and, with a sake for the road, an opportunity.
Enjoy the sushi, boys.
12 February, 2017
Well, well, well. Christine Murray urging architects to stand up to Donald Trump, an interview with Paulo Mendes about politics in architecture, and even Paul (‘I’m alright, Jack’) Finch quoting Richard Rogers’ dictum – made famous at an RIBA protest – that ‘All architecture is political’. For a moment there I thought you were actually going to confront Santiago Calatrava with the turgid history of financial manipulation, reduced affordable housing quotas and government threats of withheld grants that led Greenwich Labour Council to hand over Greenwich Peninsula to the Hong Kong corporation Knight Dragon to do with as it pleases. But be still my fluttering heart! It seems the ivory tower is cracking . . .
Of course, it’s typical that in addressing the issue of women in architecture you focus on the pay gap between male and female company partners, just as the focus of your hopes that the profession regains its political voice is directed at Trump and Brexit and other issues over which architects have little influence.
As one of the protesters that Christine Murray describes the profession ‘politely ignoring’ at last years’ Stirling Prize protest, may I once again remind the members of that profession that the real and very present political issue in architecture – one in which they are guilty of colluding up to their armpits – is that of housing estate demolition? And that the real issue of women in architecture is not that of partners on £95,000 complaining about the salaries of their better paid male counterparts, but in the disproportionate effects the demolition of council housing has on women?
It is the working-class women and single mothers, on rather less annual remuneration than company partners, that make up the largest portion of the tenants whose homes councils are demolishing to make way for the luxury developments the directors of those architectural practices are only too happy to design. And not only design.
Besides Richard Rogers’ appropriated quote, another of our slogans is that ‘Architects are the funeral directors of the working class’ – which Will Hurst was once kind enough to post on his Twitter account. Not once in your article on councils’ setting up of special purpose vehicles like Brick by Brick and Homes for Lambeth do you mention that these housing associations will effectively transfer public land and housing into private hands. Nor do you mention the role of real estate firm Savills in setting up and advising every one of these SPVs in Labour boroughs across London, from Hackney, Haringey and Waltham Forest to Lambeth, Southwark and Croydon.
Of course, the RIBA has recently seen fit to make £185,000 per year Croydon CEO and estate demolisher Jo Negrini an Honorary Fellow, following the decision by Brick by Brick – which will received £250 million of public money – to sign up no less than seven architectural firms – including those old Architects’ Journal favourites and estate demolishers HTA, Mae and Mikhail Riches – so we understand the reasons for your reluctance.
Nice try, AJ, but the politics you are trying so hard to divert our eyes from does not lie in the obscenities of Trump or the threats of Brexit, but in your own hands.
If you want to know what a genuine political architectural practice is, look at our alternatives to demolition for West Kensington, Gibbs Green, Central Hill and Knight’s Walk estates. We’ve presented these designs at the CASS, the Bartlett, the Architectural Association, Westminster University, the University of East London, Cambridge House, the Royal Academy, the Western Front Society of Vancouver and the Architectural League of New York. Perhaps one day you’d care to see them.
12 March, 2017
Oh dear, where to start with this issue? Three paragraphs devoted to how Michael Heseltine inconvenienced the AJ photographer, another repetition of the story about the ceremonial mace, but nothing to say about the confession by the man placed at the head of our national estate regeneration strategy that he was ‘surprised to hear’ about what is happening at the Heygate and Aylesbury estates.
For future reference, the question the cutting-edge journalists at the Architects’ Journal should have asked is: how does the enforced eviction of thousands of residents from these and other estates conform with with Heseltine’s statement that estate regeneration should be ‘resident led’? Instead, we get the unquestioned reporting of the usual platitudes about ‘putting residents at the heart of shaping their estates’. We would suggest the question on everyone’s lips here would be: then why has neither the Estate Regeneration National Strategy nor the Greater London Authority’s Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration made resident support a condition of such regeneration – which as we know in practice means demolition?
And why you’re at it, perhaps another question you may have liked to have asked Lord Heseltine (in between listing the architects he likes best) is how demolished estates are meant to remain in public hands when the government has allocated a mere £140 million for the ‘Blitz’ on 100 estates, and he himself says the money will come from the private sector? His suggestion that it will come from the local authorities his Party have deliberately starved of funding is, of course, another meaningless statement this article fails to challenge.
What else? Perhaps ask why a man with an estimated fortune of £264 million – who has never lived on, known anyone who has lived on, or visited a council estate without a retinue of bodyguards – is in charge of the nation’s estate regeneration strategy? Or whether his justification for the demolition of Robin Hood Gardens estate because he ‘doesn’t like the look of it’ is a criterion he will be applying to the 100 as-yet unidentified estates his panel intends to ‘Blitz’?
But let’s pass on to the other burning (but apparently unrelated topic) of this edition of the Architects’ Journal – MIPIM, the International Market for Real Estate Professionals. The subject of both Will Hurst’s editorial and its own article, this, it seems, is where our post-Brexit architectural practices must go now to sell their services to the world.
Unfortunately, neither editorial nor article mention what is also being sold at MIPIM. Even in that little bubble where the editorial board for the Architects’ Journal meets to discuss world affairs over sushi, it can’t have escaped your notice that the Haringey Development Vehicle that was announced this week, and which will demolish thousands of council homes on Broadwater Farm, Northumberland Park and Sky City estates, was brokered at MIPIM. Or that the development partner selected by Haringey Labour council for this mass privatisation scheme is Lendlease, whose comparable deal with Southwark Labour council for the demolition and redevelopment of the Heygate estate was also cut at MIPIM.
While celebrating MIPIM as the panacea for all those lost commissions for British architects, perhaps the Architects’ Journal would like to reflect on where the land for all these new projects is being found? You excitedly announce that 2,000 architects will be in attendance next week; but what you fail to mention is how many Leaders of London councils – accompanied by their Cabinet Members for Housing and Regeneration, regeneration officers from the private sector, advisors from Savills, and of course members of the national estate regeneration panel headed by Heseltine – will also be there, selling off the land on which the homes of hundreds of thousands of council tenants live.
It is on the mass eviction of these residents, and the privatisation of the land their homes are built on, that the commissions British architects win next week in Cannes will be built. Is this not something your readers in the profession – who in our experience are ostrich-like in their ignorance of estate demolition – should be told about? Or would they rather hear about what colour jumper Tarzan was wearing?
18 March, 2017
So the answer to London’s shortage of homes Londoners can afford to live in is not – it turns out – to demolish our council and social housing in the middle of a housing crisis and replace it with property investments for international capital designed by social cleansing practices like HTA Design, Mae, PRP Architects, Hawkins\Brown, dRMM, Haworth Tompkins and Karakusevic Carson (which the Evening Standard this week identified as the ‘go to practice for estate regeneration’ for the social cleansing of the King’s Crescent estate in Hackney – a bargain at £120,000 for a 25 per cent share in a 2-bedroom flat or rent from £1,100 per month), but to increase their housing capacity with infill.
Now why didn’t we think of that?
Who knows, maybe Patrik Schumacher will turn the full 180 degrees and suggest the funds raised from the private sales and rents are invested not only in building more homes for social rent on the estate, but invested in refurbishing the council homes that have been neglected by councils for so long?
Go on Patrik! You may not have the courage to meet us in a public debate, but one day you could be known as the Saviour of London’s estates, and no-one will remember your ‘theoretical’ speech in Berlin. And we promise you and whoever this bloke Kelly is can take all the credit. Architects have short memories.
P.S. Once again, and for the umpteenth time, we remind the Architects’ Journal that ASH are not activists but architects. Our alternative designs to the demolition of West Kensington and Gibbs Green, Central Hill and Knight’s Walk, using infill and roof extensions and refurbishing the existing homes, can be viewed on our website here:
8 July, 2017
Just got the latest edition of the Architects’ Journal, and as expected there’s a lot of talk about the Grenfell Tower fire, including an editorial by Emily Booth moaning about the lack of architectural representation on the independent group set up by Sajid Javid to advise on the immediate measures necessary to ensure the safety of tower blocks; a detailed article by Ella Braidwood on the failings of the Building Regulations in ensuring the fire safety of cladding added to tower blocks; and an opinion piece by Catherine Slessor looking at the fire in the context of changing attitudes to council housing in the UK; plus a bunch of letters on the failure to retro-fit sprinklers in tower blocks, the failure of the RIBA to show leadership (surely not!) in the wake of the fire, and the failure of architects in general offering professional insight into its causes.
Not once, though, in all this breast beating, is estate regeneration mentioned. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the application of flammable cladding to a reinforced concrete tower block was just some crazy idea that the council came up with, rather than part of a UK-wide programme of estate regeneration being implemented through Private Finance Initiatives which – whether as the Haringey Development Vehicle that is handing £2 billion of land and 21 council estates over to property developer Lendlease, or with Homes for Lambeth, which will similarly hand the redevelopment and management of 6 estates over to private contractors and management teams – is replicating the same managerial and technical conditions that led to the Grenfell Tower fire. There are 170 London estates that we know of that are threatened with, or already condemned to, privatisation, demolition and social cleansing by Labour councils alone.
Sure, call loudly for a review of Document B on fire safety that the Department of Community and Local Government has sat on for 4 years, bleat about not having a seat at the big table, or shed a few tears over the treatment of the poor, but for Christ’s sake don’t say anything that might damage your commissions on one of the largest sources of income for architects through the estate regeneration programme in which the entire profession is complicit but which it refuses to question. No wonder architects haven’t been invited to share their professional opinion on what caused the Grenfell Tower fire: they can’t even speak the truth to each other.
Architects for Social Housing