For a Socialist Architecture: Lectures at 221A, Vancouver

For a Socialist Architecture can be downloaded here.


Over the summer of 2019, as part of ASH’s research fellowship with 221A, we took up a month’s residency in Vancouver, Canada. Over four lectures held on Friday afternoons between 19 July and 9 August, we presented our thoughts about the necessity and possibility of a socialist architecture under capitalism. 221A invited individuals based in Vancouver to co-present with us at each of these lectures, each of which attracted around 50 visitors. These lectures were conceived as a forum in which we could present to and hear from residents, campaigners, academics, students, architects, environmentalists, planners, economists, developers, politicians and others affected by or involved in the housing crisis, both local and global.

In tandem with these lectures, and by the end of the residency, ASH produced the draft text for a book to be titled For a Socialist Architecture. Our aim, with the financial support of 221A, is to publish this book, and make it available not only to people who are threatened by the crisis of housing affordability, but also to policy-writers looking for alternatives to the selling off of public land and housing to private investors, as well as to architects looking for an alternative to the orthodoxies of contemporary architectural practice.

After four-and-a-half years of continual practice since we founded ASH in March 2015, these lectures were also a welcome opportunity for us to reflect on what we had and hadn’t achieved, to learn from our successes as well as our failures, and to think about where we wanted to go next and under what guiding principles.

The texts published here are based on and expanded from the recordings by 221A of the four lectures we gave in Vancouver, taking into account some of the questions and comments made by the audience, as well as the contributions of our co-presenters. These included Am Johal, the director of community engagement at Simon Fraser University’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement; Daniel Roehr, who teaches landscape architecture at the University of British Columbia; and Ross Gentleman, the former Chief Executive Officer for CCEC Credit Union, a community development credit union in Vancouver. Since each lecture was delivered to a changing audience, there are some repetitions in the text that, given its length and complexity, we have thought it best to retain. We have also responded to developments in housing and architecture since our return to the UK. 

This text is published on Friday, 13th December, 2019, the day after the UK’s fourth general election this decade, and which like all the others has returned a Conservative Party politician to the office of Prime Minister, but this time with the largest majority in Parliament in over 40 years. We hope this disaster will mark the end of the flirtation of socialists, anarchists and even communists with the Labour Party, which has had its worst electoral defeat since 1935, and that they will now turn to building a political movement of and for the working class. This text is offered as ASH’s contribution to the direction a socialist practice must take in order to build that movement.

ASH would like to thank everyone at 221A for their hospitality, and in particular Jesse R. McKee, the Head of Strategy, who organised our residency in Vancouver with unfailing patience and charm.


Lecture 1. The Social

Part 1. Social Principles

  1. Contexts of a Socialist Architecture
  2. Theoretical Foundations for a Socialist Architecture
  3. Practical Advice for the Agents for a Socialist Architecture
  4. Glossary of Housing Terminology and Procedures for Residents
  5. The Inadequacies of Human Rights

Part 2. Social Practices

  1. Agents for a Socialist Architecture
  2. The Development Process
    • Strategy and Preparation
    • Drawing up the Brief
    • Design and Planning
    • Procurement and Construction
    • Management and Maintenance
  3. Social Principles and Practices for a Socialist Architecture

Lecture 2. The Environmental

Part 1. Environmental Principles

  1. Opposed Economies of Architecture
  2. The Erosion of the Social and the Rise of Environmentalism
  3. Green Architecture
  4. Environmental Lobbying and the Grenfell Tower Fire
  5. Carbon Cost of Demolishing the Aylesbury Estate
  6. Environmental Costs of Demolishing the Central Hill Estate
  7. Refurbishment versus Redevelopment
  8. Environmental Principles for a Socialist Architecture

Part 2. Environmental Practices

  1. Alternative Cycles of Production, Consumption and Waste
  2. Environmental Practices for a Socialist Architecture
  3. Regeneration of the Grand Parc Bordeaux
  4. Regeneration of the Central Hill Estate
  5. Regeneration of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates
  6. Regeneration of the Patmore Co-operative Housing Estate
  7. Solutions to the Climate Emergency

Lecture 3. The Economic

Part 1. Economic Principles

  1. Opposed Economies of Architecture
  2. The Neo-liberalisation of Housing
  3. The UK Property and Homelessness Market
  4. The Capitalist Housing Crisis
  5. Economic Principles for a Socialist Architecture
  6. Under Capitalism
  7. Financial Costs of Housing Development
  8. Refurbishment versus Redevelopment
  9. Alternative Economies of Housing Provision

Part 2. Economic Practices

  1. West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates
  2. Brixton Gardens Community Land Trust
  3. The Drive Housing Co-operative
  4. Economic Practices for a Socialist Architecture
  5. Questions in Need of Answers

Lecture 4. The Political

Part 1. Political Principles

  1. The Realism of the Impossible
  2. Opposed Economies of Architecture
  3. The Politics of Architecture
  4. Party Politics
  5. Independent Politics
  6. Political Practice
  7. Political Principles for a Socialist Architecture
  8. Towards a Socialist Revolution
  9. Policies on Housing Development
  10. Opposed Political Economies of Housing Provision

Part 2. Political Practices

  1. The Political Economy of Housing Provision
  2. The Moments of Political Agency
  3. Political Practices for a Socialist Architecture
    • Legislation, Policy and Strategic Development
    • Urban Design, Master-planning and Brief Development
    • Project Design and the Planning Process
    • Education, Dissemination and Agitation for Change
  4. For a Socialist Architecture

Simon Elmer and Geraldine Dening
Architects for Social Housing

Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company (no. 10383452). Although we do occasionally receive minimal fees for our design work, the majority of what we do is unpaid and after more than four years of work we still have no source of public funding. If you would like to support our work financially, please make a donation through PayPal:

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