Saving St. Raphael’s Estate: The Alternative to Demolition

Book Cover6

Architects for Social Housing is pleased to announce the publication of our book-length report, Saving St. Raphael’s Estate: The Alternative to Demolition. Pdf files of the individual chapters can be downloaded from the links below.

Table of Contents

1. The Campaign for St. Raphael’s Estate: Social, Economic and Policy Contexts

2. The Alternative to Demolition: Design Proposals by Architects for Social Housing                   

3. The Social Cleansing of St. Raphael’s Estate: Design Options by Karakusevic Carson Architects

Afterword: Saved from Demolition

Appendices

Preface

The texts collected in this book are the major documents to come out of Architects for Social Housing’s contribution to the successful campaign to save St. Raphael’s estate from demolition by Brent Council.

Part One is the write up of the presentation we gave to residents in February 2020, which was itself a compilation of research and advice we had been sending to the Community Raph’s resident campaign to save the estate since they contacted us in April 2019.

Part Two is the design alternatives to demolition produced by Architects for Social Housing in collaboration with residents, quantity surveyors Robert Martell and Partners, environmental engineers Model Environments, structural engineers GL&SS – Glass Light and Special Structures, and the numerous architects and architectural assistants who worked with us for the two years it took to produce them. In July 2021 these were submitted to Brent Council.

Part Three contains our response to the proposals by Brent Council’s consultants, Karakusevic Carson Architects, which were exhibited in March 2020, and our criticisms of the role they played in the consultation of residents.

The Afterword is based on our press release following Brent Council’s decision, in August 2021, to drop their plans to demolish St. Raphael’s estate.

The Appendices contain the construction costs for ASH’s proposals costed by Robert Martell and Partners; the embodied carbon estimate of St. Raphael’s estate by Model Environments; and a study of the phytoremediation of the land on which the estate is built by Down to Earth, a research group based in the School of Architecture at De Montfort University, Leicester.

There are some repetitions and overlaps between these documents, but given the complexity of the material we have thought it best to retain them here.

Architects for Social Housing (ASH) was founded in March 2015 in order to respond architecturally to London’s housing ‘crisis’. We are a Community Interest Company that organises working collectives of architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, urban designers, film-makers, photographers, researchers and housing campaigners for individual projects. Tailored to meet specific needs, these collectives operate with developing ideas under set principles.

First among these is the conviction that increasing the housing capacity on existing council estates, rather than redeveloping them as properties for capital investment, is a more sustainable solution to London’s housing needs than the demolition of the city’s social housing during a crisis of housing affordability, enabling, as it does, the continued existence of the communities they house.

ASH offers support, advice and expertise to residents who feel their interests and voices are being marginalised by local authorities or housing associations during the so-called ‘regeneration’ process. Our primary responsibility is to existing residents — tenants and leaseholders alike; but we are also committed to finding socially beneficial, financially viable and environmentally sustainable alternatives to estate demolition that are in the interests of the wider London community.

ASH operates on three levels of activity: Architecture, Community and Research.

  1. We propose architectural alternatives to estate demolition schemes through designs and feasibility studies for infill housing and lightweight roof extensions that increase housing capacity on the estates by up to 50 per cent and, by selling a proportion of the new homes on the private market, generate the funds to improve the communal facilities and refurbish the existing council homes, while leaving the communities they currently house intact.
  2. We support estate communities in their resistance to the demolition of their homes by working with residents over a period of time, providing them with information about estate regeneration and housing policy from a reservoir of knowledge and tactics pooled from similar campaigns across London.
  3. We share research that aims to correct inaccurate statements and counter negative perceptions about social housing in the minds of the public, and raise awareness of the role of relevant interest groups — including political parties, local authorities, housing associations, property developers, real estate firms, architectural practices and other consultants — in the ‘regeneration’ process. Using a variety of means, including publications, presentations, reports, case studies, exhibitions, films and protests, we aim to initiate policy change within UK housing.

ASH’s architectural work is not limited to estate’s under threat of demolition, and we have produced feasibility studies for the Patmore estate Co-operative, the Brixton Housing Co-operative, the Drive Housing Co-operative and, most recently, visualisations for the Waltham Forest Civic Society. But our focus over the past seven years has been on proposing design alternatives to London’s estate demolition programme and the catastrophic consequences it has for residents. After Knights Walk in Kennington, the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in West Kensington, the Central Hill estate in Crystal Palace and the Northwold estate in Clapton, St. Raphael’s estate is the sixth housing estate for which ASH has produced a design alternative to their proposed demolition, and we’re pleased to report that all six estates are currently standing and being lived in by the existing residents. In total, ASH’s work has helped save 2,165 dwellings and the homes of around 6,800 residents from demolition by estate ‘regeneration’ schemes.

Finally, a word on terminology. One of the most contentious terms to emerge from the estate ‘regeneration’ programme is the accusation of ‘social cleansing’. This has raised the hackles of politicians, architects, journalists and academics, who trace the origin of this term back to ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, and denounce any comparison between the two. However, although obviously different in the degree of their effects, ‘social cleansing’ very accurately describes those effects when applied, as a housing policy, to the forced eviction and dispersal of estate communities preparatory to the demolition and redevelopment of their homes, and the replacement of those communities with a different demographic, socially, economically and racially. 48 per cent of Black Britons and 28 per cent of UK Asians live in council and housing association homes; but whatever their race, which is a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act 2010, all the overwhelmingly working-class residents that live on estates targeted for demolition undergo years of mental stress, the threat of homelessness, slurs on their character and behaviour (‘criminal, anti-social, benefit-dependent’) and unrelenting pressure and propaganda from professional consultancies during the ‘regeneration’ process, before being evicted from their destroyed communities. After seven years of working with and advising dozens of estate communities in London and across England, it doesn’t seem to us inaccurate or unwarranted to describe this process and its effects as ‘social cleansing’. Most importantly of all, this is their term, coined by residents to describe what they are undergoing, and it is not for us or anyone else — and least of all for middle-class professionals — to tell residents what they can and cannot say, or how to describe their experiences. Too much of that is being done already.

The other term we claim as our own. In July 2021, Dawn Butler, the Labour MP for Brent, called the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, a ‘liar’ in the House of Commons, and in consequence was ordered to withdraw her words and leave the House. She wasn’t the last MP to do so, but it’s a contradiction of our Parliament that, although MPs are permitted to lie in the House of Commons, they are not permitted to call someone a liar for doing so. It’s unfortunate, therefore, that the MP for Brent, to whom the residents of St. Raphael’s estate have appealed in their petition to save their homes from demolition, did not employ the same frankness and honesty to describe the actions and words of Brent Council and its consultants in their consultation with residents. ASH, fortunately, is lacking in neither frankness nor honesty, and in our report we do not shy away from calling a lie a ‘lie’ when it is, and showing why it is with documented and verifiable proofs.

While not a ‘campaign group’, as we are sometimes described by the architectural press, ASH is not a typical architectural practice. We recognise no bond of collegiality or duty of professional loyalty to the architectural practices that are complicit in the UK’s estate demolition programme, which we have publicly denounced for what it is on numerous occasions. Nor do we write as academics, whose lack of a practical understanding of the mechanics and effects of the ‘regeneration’ process is unfortunately apparent in so many of the books to emerge from academia. This is, perhaps, an understandable consequence of the authors’ own positions as passive observers of the estate demolition programme, rather than its active and practical opposers. No-one who has not worked with residents for years on end through the incremental steps by which an entire community is deprived of its voice, its reputation, its rights and finally its homes can fully understand the duplicity and violence of the estate demolition programme.

The social cleansing of working-class communities by the forces of global capital is not a game in which politicians can score points off their political opponents; it is not an archive for journalists and academics publishing books on architecture, urban design and ‘gentrification’ to further their career; and it is not an opportunity for architectural practices, consultancies, housing associations, builders and property developers to win lucrative contracts from councils, municipal authorities and central government. Of course, it clearly has become all these things; but for estate residents the attempt to resist the demolition of their homes is experienced as a life-and-death struggle by the most economically vulnerable and threatened class in our society to survive the forces of global capital and the housing legislation and policy written to attract its investment in UK property.

As this report will demonstrate in considerable detail, the social cleansing of the estate communities whose homes are being targeted is not an unfortunate consequence of UK housing policy but the product of its success in clearing land for investment; and the programme of estate ‘regeneration’ through which global capital is courted, laundered, accommodated and subsidised is built on a tower of lies as in need of exposure, accountability and change as those which led to the Grenfell Tower fire. This report is our attempt to help residents, communities and, perhaps, those architects looking for an alternative to such practices, to resist these forces and bring about better, more sustainable, more equitable ways to house Londoners.

Cover letter lined

If you would like ASH to come and talk to your architectural practice, university department, resident group, housing association, council meeting, municipal housing board, governmental or non-governmental organisation about this report, please contact us at: info@architectsforsocialhousing.co.uk

Acknowledgements

Report written by

  • Geraldine Dening, Lead architect, Architects for Social Housing, and Senior Lecturer, Leicester School of Architecture, De Montfort University
  • Dr. Simon Elmer, Head of research, Architects for Social Housing

With contributions from

  • Ben Corbett, Architectural assistant
  • Maja Klich, Architectural assistant
  • Jake Maclean, Architectural assistant
  • Olande Onitiju, Architectural assistant
  • Jack Sweet, Architectural assistant
  • Andrea Vasilcin, Architectural assistant
  • Sam Willis, Architectural assistant
  • Robert Wills, Architect
  • Caitriona Casey, Architect
  • Julika Gittner, Artist and Design Fellow, University of Cambridge, and PhD Researcher, University of Cardiff
  • Dr. Adriana Massidda, Architect and Lecturer, De Montfort University, and Researcher, Down to Earth
  • Can Ozerdem, Architectural assistant, De Montfort University, and Researcher, Down to Earth
  • Peter Miles and Robert Martell, Quantity surveyors, Robert Martell and Partners
  • Harry Westaway and Isabel Why, Environmental engineers, Model Environments
  • Louisa Verth and team, OneNinety Manufacturing
  • Tom Robertshaw, Structural engineer, GL&SS – Glass Light & Special Structures

Our thanks

The two-and-a-half years of work that went into producing this report was done pro bono publico by the architects, architectural assistants, engineers, environmental engineers, quantity surveyors and other professionals who wish to defend council housing estates and the communities that live on them from the economic forces driving and profiting from London’s crisis of housing affordability. Most of them have worked with ASH before, and we thank them all for their generosity, their expertise and their commitment to this project.

In particular, ASH would like to draw attention here to the contributions of the young architectural assistants who, under the most difficult circumstances and pressing demands on their time, gave their labour and skills to this project, often snatched from their free evenings and weekends. Much of the 3D-modelling and representation of ASH’s design proposals is their work. As the reader of this report can see, this is of the highest calibre. ASH would like to thank them for their unswerving commitment to this project, and recommends all of them to any future employer. We hope they have enjoyed collaborating with us as much as we have enjoyed collaborating with them. It is our hope that these future architects will reclaim the temporarily abnegated duties of the profession to the social, environmental and political dimensions of architectural practice in the UK.

Finally, our thanks to the community and residents who, against the enormous forces arrayed against them, resisted the demolition of St. Raphael’s estate. Without their courage, none of this would have been possible.

ASH acknowledges funding towards the publication of this book from the Leicester School of Architecture at De Montfort University.

Endorsements

Saving St. Raphael’s Estate: The Alternative to Demolition, a report by Architects for Social Housing (ASH), is a rigorous counter proposal to the current redevelopment plans led by Brent Council. The latter follow familiar paths, proposing demolition and rebuild, heavily dependent on new homes sold at market prices to provide the needed cash. Despite the existence of well-argued and evidenced research showing such demolition-focused projects harm the environment, damage the communities affected, and produce an inequitable city, city councils seem to proceed on “autopilot”, replicating forms of urban redevelopment that have been shown to be harmful.

‘Into this void of imagination and ambition step ASH, who have produced here an in-depth study, which includes input by environmental engineers and quantity surveyors. The report proves that an alternative is possible and viable: demolition can be avoided; infill and extensions can cover the costs. Additional homes for social rent can be created; damage to the environment can be reduced, and harm to the community averted.

‘As a counter proposal, Saving St. Raphael’s Estate does not need to be realised to succeed. Suffice that it nudges Brent Council to radically rethink its plans and to avoid demolition, whether by adopting some of the proposals outlined in the report or finding other routes. What matters is the evidence assembled and produced here, demonstrating that an alternative to the current destructive modus operandi is available.’

Dr. Tahl Kaminer
Reader in Architectural History and Theory
Director of Research, Welsh School of Architecture

‘No-one else places a forensic microscope onto proposals to redevelop social housing estates in London with the precision and awareness that Architects for Social Housing are able to achieve. In their latest report, which demonstrates the folly of Brent Council’s plan to demolish much of St Raphael’s Estate and replace it with more expensive housing for sale, we are presented with a far better course of action. As this fully-costed counter-proposal shows, Brent Council can provide more housing units at a lower cost and also make a massive carbon reduction by refurbishing and infilling what already exists on St Raphael’s Estate, while furthermore creating a means to remediate heavily polluted land on a site squeezed between a busy urban motorway and a decaying canal.

‘Brent Council, please wake up and listen to this freely provided advice! Change your plans immediately, and do so on behalf of the 2,800 residents on the St. Raphael’s Estate. Their likely fate under the current demolition scheme is to be displaced from the area so that wealthier people can move in. Yet by following the carefully argued strategy in this report, every existing resident can stay exactly where they are and new high-quality dwellings can be provided — at a much lower financial and environmental cost — for a further 608 households through refurbishment and infill and landscape improvement. Vote refurb!’

Murray Fraser
Professor of Architecture and Global Culture
Bartlett School of Architecture, Faculty of the Built Environment
University College London

‘Regeneration through demolition and rebuilding not only destroys large amounts of social housing, but it is invariably more costly, more environmentally damaging, and it destroys large volumes of embodied carbon. It also blights the surrounding area and damages local services over many years, including schools, shops, transport, etc. I can find no valid argument for proposing the demolition of St Raphael’s estate which I have known since the early 1980s. With good on-site management, repair and energy saving retrofit, it can serve the local community for many years to come.’

Anne Power
Emeritus Professor of Social Policy and Head of LSE Housing and Communities
Associate at the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion

‘The Architects for Social Housing report into the option to save St. Raphael’s Estate is an exemplary piece of work from the point of view of architectural liaison, community engagement, participatory design and local neighbourhood planning. The report is to be applauded for its detail, its plain English, its rigour, the time invested, the drawing quality and the depth of its research. An implied thread running through the report is that of reinvigorating local democracy. It is not advocating preserving the area and its people in aspic but giving them a new lease of life. The proposals are detailed, workable and fully costed.

‘If planning is to mean anything, then the views of the people affected clearly should be considered in policy proposals. All too often, the governing local authorities and business developers pay lip-service to communities they seek to “improve”. Discussions amount to an appeal for people to know what is good for them in an effort to browbeat or “nudge” residents in the “right” direction. As we have seen with the Grenfell Tower enquiry and the subsequent Building Safety Bill and Fire Safety Act, there is a growing realisation that criticisms and, by implication, constructive suggestions — made by people living in residential areas are hugely important and need to be listened to. Ignoring them can be a gross error of judgement. Over the last five years, it has become clear that architects, developers and local authorities have an ethical duty to take residents’ and communities’ views into account in a meaningful way. If democracy is to mean a genuine (rather than a tick box) process, then councils and developers may realise that the views of local people have a lot to offer.

‘This report maintains that democratic tradition, with comments and recommendations that must be treated with respect. If political representation is to mean anything, then the discussion about the quality of life of local people — as perceived by those local people — needs to be factored in at an early stage. This is indeed a report of the highest calibre and I commend the authors, researchers and everyone engaged in its production.’

Austin Williams
Course leader, Professional Practice in Architecture, Kingston School of Art
Director, Future Cities Project

‘I was delighted to hear that Brent Council has decided not to go ahead with the demolition of the St. Raphael’s Estate, and to pursue an infill option instead. This will have been the result of many months of relentless campaigning by ASH on behalf of the residents. 
ASH’s report clearly outlines the overwhelming advantages of refurbishment and infill over demolition. It would seem morally wrong to disperse a well-established and organically grown community and to rob them of their well-loved homes instead of refurbishing them at a fraction of the cost of new builds.
 The proposed interventions include carefully placed infills and roof extensions as well as a strategic overhaul of the landscaping, and offer a viable solution that satisfies housing needs whilst breathing a new lease of life into St. Raphael’s estate without major disruption to the community.

‘
Is this perhaps the beginning of a shift in the current thinking — away from demolition at all costs, towards a more sensitive and environmentally friendly approach of refurbishing, re-using and recycling? The recent Pritzker Prize win of French masters of retrofit, Lacaton Vassal, bears witness to this. Hopefully this report will serve as a case study and an inspiration for future estate regenerations

.’

Lena Feindt
Senior Architect, Pollard Thomas Edwards Architects

‘I was very impressed by the report produced by Architects for Social Housing for the St. Raphael’s estate. It offers a carefully argued rationale for an approach that seeks to retain existing homes and the community that lives in them, re-designing the estate and its homes rather than allowing them to be demolished and redeveloped. This also offers a model that other councils should consider.’

Mark Crinson
Professor of Architectural History
Director of Architecture, Space and Society Centre
Birkbeck, University College London
Vice-President of the European Architectural History Network

‘These alternative for proposals for the St. Raphael’s Estate should be supported in the strongest possible terms. The masterplan that is currently under consideration by Brent Council will undoubtedly displace residents who need this housing the most and, through its reliance on wholesale demolition, will generate a carbon footprint that should be unthinkable in the context of the climate emergency and, moreover, the imperatives for sustainable development that will need to guide the future of the built environment. A genuine alternative is on offer here that will create an affordable, sustainable, healthy environment that will contribute positively to the residents of the St. Raphael’s Estate, ensuring their continued tenure and community cohesion.’

Dr. Nicholas Jewell
Head of Research at Ben Adams Architects
Tutor at Queen Mary University

‘I fully endorse the full and detailed proposals prepared by Architects for Social Housing for the St. Raphael’s estate as an environmentally and socially responsible solution, which responds to the urgent need both to provide more housing for social rent while upgrading the existing estate and building infill housing for sale.

‘In the year of COP 26, we should be especially conscious that UK construction remains an exceptionally wasteful and carbon-intensive industry, responsible for around 45 per cent of UK carbon emissions. While much of this is generated by operational carbon (the day-to-day energy use of buildings), we have collectively paid little attention to the other side of the equation, namely embodied carbon. This is the carbon expended in producing a building, including the extraction and processing of raw materials and their transportation, assembly, ongoing maintenance and disposal. According to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, a typical residential development will already have emitted over half of its life-cycle emissions by practical completion stage.

‘Construction has the potential to play a major role in assisting the UK to meet its international commitment to reach a net-zero carbon economy by 2050; but to realise this, the presumption towards demolition and rebuild must be halted. The award of the international 2021 Prizker Prize to social-housing architects, Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, is a significant indicator. Their award citation states that it is for their body of work that ‘reflects architecture’s democratic spirit’ and their ‘commitment to a restorative architecture’. A major achievement has been their transformation of 530 housing units at Grand Parc, Bordeaux, without the need for the tenants to vacate their homes as work proceeded. This award demonstrates that, internationally, there is a growing awareness of the centrality and interconnectedness of environmental and social responsibility. It is to be hoped that ASH will be successful in persuading the St. Raphael’s estate residents that their best interests lie in following the route of retrofit and infill, and that Brent Council will respect their wishes.’

Kate Macintosh
Architect of Dawson’s Heights and Macintosh Court

‘ASH’s research continues to produce rigorous social, spatial, and economic analyses of existing housing policy reports and designs, drawing out issues of social and environmental justice. This is not unusual for a practice with their level of commitment, but as this new book on St. Raphael’s Estate demonstrates, by combining critical analysis with designed and costed proposals, ASH’s work shows that another world is possible. This world — that prioritises refurbishment over demolition and new build — makes economic sense, as not only is refurbishment one third the cost of demolition and new build, but it also provides social housing for existing communities. Brent Council has declared that we live in a ’climate and ecological emergency’, and pledged to ’achieve carbon neutrality in the borough by 2030’. The carbon cost of the design scheme proposed by ASH is around one quarter of that of the full demolition and redevelopment scheme currently proposed, and so it makes sense environmentally, as well economically and socially, for ASH’s scheme to be adopted. This would be an ethical move, not only at the local level, but also at the scale of our planet.’

Jane Rendell
Professor of Critical Spatial Practice
Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London

‘ASH’s report, Saving St. Raphael’s Estate, is a detailed analysis of the flaws in the argument that estates need to be demolished in order to regenerate them. In turn, it offers a brilliantly argued case for the alternative to estate demolition. Beautifully illustrated, ASH’s proposals are a celebration of everyday life and the ways in which people personalise their spaces, transforming ostensibly generic architecture into architectures of variety and complexity. They are by no means products of idealism but outcomes of careful research, compelling evidence and convincing cost analysis. As a whole, the report demonstrates the wealth of experience and depth of expertise which ASH has developed since 2015 through the development of design alternatives to demolition for a number of London’s estates, and the impact it is increasingly having on the logics of estate regeneration in London.’

Juliet Davis
Professor of Architecture and Urbanism
Head of the Welsh School of Architecture
University of Cardiff

‘This detailed work exemplifies a new approach to providing homes on public land that steers clear of needless demolition and all the social, health and environmental costs to residents on estates. The need for ballots for residents and new rules preventing grants going to replacements for demolished homes, as well as increasing activism from architects and Londoners across the city, are all pushing social landlords to consider infill and refurbishment more seriously at last. However, I am already seeing problems with top-down, landlord-led infill schemes caused by exactly the power imbalances that promoted widespread demolition in the first place: unless more of the ideas being put forward for providing new housing are genuinely led by residents then the problems of the past will be repeated. The fact that this exceptional project from ASH was completed with dozens of professionals providing design and practical support to residents for no fee is exceptional in every way. I will continue pushing for the Mayor, councils and housing associations to provide funding for real and independent paid expertise of this calibre, and real autonomy for more resident groups to produce their own plans for estates. I am sure that even those who belittle community planning will be impressed with what comes forward when the creativity and commitment of local communities is engaged in this way.’

Sîan Berry
Green Party London Assembly Member

‘ASH’s most significant contribution is to understand, evidence and share the relationship between society and architecture. This report presents architecture as a social model; a brick and concrete representation of human values, formed in the 1970s belief in the shared values of home, democratic space, friendly interaction and collective responsibility to provide a safe and low-cost, caring environment for all. Of course, this estate is under attack, as these values through which it was formed are also under attack. Architects for Social Housing argues that housing is not a suitable home for capital; it is a home for people to live their lives fruitfully, amicably, socially. In contrast to the brutal application of short-sighted capitalist logic which has been applied by Brent Council and other local authorities to support demolition, sensible economics does of course have a part to play in creating and sustaining communities, and ASH lays out a clear and formidable pathway for existing estates and communities to resist demolition and dispersal, and instead heal, grow, and thrive. This report shows that St. Raphael’s estate and Brent Council have leading roles to play in this radical belief in people and communities.’

Sam Causer
Conservation Architect, Director of Studio Sam Causer
Non-executive Director of Architects for Social Housing

‘We at Community Raph’s are delighted with the news that Brent Council has decided to back down on the redevelopment options for St. Raphael’s estate.  We are privileged and thankful to be working with Architects for Social Housing from 2019 to this present day. Together, we have helped produced a detailed report to highlight that infill with refurbishment is financially viable, socially beneficial and environmentally sustainable. This report was sent to the Chief Executive, Brent councillors, the Mayor’s office and relevant parties. We believe this report to have had an impact on this announcement.

Community Raph’s
Resident campaign to save St. Raphael’s estate

house drawing

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 we have no source of public funding. If you would like to support our work, please make a donation through PayPal:

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