Posts Tagged ‘Architects for Social Housing’

Stirling (or Sterling?) Prize

Thursday, March 26th, 2020
ASH mocks the champagne celebration inside with Cava on the street

I was pleased to get this picture of what was a very difficult event for me to get any worthwhile photographs. I’m a great admirer of the work of Architects for Social Housing, a small group that punches well above its weight in pointing out the crimes, profiteering and failures of current housing policies pursued by local authorities and national government which amount to an attack on the poor.

A poster from a Class War supporter

Their detailed studies have laid bare the terrible effects of demolition of council estates, driving those on low incomes out of the central areas of London in a huge exercise of social cleansing and making excessive profits for the developers, as well as providing well-paid jobs for some council staff and ex-staff. Most of those London councils are Labour councils, including Southwark, Lambeth and Newham, though Tory councils are following similar shameful practices, and at the root of all this are the housing policies of Thatcher and New Labour.

A man holding his Stirling Prize invite stops to photograph the protest

Their reports have shown the financial incentives that result in demolition and new build schemes with little or no low rent social housing replacing large numbers of council homes, as well as the hugely damaging environmental consequences of such large schemes. Their detailed alternative development plans have shown how estates could be renovated and the number of housing units greatly increased without the huge social costs of destroying existing communities and retaining existing low cost housing, without the need to evict existing tenants and leaseholders.

Following the disaster of the Grenfell fire, they published a report within weeks that clearly identified the problems which had made it inevitable. ASH called for those responsible to be brought to justice, pointing out that similar disasters in other countries such as Japan had led to prosecutions within a few weeks – while we have an inquiry that is still proceeding which seems to have as its major aim the deflection of blame from those responsible for the defects and failures to the actions of the emergency services on the night of the fire. It’s right of course that these should be examined and lessons learnt, but it wasn’t the Fire Service which created a fire trap through cost-cutting , avoidance of proper fire safety measures and a sheer disregard for the safety of the people who lived in Grenfell.

Oliver Wainwright, the Guardian’s architecture and design critic speaks before going into the prize event

ASH were protesting outside the highly prestigious Stirling Awards ceremony condemning architects for social cleansing, council estate demolition and housing privatisation and calling on architects to end wanton environmentally disastrous demolitions and to serve the needs of citizens with socially beneficial, financially viable and environmentally sustainable architecture rather than corporate profits. You can read more on their web site.

In particular they had come to point out that the winning entry, widely lauded in the press as marking a new era in social housing, is actually a  a commercial venture owned by Norwich council and will not be offering secure council tenancies and that council homes were demolished to build it. They were particularly incensed that it was also nominated for (and won) the new Neave Brown Award, set up to honour the recently deceased champion and architect of council housing; they see this as an insult to the memory of our great architect of council housing.

A woman came to shout at Simon Elmer and pushed him

ASH’s approach represents a threat to many architects who rely on the highly lucrative projects of major developers (named for Sir James Stirling (1926-92) whose 1977 major public housing scheme in Runcorn was demolished only 15 years after it was built, it should perhaps be better re-named as the ‘Sterling’ prize) and the protest was not well received by many of them – with one woman going as far as coming to assault Simon Elmer of ASH. But there were also some largely younger architects who expressed support.

It was a small protest and started rather late, when many had already gone inside to enjoy the ‘free’ champagne their very expensive tickets provided. The light was falling fast and it was hard to find an angle which worked to connect the protest and the event. I was pleased when the protesters decided to mock the champagne celebrations inside with a few plastic cups of cheap Cava (and I was holding cup of it myself when I took the picture at the top of this post. I left as it got too dark to photograph without flash, though perhaps I should have stayed, as more people arrived and the protest apparently got livelier later. But I’d been on my feet far too long and needed to get home and eat.

More at Stirling Prize for Architecture


Another Grenfell protest

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

It seems increasingly unlikely that we are ever going to see justice for the victims of Grenfell as the establishment use all the tricks in their book to protect those responsible.

Perhaps in the end after years of purposefully drawn out inquiry by police and judges a few small companies will be found guilty of failing to follow some aspects of building regulations and be given insignificant fines, though I doubt even that. But the real culprits seem almost certain to escape scot-free.

THe RCG have a fine banner by Andrew Cooper

So far we have only seen the first stage of the official  Grenfell Tower Inquiry which appears to have been a travesty, with the judge shifting blame on those responsible for fighting the fire and coming to a conclusion that not only flies in the face of what experienced fire-fighters say, including those who were there on the night, but could well lead to more deaths in other high-rise fires. People are almost certain given the publicity by the report to die in some future fires because they try to escape rather than staying safe in their homes. And quite clearly had the idiotic Jacob Rees Mogg lived in Grenfell he and his family would have died there.

These blocks – Grenfell included – only got approval on the basis that any fire would be contained within a flat and would be expected to be able to burn itself out even if fire-fighters did not attend. Building regulations made sure that this was the case, and the towers were built to enable any firest that did occur to be safely fought from within the building. The flats were essentially small self-contained concrete units, isolated from each other, with dry risers to supply water on the landings when needed and smoke traps.

Simon Elmer of ASH who produced a report on Grenfell

The blame for Grenfell lies squarely with the government ministers who altered the regulations and allowed building owners to make their own fire inspections, with owners who saved money by arranging inadequate inspections and employing contractors to add unsuitable cladding and otherwise compromise the building safety. Contractors too bear some resposiblity for agreeing to install unsafe cladding and for doing so in a way which removed the gaps essential for safety.

Another small left-wing group declined the offer to join the RCG protest

Kensington & Chelsea Council and its TMO must bear the main responsibility for this particular building, with councillors and others taking the decisions which made the building a fire-trap. They were more than incompetent, bullying those who informed them of some of the problems.

The council too failed to properly deal with the survivors, despite some extravagant promises made in the early days after the fire by Theresa May and others. A full year after the fire only 41% of the households from Grenfell Tower and adjoining Grenfell walk had been permanently re-housed. Of those in the wider affected area, 29% had been able to return to their homes and 1% – one family – permanently rehoused. The other 70% (90 families) were still in some form of temporary accomodation. This despite Kensington & Chelsea being one of the wealthiest boroughs in the country.

Many of those most closely involved are still suffering intensely from trauma and both initial relief and counselling were other areas where the council and other official response are felt by many to have been inadequate – and put to shame by the community response. As an outsider I don’t feel entitled to comment, though I’ve certainly heard the pain expressed by some of the community.

People pose on the council steps at the end of the RCG protest

Various groups formed after the fire, some with more support among the victims and wider community than others. Although all have I think taken part in the monthly silent walks which aim to keep the memory of the events alive, there have been arguments with some groups urging a more radical stance is needed to get action.

Two of these groups, both relatively small, had come to protest at the Kensington & Chelsea town hall outside the council meeting. I had gone to photograph the protest by the Revolutionary Communist Group who have run street stalls on Ladbroke Grove close to Grenfell and organised other protests in the area as well as taking part in the silent walks. As well as their own speakers they had invited others to talk, and as main speaker Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing, whose report and film produced within a few weeks of the fire remains the most authorative account of the reasons why Grenfell was a tragedy waiting to happen.

More at No Justice for Grenfell


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