Posts Tagged ‘council estates’

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


Boris’s Biggest Blunder?

Monday, June 24th, 2019

Earl’s Court

Probably the largest desert in London – thanks to Boris!

Boris Johnson’s time as Mayor was in many ways a disaster for London, but while the media obsess about his sexual peccadilloes and to a lesser extent his racist comments, little is said about his more important failures, which may have enriched some of his city friends but whose consequences will remain to impoverish Londoners for many years after he has left office. One of these, and probably the biggest, is the stalled £12 billion Earls Court redevelopment, which makes even the £53 million Garden Bridge Fiasco fade into insignificance.

The vacant site where one of London’s iconic 1930s building once stood

It’s wrong of course to call it a blunder. It was a deliberate scheme for the enrichment of a few, undoubtedly including friends and financial supporters of the Conservative Party at the expense of London and Londoners, aiming to provide a huge high-rise development of investment properties largely for sale to foreign investors, a huge empty triangle in what was once a thriving part of London, contributing greatly to the local area and more widely, housing several thousand people who would lose their homes and removing jobs from the area.

Along with Boris, and Transport for London, then a part of his fiefdom, the villains in this £12 billion scheme are developers CAPCO, (Capital & Counties Properties) whose development proposals bear no relation to the considerable history, needs of the area and its locality and the contribution it would pay to the local economy, simply wiping the whole area clean and imposing a solution based on maximising profit to the developers. As soon as they acquired the site in 2008 they applied to English Heritage for a Certificate of Immunity from Listing for the 1930s Earls Court Exhibition Centre, granted despite its iconic status – and the fact that some aspects of it were apparently already listed.

We look at the site of Earls Court 2, with a photograph before demolition

The site falls into two London Boroughs, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham, both when the project began under Conservative control. Hammersmith and Fulham council agreed to sell off the two council estates which cover a large part of the area to Capco in 2012. Since Labour took over in H & F in 2014 they have set up an inquiry into the decision to sell and have called for Capco to return the two housing estates. In February 2019 the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, stated that he wanted the two estates to be transferred back to the council by Capco unconditionally after they demanded unacceptable planning permission in return for their release.

Empress Place would make a fine entrance to a new estate – but Capco will knock it down

There are two large office blocks on the site, both visible in the top picture. The tower at left has already been sold and is now occupied by the Metropolitan Police. The smaller block, at right, belongs to TfL and is a part of their site which also includes extensive workshops; it seems that they have so far failed to find suitable alternative sites for these essential facilities.

Thanks to determined opposition from local people the scheme has so far failed to materialise, and the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates are still there, along with the TfL workshops, but the demolition of the two exhibition centres has created the largest desert in London. The cleared area, left as dusty bare cleared rubble is a local eyesore and pollution source, with wind carrying dust into local homes and businesses, creating thick and possibly dangerous grime.

West Kensington, a well built and much loved estate that Capco would demolish

Opposition to the demolition of the exhibition centres is led by the Earl’s Court Area Action Group, one of whose members took me and other journalists on a tour of the area last week. They now demand the demolished area be developed with a replacement venue for the demolished iconic Earls Court Exhibition Centre as a large green space for exhibitions, sports and cultural events, along with “low rise, high density, exemplary green housing with a wide range of housing options including social housing, green space, community and social infrastructure, reflecting the demographic and unique characteristics of Earl’s Court.”

The residents of West Ken & Gibbs Green estates have been campaigning against the demolition of their homes since 2009, and as a part of their campaign for ‘The People’s Estates’ commissioned Architects for Social Housing (ASH) who in 2016 produced ‘the People’s Plan’ for improvements and new homes on the estates without demolition. They want the estates to be transferred to community ownership.

Gibbs Green estate also well built, loved and in good conditions and under threat of demolition by Capco

Earl’s Court Area Action Group
WKGGCH – West Ken & Gibbs Green Community Homes
ASH – Architects for Social Housing


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