Posts Tagged ‘RIBA’

Architecture is always political

Friday, October 15th, 2021

Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing (ASH) holds up a poster with the quote ‘Architecture Is Always Political’ from Richard Rogers, Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects at a protest on the pavement outside the RIBA on Portland Place on Thursday 15th Oct 2015.

The protest was against the nomination of NEO Bankside, a luxury development beside Tate Modern in London which breaks all planning requirements for social housing and sets a dangerous precedent for social cleansing for the prestigious Stirling Prize. Rogers was responsible for the design by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners of “the 217 apartments and penthouses in four Pavilions … with unparalleled views towards The City and St Paul’s Cathedral”. Or, as some might see it, degrading many views from the CIty and St Pauls. Some residents in the new development have taken and lost a case seeking to have the Tate Modern extension’s viewing platform closed as it overlooks their flats – and have now appealed to the Supreme Court, where a hearing is expected in December 2021. I hope it rejects their case. The flat dwellers could readily install blinds or curtains to protect their privacy.

The protesters stated on the reverse of the flyer that “this development is a class war against the poor and on the reverse explained why. NEO Bankside contains 217 homes with a market price ranging from £1.25 million to £19.75 million when 345,000 Londoners, 4% of the city’s population, are on council waiting lists for homes.”

NEO Bankside reduced the percentage of its affordable housing required uder Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act from 40% to a paltry 27.5%, by getting the property developers Native Land to undervalue the estimate of sales to just over half of the actual sale value.They then paid Southwark Council £11 million to build its reduced affordable housing quota off-site on land sold to them by the council for a pittance, demolishing a council-run children’s home and day-care nursery in the process.

ASH pointed out that rather than 217 luxury flats mainly for non-resident tax exiles and foreign investors, the cost of NEO Bankside could have built 2,260 Peabody flats at the cost per flat of another of the Stirling nominations. At a time when 42,000 families were evicted from rented accomodation last year and 88,000 London children will be homeless this winter, such buildings are clearly socially unacceptable.

Having made the flyer, at the protest they folded them into paper aeroplanes and made them fly, although the police threatened them with fines for littering (but they picked them all up after flying them) and then attempted to call paper aeroplanes offensive weapons and that flying them could constitute and assault – which was laughed out of court on the pavement as it would surely have also been had any case been taken.

The protest then carried out its own award ceremony, ‘The O J Simpson 2015 Prize for getting away with murder’, The winner was NEO Bankside, but no one from the architects came to claim it. Although most of those going into RIBA for the official ceremony (tickets at over £200 a head including VAT and booking fee) walked past trying to ignore the protest, there were some architects who stopped to share their reservations about NEO Bankside with the protesters, and it seems that RIBA had clearly been embarrassed by the revelations about NEO Bankside and were misled over some aspects of the scheme. The prize instead went to Burntwood School, an impressive revitalisation of a 1950s LCC comprehensive girls’ school in Wandsworth by architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM).

More pictures at NEO Bankside Stirling Prize nomination.


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XR October 2019

Thursday, October 8th, 2020

A year ago in October I was having a busy few days covering Extinction Rebellion’s International Rebellion in London. The event had started early on the 7th October when XR supporters occupied eleven locations at government ministries, outside Downing St, on The Mall, and blocking both Westminster and Lambeth bridges, bringing traffic in that area of central London to a halt. Outside the actual areas blocked, traffic was also largely gridlocked over a much wider area.

For the next couple of days the only ways to get around in the area was by tube and on foot. Police were initially overwhelmed by the sheer number of campaigners and the area covered by the protests, and added to the chaos by themselves closing off some routes to traffic and pedestrians.

The protests of course got considerable coverage in the press and broadcasting media, mainly around the disruption the protest was causing with rather less attention to the reasons why XR felt their actions were necessary to try and get our government to take the actions we need to avoid disaster and possible extinction of human life.

Probably few who only followed the media reports would have become aware of XR’s three demands, that the government tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency, act to halt biodiversity loss, reduced emissions to net zero and create and set up a Citizens Assembly to ensure that proper action is taken. Our democracy is failing because politicians serve the sectional interests of the powerful few rather than the needs of us all.

I didn’t quite manage to get to all eleven of the occupied sites on Monday, though I did visist and photograph most of them. The highlight of the day for me was the wedding in the centre of Westminster Bridge between two campaigners, Tamsin and Melissa. I’d first photographed Tamsin when Climate Rush re-enacted the 1908 Suffragette storming of Parliament on its 100th anniversary and had got to know her better during later protests including those against the third runway at Heathrow, but hadn’t seen her for five years.

A year ago today, October 8th, was the second day of XR’s protests. By now the police were beginning to take back parts of the area, having made many arrests overnight.

I think many of the protesters were shocked as I was at the deliberate violence and destruction of property when occupied areas were trashed by police, and for some it perhaps made them question the XR policy of non-violence. Standing and shouting ‘Shame on You’ as police assaulted protesters and trashed tents and food stalls turned out not to be very effective.

The day turned out to be a long one for me, as after spending my time with XR I made my way to Camden for a protest by Architects for Social Housing (ASH) outside the champagne reception at the Royal Institute of British Architects awards ceremony for the Stirling Prize. Architects, like our politicians, are largely the servants of the rich and the awards reflect this. ASH were particularly angered by the new Neave Brown Award, supposedly honouring the recently deceased champion and architect of council housing at the Dunboyne Road Estate (formerly known as Fleet Road) and Alexandra Road Estate both in Camden, being awarded to a scheme for a commercial company owned by Norwich Council which demolished council housing to build properties which will not be offering secure council tenancies, with nothing to stop the company raising the service charges or converting the few social rent homes in it to so-called ‘affordable’ rents in the future.

The images here are a small and fairly random selection from the many that I took, and you can see more of them and read more about the protests on My London Diary:

Extinction Rebellion continues
XR Rebels marry on Westminster Bridge
Extinction Rebellion occupy Westminster

Stirling Prize for Architecture


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