Manifesto

Architects for Social Housing (ASH) was set up in March 2015 in order to respond architecturally to London’s housing ‘crisis’. We organise working collectives of architects, urban designers, engineers, surveyors, planners, film-makers, photographers, web-designers, map-makers, artists, writers and housing campaigners that 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 housing shortage, 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 increasingly marginalised by local councils 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 financially, socially, economically and environmentally viable alternatives to estate demolition that are in the interests of the wider London community.

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

  1. We propose architectural alternatives to council estate demolition through designs for infill, roof extensions and refurbishment that increase housing capacity on the estates by up to 45 per cent and, by renting a proportion of the new homes on the private market, generate the funds to refurbish the existing council homes, while leaving the communities they currently house intact.
  1. We support estate communities in their resistance to the demolition of their homes by working closely with residents over an extended period of time, offering them information about estate regeneration and housing policy from a reservoir of knowledge and tactics pooled from similar campaigns across London.
  1. We share information that aims to counter negative and unfounded myths about social housing in the minds of the public, and raise awareness of the role of relevant interest groups, including local authorities, housing associations, property developers and architectural practices, in the regeneration process. Using a variety of means, including protest, publication and propaganda, we are trying to initiate a wider cultural change within the architectural profession.

Whether you are facing the regeneration of your estate and in need of advice, or whether you want to offer your skills, expertise and time to our many projects, please get in contact.

E-mail: info@architectsforsocialhousing.co.uk

Facebook: ASH (Architects for Social Housing)

Events: http://www.opengardenestates.com

Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company (CIC). Although we do occasionally receive minimal fees for our design work, the vast majority of what we do is unpaid and we have no source of public funding. If you would like to support our work, you can make a donation through PayPal:

Architects for Social Housing (CIC), company no. 10383452

 

Southwark Sleeper: A New Housing Initiative for London’s Homeless (Or Not)

In exciting news for developers, Sadiq Khan has announced a new package of funding under his Homes for Londoners programme. In collaboration with Southwark council, ‘Southwark Sleeper’ will be test-piloted this winter as a solution to the growing army of London’s homeless. Peter John OBE, Leader of Southwark council and newly-elected Chair of London Councils, told reporters: ‘I’m very excited about this new initiative, which demonstrates once again that Labour is the party of practical solutions. Every homeless family will be offered their very own container, the construction of which by Sheffield-based My Container Ltd will be subsidised by London’s Labour Mayor to the sum of £50,000 per container. All the lucky recipient has to do is clean up the contaminated land on which it will be located.’ When asked whether constituents refusing to be housed in the containers will be classified as ‘intentionally homeless’, Councillor John said he had an urgent business lunch with property developers Lendlease at the London Stadium and ‘couldn’t take anymore questions’.

Continue reading “Southwark Sleeper: A New Housing Initiative for London’s Homeless (Or Not)”

What Is To Be Done? Changing Metaphors of Change

Jean-Luc Godard, La Chinoise (1967)

1. Radical for Revolutionary

During my misspent youth we spoke, however hopelessly – no doubt because hopelessly – of ‘revolution’; even, with an eye to dialectical materialism, of ‘The Revolution.’ I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now. But nowadays (except among my communist comrades) the standard appellation among socialists and activists alike, including many self-styled anarchists, is the word ‘radical’, which is used to describe everything from networks, assemblies, meetings, marches, communities, groups and theories, to book fairs, magazines, trainers, pop bands, fitness clubs, restaurants, marketing consultants and advertising agencies. To understand this shift in metaphor – from the turning wheel of revolution to the excavated root of radicalism – it’s useful to consider the origins of this word, both etymological and historical, and why it has been adopted as a viable alternative to the previously revolutionary aims of political practice. This definition is from the Oxford English Dictionary:

Radical / adjective & noun
[Late Latin radicalis, from Latin radix: root.)
A. adjective. 
1. Forming the root, basis, or foundation; original, primary. (Late Middle English)
2. a. Of a quality etc: inherent in the nature of a thing or person; fundamental. (Late Middle English) b. Of action, change, an idea, etc: going to the root or origin; pertaining to or affecting what is fundamental; far-reaching, thorough. (Middle 17th Century) c. POLITICS. Advocating thorough or far-reaching change; representing or supporting an extreme section of a party; specifically: History. belonging to an extreme wing of the Liberal Party. (Early 19th Century) d. Characterised by departure from tradition; progressive; unorthodox. (Early 20th Century)
B. noun.
1.
PHILOLOGY. a. A root; a radical word or letter.

2. A basis, a fundamental thing or principle. (Mid 17th century)
5. A politically radical person. (Early 19th Century)

The political sense of radical as meaning ‘change from the roots’ was first recorded in 1802 (as a noun) and in 1817 (as an adjective) to describe the extreme section of the bourgeois Whig Party, which went on to form the Liberal Party in 1859. It has been used to mean ‘unconventional’ since 1921, and has been used in slang since 1983, derived from 1970s U.S. surfer-slang meaning ‘at the limits of control’.

Continue reading “What Is To Be Done? Changing Metaphors of Change”

The Propaganda of Estate Regeneration: The Lincoln Estate, Poplar Harca and the British Broadcasting Corporation

In April of this year the BBC re-televised its three-part series Dan Cruickshank: At Home with the British, which had originally been aired in May 2016, and was again in May 2017. Halfway through the final episode, ‘The Flat’, which focuses on the history of the Lincoln estate in London’s Bow, Dan Cruickshank jumps into a Black Cab and says:

‘When the Lincoln estate was designed, the London County Council had the largest, and in many ways the finest, architectural practice in the world. Indeed, it was responsible for some of the most iconic modernist housing schemes in Europe.’

So it’s a shame that, when he gets out the cab and speaks to Historic England’s Elaine Harwood, who sings the praises of its housing schemes, he doesn’t ask her why Historic England didn’t see fit to list Central Hill estate, one of the LCC’s masterpieces, and save it from demolition by the vandals at Lambeth Labour council.

Nonetheless, Cruickshank accurately identifies three of the main causes of the decline of council estates in the UK in the late 1960s and 70s:

  1. The poor construction methods of unregulated developers throwing up systems-built housing, leading to the collapse of Ronan Point in 1968;
  2. The systematic neglect and lack of maintenance and refurbishment of buildings by councils;
  3. The obligation of those same councils, following the 1977 Housing Act, to house the homeless, leading to the change in the use of council estates as homes for working class families to becoming dumping grounds for everyone who had fallen through the welfare net and, soon after, Margaret Thatcher’s brave new world of free market capitalism.

What Cruickshank doesn’t identify is the impossibility of any form of public housing existing within the logic of an unregulated capitalist economy that must always find new markets in which to invest its surplus, which is the primary cause of the mass demolition and privatisation of council housing that is happening today.

Continue reading “The Propaganda of Estate Regeneration: The Lincoln Estate, Poplar Harca and the British Broadcasting Corporation”

Manufacturing Consent: GLA Capital Funding Guide: Section 8. Resident Ballots for Estate Regeneration Projects

Jeremy Corbyn launches the Labour Party’s local election campaign, April 2018

This is ASH’s brief commentary on the Greater London Authority policy on Resident Ballots for Estate Regeneration Projects, the recently published addendum to the London Mayor’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, and the outcome of the promise to ballot residents made by Oh Jeremy Corbyn at the Labour Party conference back in September 2017. This is the policy document that has had Labourites panting with anticipation ever since as they look forward to what the Labour Leader promised would be estate regeneration ‘for the benefit of the local people, not private developers, not property speculators,’ with the added stipulation that ‘councils will have to win a ballot of existing tenants and leaseholders before any redevelopment scheme can take place. Real regeneration, yes, but for the many not the few!’ Unfortunately, like all the promises made by the Labour Leader, that hasn’t come true. As an example of the servile appeasement of property developers masquerading as resident empowerment this document will take some beating in the consistently appalling housing policy coming out of the GLA under the title of Homes for Londoners; but for those of us attentive to the yawning chasm between the socialist rhetoric of the Labour Party and the neo-liberal reality of its policies, this is both instructive and indicative of the extent to which Oh Jeremy Corbyn will be able to keep all his other pie-in-the-sky promises if and when he is elected to head the government of this country. A commentary on every implication of this former lawyer’s circumlocutions would, as in our commentary on the Labour Mayor’s Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, be longer than the policy document itself, so I’ve confined myself to a series of questions which those Labour activists with access to Sadiq Khan may, given the chance, wish to address to him. These are followed by some of ASH’s policy proposals that need to become reality – and soon – if we are to see estate refurbishment and, where appropriate, infill become the enforceable default option for any council or housing association undertaking the regeneration of a housing estate.

Continue reading “Manufacturing Consent: GLA Capital Funding Guide: Section 8. Resident Ballots for Estate Regeneration Projects”

Labour Blimps

On Friday 13 July thousands of Londoners took to the streets to protest the arrival of US President Donald Trump on these shores. Trump wasn’t in London, but having tea with the Queen in Windsor Castle. Undeterred, between 100,000 and a quarter of a million people attended the protest – mostly students, middle-class women and muslims – which was interpreted as a show of popular sentiment. A quick look at the numerous placards, however, showed that the protest was, in fact, a coalition of the usual suspects – the Socialist Workers Party, the People’s Assembly against Austerity, Unite the Union and Momentum, with the organisers a role-call of Labour politicians, Labour supporters and Labour-supporting unions. Typically for the left there are two organising groups, the SWP’s Stand Up To Trump and Owen Jones’ Stop Trump, both claiming precedence and neither talking to each other. In other words, this was another Labour political spectacle, and, of course, Oh Jeremy Corbyn was given a platform from which to blather on about ‘a world of justice’. I’ve written before about Labour’s appropriation of the language of street protest to its parliamentary aspirations, and this was no exception, with Trump’s presence offering another opportunity to attack the Conservative government of Theresa May – as if a Labour government under Oh Jeremy Corbyn wouldn’t meet with the President of the USA on which so many of our post-Brexit trade deals will rely.

Besides the evangelical Labour leader, the centrepiece of the protest was a giant baby blimp of Trump, which was inflated in Parliament Square when the marching crowd arrived. Since this lies within the Government Security Zone, where the Metropolitan Police Force has free reign to arrest and otherwise beat the crap out of you on the mere suspicion that you’re about to do something anti-social let alone illegal, doing so required authorisation from another Labour politician, Sadiq Khan, who reportedly justified his decision by saying:

‘The UK, like the USA, has a long and rich history of rights and the freedom to protest and freedom of speech. The US ambassador himself commented that one thing the USA and the UK have in common is freedom of speech, and the idea of restricting that and the right to assemble because someone is offended by something is a slippery slope. When determining these things it should be about whether it is safe and peaceful. As a politician I should not be the arbiter of what is good or bad taste.’

This will be news to the hundreds of protesters who have been arrested by the Metropolitan Police Force for carrying placards or saying something the busies deem to be ‘offensive’, which under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 is now grounds for arrest; and to the thousands of protesters who have been kettled for hours by the Met for holding protests in London without Sadiq Khan’s permission. Unsurprisingly, Trump responded by accusing the London Mayor of doing a ‘bad job’ on crime and terrorism, since when the handbags have continued to fly in ever greater assumptions of moral outrage – Twitter writ large on the world stage for everyone to see.

Now, regular readers of the ASH blog will appreciate the irony of Labour’s leaders assuming the mantle of moral superiority in the face of Donald Trump. Undoubtedly there are degrees of incompetence, corruption and appallingness in our political leaders, and compared to Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Theresa May anyone would look good. But that doesn’t mean the Labour Mayor and Council Leaders responsible for what’s happening across London’s 21 Labour-run boroughs have suddenly turned into saints, or that the obscenity of what’s being done in Tottenham, or at Woodberry Down, or at Blackwell Reach, or in Stratford, or in the Elephant and Castle, or in Brixton, or in Croydon, or in the Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea Opportunity Area, represents some sort of model of political transparency and accountability to which we should aspire.

Unfortunately, we live in irony-free times, where the spluttering of the permanently offended constitutes what’s left of our political discourse. So continuing our commitment to providing design alternatives to the lies of Labour councils, ASH has designed these inflatable blimps of the politicians who have a rather more direct and immediate effect on the lives of Londoners than the President of the United States of America. Of course, I know that the middle classes like to keep their protests to issues that don’t call into question their own class position as homeowners, middle-income earners or mortgagors with the bank of mum and dad, and far prefer to get outraged about things happening on the other side of the world on which their protest will have not the least conceivable effect; but should Disgusted of Hackney, or Haringey, or Tower Hamlets, or Newham, or Southwark, or Lambeth, or Croydon care to focus their liberal outrage on what’s being done all around them by the Labour councils they’ve just re-elected to greater majorities in local government, we recommend these Labour blimps for their use. Oh, and when following Oh Jeremy Corbyn into the Promised Land, beware of golden calves, inflatable or otherwise.

Jeremy Corbyn Blimp

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

Dresden Diary: Architecture, History and Politics

Palace of Culture, Alstadt, Dresden

‘The city as a form of settlement did not arise by chance. The city is the richest economic and cultural form of community settlement, proven by centuries of experience. In its structural and architectural design the city is an expression of the political life and the national consciousness of the people.’

 – Government of the German Democratic Republic,
The Sixteen Principles of Urban Design (1950)

Architecture is the political art par excellence, and not only because, unlike painting or literature, architecture is a collectively consumed art, and therefore constitutes its audience as a mass rather than fragments it into the individual consumer. From this collective consumption, undoutedly, derives its social power to constitute a community of interest – with common goals, a shared history, and a collective future – from an undifferentiated and therefore potentially revolutionary society. ‘Architecture or revolution!’ was Le Corbusier’s warning to his paymasters – and he was right. But in addition to this power, which it shares with music and theatre – which are themselves dependent upon the architecture of their setting – architecture goes beyond the symbolic realm to mobilise the actual, realised referent: the human body. At once receptacle, vehicle and medium of the human mind, the human body is captured, subjected, moved, orchestrated, arranged, placed, situated, presented, configured and collectivised by architecture as a mass. Whether it is the willingly embraced community of the music festival, sports arena or religious event, or the enforced collectivity of the shopping mall, the rush-hour traffic jam or the public transport queue, this mass remains the object of political government, and architecture is the art that fashions that object: in the spaces of our dwelling, our labour, our consumption, our play, our entertainment, our celebration, our anxiety, our fear, our anger, our collective participation in the spectacle of society. Indeed, the increasing virtuality of our communities has only increased our nostalgic longing for architectural massing. To understand how this political object is constituted and deployed, governed and interrogated, controlled and dispersed, we should attend to the technique of architecture; for it is this tékhnē that will reveal to us the éthos of the polis. Architecture is always political.

Continue reading “Dresden Diary: Architecture, History and Politics”

Figs from Thistles: Labour’s Grenfell Opportunism

‘Never again will we allow this to happen. But what has been so despicable about this, is that this has happened in the richest borough, in the fifth richest country in the world, where we have a government and a local council more interested in saving money than saving lives. If there is anything we can do in terms of the Labour Party, let’s make it absolutely clear: we will stand up against austerity when we go into government, we will end it. But above all else you know why this was caused, because of the crisis in housing, and particularly in this capital city. When we go into power, let me give this commitment. Above all else, we will house people. We’ve said we’ll build a million new homes, and half of them we’ll be proud to call council homes again. The memorial to the 72 will be the generation after generation that comes, that will be housed decently in our capital city.’

– John McDonnell, Labour Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer,
speaking at the Justice for Grenfell Solidarity March (16 June, 2018)

Where to begin with this?

1. The technical conditions that led to the Grenfell Tower fire are in place across the city and country, where similar cladding systems are currently in place on around 300 council-owned blocks and 500 privately-owned blocks a year after the fire. So far from never allowing this fire to happen again, it is waiting to happen right now.

2. The austerity fiscal policies of the Conservative government have almost nothing to do with the technical, managerial or politicial reasons why this fire happened, and to say otherwise can only conceal what those reasons are.

3. A Labour politician isolating the fire to the actions of a single – conveniently Conservative – council ignores the fact that the same privatised managerial structures with the same unaccountability to residents and resistance to public scrutiny are not only already in place all over this city in boroughs run by Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat councils, but are being replicated by those same councils through the estate regeneration programme that is privatising their council stock, transferring it to housing associations, subjecting it to cosmetic refurbishment schemes, or simply demolishing it and replacing it with high-cost, low-quality housing. In numerous examples across London, from Oval Quarter in Brixton to Orchard Village in Rainham, Solomon’s Passage in Peckham to Portobello Square in Notting Hill, residents of these new developments are complaining about the same threats to their safety as those the residents of Grenfell Tower complained about, and like them are being ignored by the private management organisations to which the councils are handing over its housing stock.

4. Calling new developments ‘council homes’ does not define their cost, tenure or management. The Labour Party’s manifesto on housing promises that half of its promised one-million homes will be ‘housing association and council homes’ – not just council homes – and that these will be for ‘genuinely affordable rent and sale.’ ‘Council homes’, therefore, includes all the myriad definitions of affordable housing – including homes for social rent (but rarely and in tiny numbers), London affordable rent at roughly 1.5 times social rent, London Living Rent at 1/3 of median household income in the borough (roughly double social rent), and shared ownership homes selling for around £650,000 in Inner London, plus all the other categories like tenancy strategy rent (around double social rent) and target rent (for which I still haven’t found a fixed definition). Labour’s Green Paper on housing indicates just how large a role it anticipates housing associations playing in fulfilling a Labour government’s housing quotas, and with every merger – whether it’s Circle with Affinity Sutton (125,000 dwellings), or London & Quadrant with East Thames (90,000 dwellings), or Notting Hill with Genesis (64,000 homes), or Peabody with Family Mosaic (55,000 dwellings), or Amicus Horizon with Viridian (44,000 dwellings) – it becomes more apparent that housing associations are beginning to exert as large a monopoly over the provision of social housing in England as builders like Berkeley, Persimmon, Barratt and Taylor Wimpey currently exert over the provision of private housing. Calling the three-quarters-of-a-million pound properties housing associations are currently building in London on Labour council-implemented estate regeneration schemes ‘council housing’ – proudly or not – won’t make them any more affordable, either to rent or to buy, for the council residents evicted to build them.

5. ‘Decently’ housing future generations in London means maintaining and refurbishing the council estates the current generation lives in, not stock transferring them en masse to housing associations, not demolishing them and replacing them with unaffordable properties for capital investment, buy-to-let landlords and wealthy home owners, and not privatising them through Private Finance Initiatives or Special Purpose Vehicles that will subcontract out their maintenance and management to exactly the same private contractors responsible for the Grenfell Tower fire.

6. If we are to ensure that ‘never again will we allow this to happen’, we need to start by seeing clearly through the lies not only of the successive Conservative and Labour governments that told us that privatising and deregulating the process through which compliance with building regulations is approved would make us safer, but also the lies of current Labour party politicians like John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn, Sadiq Khan, David Lammy, Emma Dent Coad and all the others who are trying to make political capital out of this disaster at the expense of the truth about its causes, and in doing so concealing the threat this truth continues to hold for residents of social housing under Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat local authorities.

7. There is very little practical difference between the housing policies of the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Parties, and McDonnell’s promises of what a Labour government will do are backed up neither by the present policies of Labour-run councils and the Labour-run Greater London Authority, nor by the housing policies of the Labour Opposition under Jeremy Corbyn.

8. ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruit will you recognise them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?’

– Matthew, 7:15-16

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing