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

Twitter: @ASH_Housing

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

 

Maintain, Refurbish, Invest: Siemensstadt Housing Estate, Berlin

Constructed between 1929 and 1931 to house the 60,000 workers employed in the Siemens factory, the Siemansstadt housing estate is located in the Berlin suburbs of Spandau and Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. Working to the masterplan by Hans Scharoun, a number of the world’s most innovative architects of the time, including Walter Gropius, Hans Scharoun, Hugo Häring and Paul Henning, came together in a collaborative project that produced a highly successful and varied set of buildings and communal spaces. Unlike the nearby Hansaviertel, built between 1957-61 as a show-case of Western modernism with little or no social ambitions, the Siemansstadt estate was designed as a not-for-profit working community, and still thrives as one today.

One of six modernist housing estates located around Berlin that are recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site, the residential neighbourhood accommodates a number of commercial and communal facilities, including restaurants, shops and laundrettes in the ground floors of the blocks, as well as the seemingly effortlessly simple but beautiful landscaping and trees by Lerberecht Migge.

The estate represents a turning point in urban thinking – from low-rise garden city projects with individual gardens, to high-density and more communal and collective forms of living. The collaborative nature of the design team resulted in a masterplan that gave equal importance to the spaces between the buildings as to the buildings themselves. Although clearly revolutionary, the buildings were designed in the service of the residents, and not competitively jostling for attention in their desire for novelty – like the Hansaviertel estate and so much of contemporary architecture.

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Social Housing Scrutiny Project: ASH Presentation to Haringey Council Housing and Regeneration Scrutiny Panel

On 29 November 2017, at the invitation of Christian Scade, the Principal Scrutiny Officer at Haringey council, Geraldine Dening of ASH made the following presentation to the cross-party Housing and Regeneration Scrutiny Panel. In attendance were Labour Councillor Emine Ibrahim, Chair of the Panel, Labour Councillor Zena Brabazon, Liberal Democrat Councillor Gail Engert, and Liberal Democrat Councillor Martin Newton, all of whom are Members of the Panel. During the summer the Panel had set up a high-level social housing review focusing on national, regional and local issues. The terms of reference for this review are as follows:

  1. To consider attitudes towards social housing, both in Haringey and further afield.
  2. To review the supply and quality of social housing in Haringey with consideration given to both new and older housing across the borough.
  3. To identify barriers in current regional and national housing policy to enable consideration of what Haringey’s lobbying priorities should be around social housing.
  4. To identify key indicators that enable social interventions of estate regeneration to be measured, ensuring existing communities get the greatest possible benefit from changes to their neighbourhoods.
  5. To identify opportunities for residents so they can contribute fully to the delivery of objectives outlined in the Council’s Housing Strategy (2017-22), including monitoring of progress.

The Panel, which is similar to a Select Committee at national level, hoped to receive evidence from a wide range of sources, including professional experts, academics, local residents, council officers, external partners, the voluntary sector and local resident associations. This will be used to develop recommendations, and a report, to be published in March 2018, will include the ASH presentation as part of the evidence pack. Other presentations to the panel were made by Dr. Lisa Mckenzie, Lecturer in Practical Sociology at Middlesex University, and Brian Robson, Policy and Research Manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

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This Charming Man: Jeremy Corbyn and The Smiths

Why pamper life’s complexity
When the leather runs smooth
on the passenger seat?

– Morrissey

On Saturday I went to see The Smyths, a Smiths and Morrissey tribute band, at the O2 Academy Islington, a soulless venue inside the soulless Angel Central shopping centre. It’s the first time I’ve seen the band, and I was surprised at the following they have, with the room packed with bequiffed forty- and fifty-somethings up for a dance down memory lane. The band was great fun, and it’s an indication of the cultural impact of the original that they’ve been together for 15 years, three times as long as The Smiths.

The second song of the night was Morrissey’s Irish Blood, English Heart, which I thought a brave choice in politically correct Islington, and while I jumped around at the back I noticed that the response, even amongst this brushed and parted crowd, was pretty mute. Then about two-thirds of the way through the gig, just after That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore (of all tunes), the band broke into a rendition of those fatal opening bars to the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army; and yes, even in this room, the crowd broke into the moronic chant of ‘Oh, Je-re-my Cor-byn!’ It was almost enough to make me vomit into my own beer. As you can imagine, I wasn’t too pleased by this, and not only because a White Stripes song has no place in a Smith’s tribute act.

After the gig I was talking to the guitarist (he’s the one on the right in the promotional photo above, wearing what I’ve just realised could be interpreted as a Jeremy Corbyn hat), who if not quite up to the genius of the greatest rhythm guitarist of his generation had nonetheless done a good job of nailing How Soon is Now?, and after telling him so I brought up the Corbyn chant. Quite apart from the fact that Irish Blood, English Heart contains the lines ‘I’ve been dreaming of a time when / The English are sick to death of Labour and Tory’, I pointed out that The Smiths were always on the side of difference and never conformed to what we are told to think either culturally or politically, and that whatever The Smyth’s politics may be, there is no way on earth that Morrissey would condone them slipping that servile chant into his defiantly contrarian music.

Continue reading “This Charming Man: Jeremy Corbyn and The Smiths”

Dispossession: The Great Labour Party Swindle

Tonight Paul Sng’s film Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle will have what I think is its last screening of the year at the Chelsea Curzon cinema, and to the excitement of many what the publicity calls ‘the Right Honourable Jeremy Corbyn’ will be in attendance.

This is quite a turn around, as when the film first came out back in March it was attacked by Labour activists as ‘anti-Labour’. Unite the Union, which largely bankrolls the Labour Party and Corbyn in particular, even called for a picket of the screening at the Brixton Ritzy cinema, as they claimed it broke the call by staff there, who were striking for a living wage, not to use the cinema, when in fact Paul had already approached them and been given their permission to show the film. As anyone who has opposed them knows, this is typical of the way Labour activists operate. However, that was then, and this is now. Paul has always been very open that the film is not a political film and on more than one occasion has publically denounced Corbyn. So it’s also quite a turn around for him to be showing his film to him now.

‘But what’s the problem?’ you may ask. ‘Surely it’s a good thing that the Leader of the Labour Party and possibly the next Prime Minister of the UK sees this film?’

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Narkomfin: Regenerations, Appropriations, Betrayals

Narkomfin building, 1930.

The Narkomfin Building

As a third-rate intellectual nation with the most de-politicised working class in Europe, the UK has spent this 100th anniversary year self-satisfyingly dumping on everything we can about the Russian Revolution, while simultaneously shutting our eyes to the extraordinary creativity to which it gave birth – however short-lived – in poetry, literature, painting, sculpture, music, theatre, textiles, graphic design, photography, photomontage, cinema and architecture, and to which only the Italian Renaissance can be compared in modern times. Writing about Le Corbusier’s famous Marseilles Housing Unit recently led me to a building which – being neither an architect nor a scholar of architecture – I’d never heard of: the apartment block for the People’s Commissariat for Finance (Narkomfin) in Moscow designed by the Constructivist architect Moisei Ginzburg and his student Ignatii Milinis. Le Corbusier took some of his most influential ideas from this building, having first drained them of much of their socialist content; but while the 1952 Marseilles Housing Unit is celebrated in hundreds of books and visited by thousands of architectural students every year, the Narkomfin building, which was completed in 1930 when most British workers were living in terraced Victorian slums, has been left to rot, squatted by Moscow’s homeless, bought up by a property speculator, and now under threat of being ‘regenerated’ as luxury apartments or a hotel in Vladimir Putin’s Brave New Russia.

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Armed Love: Capitalism, Anarchism and the Russian Revolution

‘The revenge of history is more powerful than the revenge of the most powerful General Secretary.’

– Leon Trotsky

How do you mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy in which monopoly capitalism has created the greatest income inequality in Europe, and which, because of this, the spectre of socialism – if not quite communism – is haunting for the first time in forty years? In accordance with the role art and culture has been assigned under late capitalism, the UK state’s primary response has been to put on exhibitions and performances at its major institutions of culture that – much like frescoes in pre-Reformation churches – explain the perils of revolution to the historically illiterate middle classes. To this end, 2017 has seen shows at the Royal Academy of Arts, the Design Museum, the British Library, the Royal Festival Hall and the Tate Modern – and that’s just in London alone. And as we entered October and the anniversary of the terrible ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’ approached, a series of documentaries and dramas appeared on our primary instrument of state propaganda, the British Broadcasting Corporation, of which a special mention should go to the hilarious Russia 1917: Countdown to Revolution, which dragged out every right-wing talking head the establishment could produce to carry out character assassinations of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin. But amid this state-sanctioned programme of political enlightenment for the masses, there have been other, independent responses to the Russian Revolution, ones that focus not on its art or demonising its protagonists, but on the historical lessons it contains for those looking for something more than the propaganda of an increasingly crisis-ridden capitalism, repressive civil state and morally bankrupt parliament.

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Radiant City: The Marseilles Housing Unit

In April of this year ASH visited the Unité d’habitation in Marseilles, the first and most influential of Le Corbusier’s Housing Units’, which was completed in 1952 and repeated, with variations, in Nantes-Rezé (1955), in Berlin-Westend (1957), in Briey (1963) and in Firminy (1965). Itself considerably influenced by the Narkomfin building in Moscow (1930) designed by the Constructivist architect Moisei Ginzburg, Le Corbussier’s model of public housing had a huge influence on Brutalist architecture, and inspired the design of a large number of housing estates in the UK, including – to name just a few – the Park Hill estate (1961) in Sheffield, the Alton estate (1958), the Samuda estate (1965), Balfron Tower (1967), Trellick Tower (1972), Robin Hood Gardens (1972) and the Barbican estate (1981), all of which are in London. Ironically, the reinforced, rough-finished concrete (béton brut) from which the Housing Unit was constructed, and which gave its name to this movement in architecture, was necessitated because the steel frame Le Corbusier had envisaged using proved too expensive under the shortage of steel in post-war France.

In his early theoretical work, Vers une architecture (1923), Le Corbusier paid particular attention to the forms of ocean liners, finding in their matching of form to function the purism in design he sought to bring to modern architecture. As the plan of the Marseilles Housing Unit conveys, Le Corbusier envisaged this long, narrow building of 17 decks running parallel to the Mediterranean coastline as a sort of stationary ship, and many of its interior details make reference to nautical design. The wood and brass materials on the folding seat cum threshold to the apartment balconies recall those of a ship’s cabin, as does the wooden decking of the floors, the stairs, and the spiral staircase in the restaurant. And the extraordinary roof, which resembles a landscape by René Magritte, has ventilator shafts shaped like a ship’s smokestacks and a communal hall that looks like an upturned lifeboat. Above all, the self-sufficiency of the building – which originally had its own guest hostel, laundry, restaurant, grocer, butcher, barber, post office, clinic, nursery, kindergarten, gymnasium, children’s swimming pool, exercise space and running track – imitated the facilities within an ocean liner.

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