Manifesto

Architects for Social Housing(ASH) was set up in March 2015 in order to respond architecturally to London’s housing ‘crisis’. We are a Community Interest Company that organises working collectives of architects, urban designers, engineers, surveyors, planners, film-makers, photographers, artists, writers and housing campaigners for individual projects. Tailored to meet specific needs, these collectives 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 being 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 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 estate demolition schemes through designs for infill, roof extensions and refurbishment that increase housing capacity on the estates by up to 50 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 with residents over a period of time, providing them with 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 correct unfounded statements and counter negative perceptions about social housing in the minds of the public, and raise awareness of the role of relevant interest groups – including political parties, local authorities, housing associations, property developers, real estate firms and architectural practices – in the regeneration process. Using a variety of means, including publications, presentations, reports, case studies, exhibitions, films and protests, we are trying to initiate policy change within UK housing.

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 projects, please get in contact.

E-mail: info@architectsforsocialhousing.co.uk

Facebook: ASH (Architects for Social Housing)

Events: www.opengardenestates.com

Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company (CIC). Although we 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, please make a donation through PayPal:

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

 

The Carpenters Estate: A Fresh Start or Business as Usual at Newham Council?

Photograph by Alessia Gammarota

On the 27 October 2018, at a meeting between members of the Focus E15 Campaign and Rokhsana Fiaz, the Mayor of Newham, and members of her new administration, it was agreed that Architects for Social Housing would make a presentation to Newham council on the financial, social and environmental benefits of estate refurbishment and infill versus the costs of demolition and redevelopment. This presentation would present the findings from our report, The Costs of Estate Regeneration, which we had published in September and have since been presenting to various organisations across London. These included the inaugural Festival of Maintenance held at University College London; at a meeting of the Tulse Hill branch of the Labour Party; at a GovDesign meeting on Repair, Renovation and Maintenance; and to Len Duvall, the Greater London Authority Member for Greenwich and Lewisham and Leader of the Labour Party in the London Assembly. We have also been invited to present its findings to the Government’s Planning Advisory Service forum on Planning, Housing and Affordable Homes, which will be attended by council leaders, regeneration and planning officers from Brent, Havering and Merton in London, Milton Keynes, South Cambridgeshire, Manchester, Salford, Stockport, Southampton, West Dorset and other local authorities.

At the Newham council meeting the Mayor stated that she would be making a public announcement about the Carpenters estate in early December. We were pleased to note the Mayor’s commitment to consider all the options for the regeneration of the estate before proceeding, but concerned that the information on the costs of refurbishing the estate on Newham council’s website was inaccurate. On 8 November we wrote to Deborah Heenan, the Major Projects Director at the London Borough of Newham, to propose a meeting at which we could present our more accurate findings and discuss the possibilities available to the future of the Carpenters estate that are both financially viable to the council as well as socially and environmentally beneficial to residents and constituents.

Following on from our subsequent telephone conversation on 21 November, I wrote to Ms. Heenan explaining that it would be very useful for us if, prior to our meeting with Newham council, we could have clarification on a number of issues for which the information has not been made public. ASH has developed design alternatives to demolition for 6 housing estates in London, and on every one we were able not only to increase their housing capacity by around 50 per cent, but also to increase the supply of homes for social rent, rather than demolishing and replacing them with market sale, shared ownership, rent to buy and other forms of so-called ‘affordable’ housing required by the huge costs of demolition and redevelopment in today’s market. In order to better advise the new Mayor on the possibilities of refurbishment and infill on the Carpenters estate, therefore, we requested the following information.

Continue reading “The Carpenters Estate: A Fresh Start or Business as Usual at Newham Council?”

Homes for Londoners? Sadiq Khan’s Record on Housing

sadiq-khan-for-london

‘The housing crisis is the single biggest barrier to prosperity, growth and fairness facing Londoners today. I’ve found that, both as a MP, and throughout my campaign to be Mayor of London, it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking to business leaders, local residents, charities or community groups: far and away the biggest issue across the board is London’s housing crisis. The city’s shortage of decent and affordable homes is causing real misery to millions of Londoners, and damaging London’s competitiveness.’

– Sadiq Khan, Homes for Londoners, March 2016

Very few politicians deliver the promises they make when campaigning to be elected to office; none have ever improved on them. With the charity Shelter announcing that 170,000 Londoners would be homeless this Christmas, the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, in a letter leaked to the Guardian newspaper, responded that he was ‘considering’ introducing rent controls in 2019. This May Sadiq Khan will have been Mayor of London for two years, so now seems like a good time to assess the gap between what he promised voters in March 2016 and what he has delivered to address London’s housing crisis.

In his election manifesto Sadiq Khan promised to build 50,000 new homes in the capital every year of his administration; he promised to maximise the affordable housing in new developments; he promised to build new social housing and other ‘genuinely affordable’ homes; he promised to support councils and housing associations to build them; he promised to grant funding and planning permission to estate demolition schemes only when it has resident support and it does not result in the loss of social housing; finally, he promised to ‘tackle’ the source of homelessness. He promised a lot more besides, but that’s enough to be going on with. So let’s look at how the man Time magazine last year included in its list of the ‘World’s 100 Most Influential People’ has met these promises. The Mayor’s policies on housing are published under the title of Homes for Londoners. Here are the three most important.

Continue reading “Homes for Londoners? Sadiq Khan’s Record on Housing”

ASH Christmas Carol

At the first stage of Regeneration
My council promised me
Resident-led is what this will be

At the second stage of Regeneration
My council promised me
Transparency
Resident-led is what this will be

At the third stage of Regeneration
My council promised me
High density
Transparency
Resident-led is what this will be

At the fourth stage of Regeneration
My council promised me
Refurbishment
High density
Transparency
Resident-led is what this will be

At the fifth stage of Regeneration
My council promised me
DE-MO-LIT-ION
Refurbishment
High density
Transparency
Resident-led is what this will be

Continue reading “ASH Christmas Carol”

Whatever Happened to the Working Class? The British Ideology

‘The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas; that is, the class that is the ruling material force in society is, at the same time, its ruling intellectual force. The class that has the means of material production at its disposal has control, at the same time, over the means of intellectual production; so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of intellectual production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships – the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; therefore of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one – in other words, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess, among other things, consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self evident that they do this across its whole range; therefore, among other things, that they also rule as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and circulation of the ideas of their age. Thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of their time.’

– Karl Marx, The German Ideology (1846)

There was a time, back in the early 1990s, when I could barely write an essay without quoting this passage or something similar as an epigraph to my learned disquisition on this or that question of cultural and political theory. Marx’s teachings on the relation between ideology and class were revolutionary for his time, but 150 years later, coming out of a decade and more of Thatcherism, it seemed the lesson had finally been learned – if not actually turned into practice. But the ideas of the British ruling class have come to fruition over the past quarter of a century, and what was seemingly learned has been unlearned, what was taken as given has been taken back with interest, and what was once regarded as fundamental has been undermined. So today, when its effects have never been more hidden in plain sight, it has once again become necessary to return to the question of class.
Continue reading “Whatever Happened to the Working Class? The British Ideology”

The Costs of Estate Regeneration: A Film for Everyone

The report on which this film is based can be read in the pdf titled The Costs of Estate Regeneration. I first gave this presentation at a conference held by the Socialist Workers Alliance back in June; then again at a meeting of the Revolutionary Communist Group in July at the launch of their pamphlet Whose Land is it Anyway? Housing, Capitalism and the Working Class; then at the inaugural Festival of Maintenance held at University College London in September; then later that month to People Before Profit, at a meeting to organise against the demolition and redevelopment of Reginald House and the Old Tidesmill Garden in Lewisham; then at a public meeting in October of the Focus E15 Campaign in Newham to discuss bringing the half-empty Carpenter’s estate back into use as housing; then that same month at a meeting of the Tulse Hill branch of the Labour Party to discuss the possibilities of refurbishing rather than demolishing the Cressingham Gardens estate; then again in October to a GovDesign meeting on Repair, Renovation and Maintenance; then at the end of the month to the Montreal Square Residents Association in Cambridge, whose homes are threatened with demolition by the Cambridge Housing Society. Next week we are due to discuss the findings of the report with Len Duvall, the Greater London Authority Member for Greenwich and Lewisham; and in the new year I will be presenting it to the Government’s Planning Advisory Service forum on Planning, Housing and Affordable Homes, which will be attended by council leaders from Brent, Havering and Merton in London, Milton Keynes, South Cambridgeshire, Manchester, Salford, Stockport, Southampton, West Dorset and other local authorities. Finally, we’re in the middle of negotiations to meet with Newham council in the New Year to see if the newly-elected Mayor means what she says about the future of the Carpenter’s estate. After that, I’m handing presentation duties over to this film.

Continue reading “The Costs of Estate Regeneration: A Film for Everyone”

A Home for All? The Art Exhibition as Political Propaganda

Mary Duggan Architects

The ‘6 radical experiments in social housing’, which include the Spa Green estate (1946-49), Keeling House (1954-59), the Alexandra Road estate (1968-78), and the Byker estate (1969-82), currently on show at the exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum will be familiar to anyone with an interest in the history of council housing, and by themselves don’t justify a new exhibition. It’s the new ‘experiment’, Lion Green Road, designed by Mary Duggan Architects and currently being developed by Brick by Brick in Croydon, that’s the real focus of the exhibition, the purpose of which is to give legitimacy to the kind of development being carried out today under the guise of ‘social housing’ by placing it within the history of UK council housing provision. However, as is typical of architectural discourse in this country – and of which the review of the exhibition in Arch Daily is another example – this history will remain a purely formal one, without any of the information by which a visitor to the show (or reader of the article) can make a judgement about whether this scheme is a continuation or betrayal of the preceding architecture. As is repeatedly the case, therefore, it’s up to ASH to provide that information.

Continue reading “A Home for All? The Art Exhibition as Political Propaganda”

Invisible Britain: The Art of Catharsis

‘I have spoken of the operation of a certain type of fashionable photography that makes misery into a consumer good. When I turn to the New Objectivity as a literary movement, I must go a step further and say that it has made the struggle against poverty into a consumer product. In fact, in many cases its political meaning has been exhausted with the transposition of revolutionary impulses – insofar as these appeared among the bourgeoisie – into objects of distraction and amusement that were integrated, without difficulty, into the entertainment industries of the big cities. The metamorphosis of the political struggle from a drive to make a political commitment into an object of contemplative pleasure, from a means of production into an object of consumption, is the defining characteristic of this literature.’

– Walter Benjamin, The Author as Producer (1934)

Paul Sng, Invisible Britain (2018)

1. The Art of Catharsis

Who profits from the housing crisis? The immediate answer is obvious: property developers, housing associations, estate agents, consultants, architects, builders, the people who knock down council housing and replace it with new-build properties, half of which currently stand empty in London.

But there are other people who profit too. First in line, spotting a market in sob-stories for the middle classes, are the journalists, whose thin prose and even thinner research doesn’t stop them from bundling a few articles together and calling it a book. Behind them, ponderous as ever but champing at the bit of the next government grant, are the academics, who have responded to the burgeoning market in well-footnoted (to other academics), badly framed (‘gentrification’) and totally apolitical books about the housing crisis, which they transform into just another object in their musty archive.

But a new profiteer has emerged. As the public’s interest even in the fluff on the bookshelves wanes, enter the artist. In verbatim theatre productions, in performance poetry, in documentary films, in protest songs and in books of glossy photographs, the artist is the new self-appointed spokesperson for the masses, and their great claim to this role is – not the political and representational agency of their work – but something much more important: their sincerity.

The English have a strong claim to being the most artistically illiterate nation in Europe, and generally prefer a nice swing at Tate Modern to anything that makes them think. But this week, thinking about the latest piece of artistic ‘activism’ to come off the shelves, full of sincerity and endorsements from every hack, academic and luvvie in town, I was reminded of what the German critic, Walter Benjamin, said about fascism in his 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproduction. Fascism, remember, was a kitsch, saccharine aesthetic that sugar-coated the violence it glorified for the masses in images of noble sacrifice; and it has more than a few parallels with the photographs of homeless Britains, protesting Palestinians and starving Yemenis that decorate our Sunday supplements or perch in glossy tomes atop many an Islington coffee table. Trying to understand this aestheticisation of the violence of the political, Benjamin concluded: ‘Mankind’s self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.’

Poverty porn is nothing new, and has been the staple of reality TV for some time, preparing the way for the political assault on the working class it has served. Somewhat belatedly, the liberals who have colonised the arts in this country have now come up with their own use for the working class. Springing from the Methodism that defines the aesthetic and political sensibilities of the so-called Left in this country, this goes something along the lines of: ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ In the political vacuum of liberalism, art is the opium of the middle classes, its aesthetic pleasures the last refuge from their willing embrace of the violence of capitalism.

It’s not by chance that the favoured, most sought after and most highly valued aesthetic response of the middle classes is tears. Tears stop the middle-class film-goer from seeing what’s in front of his face when he leaves the auditorium. Tears, whatever the middle-class book-buyer may think when leafing through its moving photographs, are always shed for herself. And the feel of tears running down their cheeks, the salty taste of them in their mouths, makes them feel that somehow they are sharing in the suffering they tell as many people as possible is their cause. Identification (preferably with a distant and grateful victim) is the cathartic object of the immersive art ‘experience’. ‘Heartbreaking!’ is the ultimate accolade for the liberal work of art. So what role does art play for its liberal audience in search of catharsis?
Continue reading “Invisible Britain: The Art of Catharsis”