In 1960 the Fourth Conference of the Situationist International was held in London’s East End. This was the SI’s only visit to the land of Les Rosbif, and while here they were invited to speak at the Institute of Contemporary Arts at its old site in Dover Street. After their presentation – which largely consisted of rejecting the art world’s attempt to recuperate their actions as ‘Situationism’ – the British public – which largely consisted of that mix of bourgeois, bohemians and bankers still recogniseable today – started demanding clarifications. At which point Guy Debord got up to leave, but not before saying in demotic English: ‘We’re not here to answer ******* questions!’
Fifty-seven years later, and as part of their In formation programme, the ICA has invited Architects for Social Housing to take up residency in their Upper Galleries from Monday 14 to Sunday 20 August. Using it as a work space to collaborate with other groups and individuals, we will be hosting informal discussions on aspects of the housing crisis through the week from 7pm-9pm. On Tuesday 15 Co-ops for London will present their report ‘Co-operate Not Speculate’. And on Wednesday 16 August Achilles Fanzine will hold a workshop on ‘Urban Myths’. ASH has recently published a report on the Grenfell Tower fire, which we will be holding a meeting about on Thursday 17 August, also from 7pm-9pm. At the end of the residency we will exhibit the alternatives to demolition we have designed for the estates ASH has worked with, as well as a new map of London’s existing estate regenerations, photographs of estates and campaigns by L.G. and Alessia Gammarotta, as well as work by Architectural Workers. The show will be open to the public on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 August from 11am-6pm. The exhibition opening will be held on Saturday evening from 7pm-11pm, and everyone is welcome.
Architects for Social Housing
Set-up in 2015, ASH organises working collectives tailored for individual projects. These teams are made up of architects, urban designers, environmental engineers, surveyors, planners, film-makers, photographers, web designers, artists, writers and housing campaigners. We operate with developing ideas under set principles, first among which is the conviction that increasing the housing capacity on existing council estates through infill and design, rather than demolishing and redeveloping them as luxury apartments, is a more sustainable solution to London’s housing needs than the privatisation and 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 technical 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 viable alternatives to estate demolition that are in the interests of the wider London community.
Over the past two years ASH has designed alternatives to demolition for the Knight’s Walk, West Kensington and Gibbs Green, Central Hill and Northwold estates, and is currently working with the Patmore estate Co-operative. In addition, we have published over a hundred articles on various aspects of UK housing policy and practice, including more than a dozen case studies of estate regeneration, plus extended critiques of the government’s Housing and Planning Act and the GLA’s Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration.
Co-ops for London
Co-ops for London is part of the London Cooperative Housing Group (LCHG) and campaigns for more housing cooperatives in London. Housing policies that prioritise financial value over social value have led to the growth of pseudo-public housing associations and Tenant Management Organisations that in reality offer limited tenant involvement (as we have seen in the tragic events at Grenfell) and are contributing to the social cleansing of London via the introduction of insecure tenancies and rising rents. Our report ‘Co-operate Not Speculate’, launched earlier this year, argues that the housing co-operative model offers a viable alternative because tenants manage and own their properties collectively, helping to keep rents low and tenancies secure. Coops for London also want to reframe the way we talk about housing – we avoid using depersonalized (and financial) developer’s language like ‘units’ and speak more about the homes and communities that make London. In our talk we will be explaining the basic principles of housing co-operatives and how you can help to set up a housing cooperative in London.
An urban myth is defined as ‘a humorous or horrific story or piece of information circulated as though true,’ a glitch of perception which mutates and becomes a caricature of reality, consumed as fact. In our world of fake news and perpetual story-telling, a few do the writing and many do the reading. The stories are traditional in their impulse to create a baddy, a figure of the ‘other’, and social housing and those who need it have been vilified: the architecture a source of crime and isolation, the residents ‘Council Housed And Violent.’ This workshop is a space to challenge such narratives and create alternative media made by those who have experienced and care about social housing. Achilles fanzine invites participants to engage in a critical analysis of representations of social housing and create individual zines in response, using collage and drawing throughout. The session is led by Lilah Francis, project director of Achilles!, a fanzine made with some of the residents of the Achilles estate in New Cross, South-East London, under threat of demolition by Lewisham council.
We unionise all architectural workers in these beliefs: we fight against the architecture that capitalises on crisis; we know that housing can be truly affordable; we oppose the eradication of bodies, memories, and landscapes; we believe in an equal right to housing; we will not be exploited to push out the exploited; we take responsibility for our actions; we acknowledge that our lives have been built on the destruction of others; we will not disguise destructive development with a friendly facade; we do not see beauty in death; we will destroy the image; we will expose the corruption; we refuse to be complacent or complicit; we speak alongside the people whose voices are systematically silenced; we will not weed our streets to sow the seeds of regeneration; we are against the architecture of control; we do not accept that demolition is necessary or inevitable; we believe in building social and economic networks before physical structures. Architecture is inherently a practice of change. We have the power to choose how.
Please join ASH during our residency at the ICA. If you would like to propose a talk, help us with the exhibition and map, or just fancy a chat, come down to the Upper Galleries, or write to us at: email@example.com. Unlike the Situationists, we’ll do our best to answer any questions.
Architects for Social Housing