‘In carrying out or agreeing to carry out professional work, Architects should pay due regard to the interests of anyone who may reasonably be expected to use or enjoy the products of their own work. Whilst Architects’ primary responsibility is to their clients, they should nevertheless have due regard to their wider responsibility to conserve and enhance the quality of the environment and its natural resources.’
Under Section 13 of the Architects Act 1997 the Architects Registration Board (ARB) was required to ‘issue a code laying down the standards of professional conduct and practice expected of registered persons’ (i.e. as architects). It further specified that although failure to comply with the provisions of this code ‘shall not be taken of itself to constitute unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence’, such failure by the architect ‘shall be taken into account in any proceedings against him’ before the ARB’s Professional Conduct Committee. The code itself, which was first published in 1997, specified that architects are expected to be guided in their professional work not only by the letter but also by the ‘spirit of the code’. However, where the 12 constituent standards typically have 4 and up to 8 codes, section 5.1 is the single code on the standard architects should meet when ‘considering the wider impact of their work’.
‘Residents came up with the People’s Plan, which shows the professionals how new development ought to be done. At the outset, Community Homes brought more than 100 residents into workshops and site visits with architects.* Residents and architects together identified space for up to 327 new homes and devised plans for improvements to their homes, streets and community spaces. The plans were costed and valued, and residents were able to show that they could help to pay for improvements and subsidise the building of new homes at social rent levels through sales. Residents from 65 per cent of households provided written feedback on these proposals, and 90 per cent of respondents said that the plans were “excellent” or “good”, and “better” or “far better” than the Capco scheme.’
The questions we were posed for possible discussion on this panel, even if I were qualified to try and answer them all, would take up the rest of this day at least. So I want to focus on just one question, which I think is coming into sharper focus in the UK, and which relates most closely to what have been ASH’s attempts to propose alternatives to London’s estate regeneration programme. This question is:
‘Why does capitalism appear to produce a housing crisis? And can it be solved in capitalism?’
I chose this question, first, because by proposing that our current housing crisis has been produced it refuses the discourse of ‘crisis’ by which we have been paralysed, and which has made us accept, uncritically and without question, the ‘solutions’ proposed to solve this ‘crisis’, rather than challenging the ends to which it has been produced. One only has to recall that the same terminology has been applied to the financial crisis, the deficit crisis, the benefits crisis, the NHS crisis, the education crisis, the population crisis and (the mother of all crises) the environmental crisis to understand something about how this discourse acts as an instrument of privatisation.
But I also chose this question because it questions the extent to which the so-called solutions to the housing ‘crisis’ are in fact producing and reproducing the very crisis they have been proposed in order to ‘solve’, and in doing so understands our housing crisis not as a failure of capitalism at this particular instant of that seemingly eternally recurring crisis to which it has been doomed almost since its inception, but rather as the instrument of capitalism’s latest colonisation of what housing activists inaccurately describe as a ‘human right’. Indeed, if we wish to understand the mutation capitalism is undergoing as it shifts on its global axis, we could do worse than examine London’s housing ‘crisis’.
This text, with the accompanying images projected, was performed at the conference on ‘The Mediated City’ held at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, Greenwich Peninsula, between 1-3 April, 2014. The performance was given on Wednesday, 2 April. The following day, Thursday 3 April, the geopoetry reading it introduced was conducted around Greenwich Peninsula. The main contents of this reading can be found in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, no. 68-69 (March-April, 2014). A second performance was given on the final day of ‘Real Estates’, a 6-week conference and exhibition organised by Fugitive Images at Peer Gallery, Hoxton, from 18 February-28 March, 2015. That same week we founded Architects for Social Housing. The following year the text and images for this performance were published in Architecture and Culture, volume 4, issue 2 (September 2016).
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.
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:
To consider attitudes towards social housing, both in Haringey and further afield.
To review the supply and quality of social housing in Haringey with consideration given to both new and older housing across the borough.
To identify barriers in current regional and national housing policy to enable consideration of what Haringey’s lobbying priorities should be around social housing.
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.
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.