FAQs

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ASH was recently asked a number of questions about our principles and practices by a member of Momentum, a faction of the Labour Party supporting Jeremy Corbyn that we have been highly critical of in the past because of its support for Labour councils demolishing council estates. Many of the questions we were asked are one’s ASH has been asked before; but what made these different was that they were based on consistently inaccurate perceptions about what we believe and what we do. Perhaps it was no more than a provocation; but it was interesting to see so many contributors to our Facebook page respond at such length to the questions, and correct so many of the lies spread about the viability of estate refurbishment by the councils trying to demolish them. One of the things we were asked was ‘What is ASH?’, and I think the discussion that ensued is one of the answers to that question. It seemed to us, therefore, that it might be useful to anyone interested in ASH to publish these questions on our blog along with our answers, which incorporated many of the contributors’ responses.

I’m not really sure who or what ASH is, but these are genuine questions to them or this forum:

1) What is your alternative to estate redevelopment on estates that are past their sell-by date? Do you simply think the council should spend millions on keeping decrepit buildings upright when it would be cheaper in the long run to rebuild? I think many of the tower block demolitions were probably wrong, and no one now suggests removing those still standing, but blocks like Tower Court, where I worked for years as a gardener, clearly needed demolishing as it was covered in cracks. Similarly, I think it strange that you appear to dispute the claim that there is a need for family-sized flats, and your position of not redeveloping appears to leave many families in substandard, too small accommodation.

2) If you accept there is a need for some redevelopment, which I hope you do, how would you finance it? I don’t need to point out that we have lived now through decades of attacks on social housing by central governments, both Tory and Labour, wedded to the ideology of ‘mixed communities’. There is no money for social housing in Hackney. The mayor, Philip Glanville, is clear that their redevelopment is only possible via the sale of significant numbers of luxury flats and providing so-called affordable housing. What is your alternative to this funding? Personally, on Woodberry Down – again somewhere I have known and worked on for 30 years and is now not great housing – I think they could have done far more piecemeal approach, redevelop bits at a time; but fundamentally there were blocks there, like where Skinners School is now, that were cracking up, had no lifts, so no good for mums and the old. Another good example, which I campaigned around initially, was Haggerston West with Carl Taylor. Haggerston East was transferred to CanalSide, who actually did do up the old blocks, knocked some flats together, and that was the option that I would have liked on Haggerston West. However, what was proposed on Haggerston West gave a lot more houses, a lot more flats, and that persuaded the tenants who voted – those that were left – for the council’s scheme. I think they were conned, but, equally, I understand that the kind of money that CanalSide used was not available for the Haggerston West redevelopment, and that that could only have been funded by private housing. Fundamentally it seems to come down to this: you seem to believe that all redevelopment is gentrification as it introduces luxury flats, so does this mean you simply want to keep things static?

3) Where do you think London Borough of Hackney will get money to renovate flats from? By building private infill, as you slightly bizarrely seem to support? I was involved in opposing the council’s infill Estates Plus programme 10 years ago, as the tenants felt it took away their garages and green space. We won, by the way. If you think that the council can simply borrow money I would be very interested to hear of examples where this has happened, as I am unaware and think there are some legal issues, but I may be wrong.

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Thank you for your questions, which I’ll try and answer as far as I can:

1) I’m not sure what you mean by estates being ‘past their sell-by date’. Half of London lives in 150 year-old Victorian brick terraces, and we don’t hear calls for them to be demolished. The concrete structures that are consistently described by councils as ‘past their sell-by date’ are nowhere near such a loose definition. You’ll recall that concrete was first used by the Romans, and the structures they used it on are doing pretty well. As the builder on the ASH forum wrote, the cracks that you put forward as evidence that these estates ‘clearly need demolishing’ are nothing of the sort. Unfortunately, like the Labour councillors whose assertions you seem to be basing your judgements on, you don’t seem to understand technically what you’re talking about, and should speak a little less authoritatively on a subject that has such consequences for the homes of thousands of residents.

As for the need for a proportion of families on estates to move into larger flats – or more accurately, flats with more bedrooms – I don’t know where you get the idea that we ‘dispute’ this. In fact, in our critique of these inaccurate judgements about the state of disrepair of council homes justifying their demolition, ASH has addressed precisely this issue in our article on Lambeth Labour Council’s ‘Criteria for Demolition’. You may wish to read this text. Again, a family growing and requiring more bedrooms does not, as you claim, make that accommodation ‘substandard’. On the contrary, the council homes Labour councils are so intent on demolishing are considerably more generous in size than the increasingly reduced space standards guiding new builds.

2) If by ‘redevelopment you mean the demolition of existing council homes and their redevelopment, then no, we do not accept that. If you take the trouble to go onto ASH’s blog, which I hope anyone would before asking us such lengthy questions, you’ll see that our first principle is ‘that increasing the housing capacity on existing council estates, rather than redeveloping them as luxury apartments, 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.’ On all the design alternatives to demolition ASH has produced – on Knight’s Walk, Central Hill, West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates – we do not demolish existing homes, which we propose to refurbish, but we always introduce new homes, increasing the housing capacity of the estate by up to 45 per cent. Far from wanting to keep things ‘static’, as you assert – again, based on I’m not sure what – we propose a future for these estates by refurbishing the existing homes, keeping the community together, and adding new homes to extend the life of that community and provide more housing for rising housing demands (as opposed to real estate investments). You can find our designs for each of these proposals on our blog. If you’re genuinely interested in our proposals and how we propose funding them – which so far no council of the Labour Party has been – you can read our 50-page Feasibility Study Report on West Kensington and Gibbs Green.

3) As ASH has said consistently for some time, we believe what you call ‘redevelopment’, which only follows on from the demolition of council homes, is not gentrification but social cleansing, so your ‘seems’, once again, is wrong. I wonder where you’ve got your uniformly inaccurate opinions of ASH from: it sounds like from the Labour Councils whose social cleansing of London’s council estates we oppose. I’m also not sure what you’re trying to convey by your description of our infill proposals as ‘bizarre’, except to try to dismiss them. But if you look at our proposals, they are for both infill and roof extensions, and are a mix of homes for private rent or sale and more homes for social rent, not exclusively ‘private’ as you assert. And they never eat into the green spaces on the estate, as you suggest they have to, but are almost always built on derelict or disused land identified by residents. Again, you don’t seem to know what you’re talking about with these blanket assertions, and I invite you to look at ASH’s proposals for a better understanding.

There are a number of ways in which estates can generate the money for their refurbishment. One of these is by a Right to Transfer to a Community Land Trust, such as is being attempted by the West Kensington and Gibbs Green community. Another might be by setting up a Tenant Managed Organisation and borrowing against, for instance, future rental income, as Cressingham Gardens have suggested as one of several financial models proposed in their People’s Plan. This is up to the individual estate campaigns and residents. What we propose architecturally, which can combine with and compliment these options, is generating funds for refurbishment through the renting or selling of a proportion of the new homes we propose to build on the estates.

But more generally, your assertion that Labour councils are broke and cannot afford to refurbish their estates so they have to be redeveloped is based on a fundamental untruth, which is that refurbishment is too expensive. In fact, quite apart from all the problems of destroying a community, the disruption to lives of decanting an estate, not to mention the social, mental health and environmental consequences of demolition, refurbishment has been consistently shown to cost a fraction of demolition and redevelopment. Far from being the only financially viable option, councils are taking on enormous financial risk setting up special purpose vehicles in such an insecure housing market, and against the advice of people and institutions that have a far more objective understanding of the risks than the easily lobbied amateurs on Labour cabinets. As campaigners at Cressingham Gardens have pointed out to Lambeth Labour Council, tenants rents and service charges are ring-fenced and only allowed to be spent on housing as part of the Housing Revenue Account, and are therefore not affected by the central government funding cuts you mention. As an example, only £200-250,000 of the £1,200,000 the council collects in annual rent from Cressingham Gardens is spent on maintenance and repairs. And even if SPVs were the only way councils can raise the money they have squandered through mismanagement of the housing revenue account and the escalating wages of their officers, they should do so not in order to demolish council estates but to refurbish and extend them according to models such as that offered by ASH.

To argue that demolition and redevelopment is the only financial option is to buy into the very easily exposed lies of the Labour councils that are responsible for fabricating this argument. There are many examples of this I could give you, but to take just one, read the article on our blog by Professor Jane Rendell, based on her testimony at the Public Inquiry into the Compulsory Purchase Order on the Aylesbury Estate, about how Southwark Labour Council buried the report they commissioned into the relative cost of refurbishment versus demolition. The Labour councils to which ASH has presented its alternatives to demolition – Lambeth and Hammersmith & Fulham – have done exactly the same thing with our alternatives to demolition based on fabricated figures, withheld information, inaccurate assessments, false claims and deliberate misunderstandings – lies, in other words. The truth – which perhaps your allegiance to the cult of Corbyn has blinded you to – is that Labour councils are not looking for solutions to the housing crisis; they are devising – with Jeremy Corbyn’s blessing and Sadiq Khan’s support – ways to sell as much of our public land as possible into private hands.

Architects for Social Housing

Dear _________ Labour Council

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Dear _______ Labour Council
Please don’t put a price on our homes:
Our estate is where we live,
You cannot sell what you don’t own.
When you come round here to consult with us,
Listen hard to what we say to you,
And we do hope you consider it well
When you decide what we want to do.

Dear _______ Labour Council
Please hear these words that we speak:
We know you want this land,
But in this you are not unique.
The rich get rich building luxury homes
They rent and they sell for too much,
And the rest of us work all of our lives
For a dream that we never will touch.

Dear _______ Labour Council
Please don’t dismiss what we say:
We’re not about to back down,
We’re not about to move far away.
Each one of us has a right to a home,
And we know you know this to be true,
And if you vote to regenerate us
We will vote and regenerate you.

– after Bob Dylan

Harrods and the Social Cleansing of London

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There was a disproportionately large police presence last Saturday at the United Voices of the World demonstration at Harrods Department Store. The protest was called in support of 450 waiters and chefs demanding they receive 100 per cent of their tips from customers, rather than the 25 per cent they are currently receiving, which reduces the salary of each member of staff by up to £5,000 per year. To put this in context, this theft of up to 75 per cent of staff tips by management comes in a year when Harrods announced that their pre-tax profits for 2015-16 had increased by 19 percent to £168 million, sales had risen by 4 per cent to £1.4 billion, and the owners had just paid themselves a juicy £100.1 million dividend. Architects for Social Housing turned up in support of this protest, as did members of Class War, while the Left – whether in the form of other unions like Unite, the Corbyn support group Momentum, or the various Trotskyist factions such as the Socialist Workers Party – were conspicuously if unsurprisingly absent: the UVW being unaffiliated to the Labour Party and therefore beyond the bounds of its control. Despite this, the protest was well attended and conducted peacefully and in good humour, stopping the traffic several times with the giant blow-up banner, but letting people pass freely along the pavement, and we were generally well received by passers-by, with none of the well-heeled patrons taking excessive umbrage at having to enter the Harrod’s Sale by the side doors.

The only violence – as at every demonstration I have attended over the past few years – came from the Metropolitan Police Force, whose numbers grew rapidly throughout the protest. Large numbers of police vans were parked up and down the Brompton Road and along its side streets; several police camera crews filmed everyone attending from both inside and outside the department store; and eventually even riot police from the Territorial Support Group turned up – completely unnecessarily. The police attempted to bully and intimidate us from the beginning, pushing us around, fencing us in and trying to kettle us in groups. A young lad was arrested right at the beginning for letting off a red smoke flare – although what possible harm that could do to anyone beyond adding a bit of theatre to the proceedings isn’t apparent; and a middle-aged woman was arrested for alleged ‘criminal damage’ – which, when she resisted, was upgraded to ‘assaulting a police constable’ – a charge the MET hands out like confetti these days. I spoke on behalf of ASH in formal support of the UVW protest and immediately became the object of police attention to the extent that I felt I too was about to be arrested, with cameras trained on me as I walked around and much finger-pointing and notebook-scribbling by the blue-shouldered officers. Having been arrested at a demonstration last year on a similarly manufactured charge of Assault PC (a charge dropped when video evidence showed the constable assaulting me), I recognised the signs and judged it best to leave the demonstration a little early if I didn’t want to join my fellow protesters in the local nick.

Because of this, I didn’t see the subsequent arrests as the police moved in at the end of the protest, around 4pm, and arrested a further 6 people, including the General Secretary of the union, Petros Elia. Without any proof being produced, Petros was held for 17 hours in Belgravia Police Station along with 5 other protesters, then released on Sunday without charge. His bail conditions, however, as with the other protesters arrested, include prohibiting him from coming within 50 yards of Harrods, effectively precluding him from taking part in any further demonstrations by the union. Even in the long and shameful history of the UK’s industrial disputes, I can’t recall another instance of the General Secretary of a union being prohibited by the police force from approaching the company with which the union he represents is in industrial dispute. Apart from the police abusing their powers of arrest and bail to influence the course of industrial action, all of this contravenes our rights as citizens to move freely (article 5), our freedom of expression (article 10), and our freedom of assembly (article 11), under the European Convention on Human Rights; but then the police have been abusing these rights as a matter of practice for some time now without the need to change the law, as Theresa May will when she introduces the British Bill of Rights.

In reality, though – which is to say, our present reality in the UK – none of this should be surprising, since the Qatar Investment Authority that owns Harrods owns more of London than the Crown Estate, with around £30 billion worth of investments out of an estimated £275 billion in assets worldwide. A sovereign wealth fund set up to manage the surpluses from Qatar’s oil and natural gas reserves – currently the third largest in the world – in practical terms the QIA is the piggy bank of the Al Thani royal family, with the current CEO (who is also a member of the royal family) having been appointed by the Emir of Qatar. Besides its extensive foreign investments, the QIA also profits from the enslavement of millions of workers from India, Nepal, the Philippines, Egypt, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in abject living conditions (below) in Qatar’s building industry. The International Trade Union Confederation has predicted that 7,000 construction workers will die on building sites in preparation for the 2022 Football World Cup in Qatar, where 1.8 million migrant workers are kept in conditions of semi-slavery, with pay withheld, with their passports confiscated, living in work camps and labouring in 50 degree heat. In contrast to which, Qatar’s 278,000 citizens have the highest per capita income in the world.

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The Qatar Investment Authority bought the Harrods Group for £2 billion in 2010, and since then has invested heavily in London real estate, acquiring the Shard, three 5-star London hotels (Claridge’s, the Berkeley and the Connaught), Burberry’s Department Store, the Olympic Village (for which the Clays Lane Estate in Newham was demolished), the US Embassy (which it plans to turn into another luxury hotel), Chelsea Barracks (which it is redeveloping into luxury housing), 1-3 Cornwall Terrace (which it plans to turn into a royal palace for the Al Thani family), the Shell Centre, One Hyde Park, £1 billion and 279 acres of residential property in Mayfair, Camden Market and the whole of Canary Wharf; and its property development company, Qatari Diar, is expanding its portfolio to manage over 4,000 homes in London. The QIA also has substantial shares in Barclays Bank (with which it has twice been investigated and fined by the Serious Fraud Squad), Sainsbury’s Supermarkets, the International Airlines Group (which owns British Airways), Heathrow Airport and the London Stock Exchange.

It is hard to believe – it would be naïve to do so – that it was not under the instruction of this ruthless and immensely influential financial power with a huge presence in London that the Metropolitan Police Force arrested the General Secretary of United Voices of the World at Saturday’s demonstration. The aggressive and heavy-handed police presence at the demonstration was clearly a crude attempt to stamp out the unionisation of the Harrods workers by the UVW and their just demands for all of their tips; and the arrests of their leadership and other members is equally clearly an attempt to bully, intimidate, harass, dissuade and criminalise further union action. This demonstration was reported in advance in papers around the world, and had huge coverage in the UK leading up to Saturday; yet the following day every paper, including The Guardian, The Mirror, The Mail, The Independent and The Telegraph, as well as the reliably biased BBC, reported gleefully on the first two arrests but failed to mention the arrest of the General Secretary of United Voices of the World (the honourable exception to this censorship was The Morning Star). It’s a genuine question: would the UK, were it to apply for re-entry into the European Union, be rejected on the grounds that our police force, national press and elected government fail the requirements of the Democracy Index by repeatedly demonstrating themselves to be the instruments of corporate interest?

When ASH talks about the social cleansing of London we mean not just the forced eviction of the working class from our council estates and the replacement of their homes with investment opportunities for vehicles like the Qatar Investment Authority; we also mean the replacement of that class with a migrant workforce which, like many of the staff at Harrods, are employed on zero hours contracts, on the minimum wage, without unionisation, and who have to commute to work on long journeys from the outer boroughs of London. What is driving social cleansing is not only the enormous financial profits to be made from redeveloping land in Inner London, but the resulting demographic shift that is driving London further and further towards a Parisian model of the city, with a centre for the international rich surrounded by a suburban ring of service industry workers drawn from a largely migrant population. And we saw in 2016 how that social contract is working out.

It should also not surprise us to learn that several protesters, who were arrested later that evening, were initially detained by Harrods security guards in cells they keep for suspected shoplifters located in the basement of the department store. It seems the Qatar royal family not only regards Harrods as part of its private emirate, but believes that British citizens on its property are subject to the same laws under which they keep 1.8 million workers enslaved in Qatar – and judging by the actions of the MET on Saturday they’re right. The use of our police force to break union action and demonstrations, and the increase in their powers of surveillance and arrest under the cloak of protecting us from terrorism, is part of a vast project of social engineering that is transforming every aspect of our public and private lives in the UK, and of which the demolition of our social housing for foreign investment is only one campaign. It is for this reason that ASH has been publicising, supporting and reporting on this struggle by UVW. ‘The workers united will never be defeated’ – a phrase we used at the demonstration – is not just a nostalgic chant, it’s a political imperative; and if we don’t want to see London socially cleansed and replaced with the working conditions, employment practices and class relations being imported from totalitarian states like Qatar, we’d better take up its call now. Architects for Social Housing stands in solidarity with United Voices of the World in our shared struggle to oppose the forces of our economic, political and legal subjugation in 2017.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

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Tower, Slab, Superblock: Social Housing Legacies and Futures

‘In 2004, architects Anne Lacaton, Jean-Philippe Vassal, and Frédéric Druot authored a manifesto on the value of renovation over demolition with a powerful opening statement: “Never demolish, never remove or replace, always add, transform and reuse!” Their study, PLUS, came in response to an architectural competition to replace a 1960s high-rise apartment building on the outskirts of Paris, and has become emblematic of a surging interest in refurbishing post-war high-rise and superblock housing.

‘Cities worldwide undertook major residential building programs in the mid-Twentieth Century to create much-needed new housing for workers and low-income residents. Usually built with direct state intervention and in clustered developments on superblock sites, mass housing took different forms – from carefully detailed British council estates to aggressively pragmatist high-rises in the United States – but held the common promise of modern, reasonably priced apartments. This built fabric today represents a significant physical asset, yet in many cases suffers from maintenance issues, financial disinvestment, and social stigma.

‘Where once demolition seemed the de facto response to these persistent issues, efforts in a number of cities demonstrate that we can serve current residents, steward resources for the future, and reinvigorate the urban fabric through smart public policy and good design. Redevelopment has gone by different names – regeneration, transformation, revitalisation – but in many of the best cases looks to maintain and improve the existing building stock and surroundings. When we choose to reinvest – in many cases the more financially, socially, and environmentally conscious decision – how do we do so in ways that benefit and protect current residents?

Tower, Slab, Superblock: Social Housing Legacies and Futures will examine the history, current status, and prospects of high-rise and superblock residential development. The conference will confront questions of design and policy. What does it mean to reconsider this building stock as an asset, rather than a liability or failure? How can the building stock be reimagined to better serve current residents and future generations? And what roles can architects, designers and affiliated professionals play in housing crises?’

The Architectural League of New York (10 December, 2016)

Confucius Plaza Apartments (1975)

A limited-equity housing cooperative in Chinatown with 762 apartments, the 44-storey Confucius Plaza building was the first major public-funded housing project built almost exclusively for Chinese Americans. Initiated by a Chinese-American shop owner who organised a development group through word of mouth and the use of Chinese-language newspapers, and funded mainly by the Mitchell-Lama Housing Program, the project became the centre of a significant protest led by Asian-Americans for Equal Employment, which protested the lack of Chinese or Asian-American construction workers. Later joined by a host of other Chinatown organisations, as well as city-wide minority workers’ groups including the Black and Puerto Rican Coalition, the demonstrations led to the hiring of roughly 40 Asian-American workers as well as the addition of community and commercial facilities to the housing complex.

Sugar Hill Development (2014)

A mixed-use development in Harlem with 124 apartm, 70 per cent of the Sugar Hill apartments are targeted to extremely low-income (30 per cent Average Median Income, or below $25,750 for a family of four) and very low-income households (50 per cent AMI, or below $42,950 for a family of four), with the remaining 30 per cent rented to households below 80 per cent AMI ($68,700 for a family of four). 25 of the 124 apartments are reserved for homeless families; of the remainder, 50 per cent are reserved for residents of Community District 9. Residents were chosen by lottery and will not pay more than 30 per cent of their gross income in rent. Designed by Adjaye Associates and developed by the not-for-profit Broadway Housing Communities, the 13-storey building also includes, at ground level, a 100-seat pre-school, a children’s art museum and a community room.

– Susanne Schindler, Architecture vs. Housing: The Case of Sugar Hill 

Architects for Social Housing

Avant-Garde Architecture: The Seagram Building

The lesson of modernism was that meaning comes not from content but from relationship. If – and God help our students if we were – ASH was teaching a class in architecture, our first lesson would be to ask our students to write an essay on the Seagram Building, for our money among the best buildings in Manhattan. Unlike all the muscular frat boys rubbing shoulders as they push through Midtown East, it sits back from both Park Avenue and 53rd Street in its own plaza, which, apart from a flagpole and (when we were there) some seasonal Christmas trees, is completely bare. This gives it all the room it needs, and like Lionel Messi on the edge of the opposition’s box, you can’t take your eyes of it. It sits there, wrapped in what looks like the blackest black you’ve ever seen, brooding. You’re not even sure whether it heard your stammered offer to buy it a drink, let alone whether it’ll accept one. It has a hundred thousand imitators, many of them standing within a few blocks, but no equal. That’s not surprising. Each art movement has its day, and later imitators can never equal the inventors: Picasso in Cubism, Holiday in Jazz singing, Parker in Bebop, Dylan in popular music. Mies van der Rohe was one of the handful of inventors of this architectural language, and this is his masterpiece.

The noisy idiots – and they are legion, particularly in this country, particularly in positions of power – who dismiss the modernist grid as repetitive and boring have gelded eyes, and should confine themselves to a-symbolic gasps at the latest clothes on the Emperor’s fashion parade. You might as meaningfully dismiss Mondrian’s Neo-plasticism, which for twenty years limited its palette to a black grid on a white ground with three primary colours. And Mies van der Rohe, if anything, has gone even further, to something like the black-on-black paintings of Rodchenko. Everything here is about proportions. The proportion of the building to the plaza, of height to width, front to side, footprint to mass, of ground and top floor to the floors between, of windows to crossbeams, frontage to reception, doorway to door, of each element of the grid to the totality – which is what this building is: a total work of art, combining every lesson on architecture from Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library to Le Corbussier’s Unité d’habitation, and containing within it a thousand more buildings – if only architects knew how to look as well as build.

Architecture is an experiential form, and if you can’t feel in your bones the rightness and harmony and tensions and dynamism and mass of these proportions as you walk around this building, you have no right putting yourself forward to become an architect. Nowadays (and perhaps it was ever thus) we are inundated with musicians with no ear, artists with no eye, actors with no voice, dancers who can’t move, singers who can’t sing, writers with no feeling for words. But above all, looking around London, we are suffering under a time in which the buildings being thrust upon us – from the anodyne homogeneity of the New London Vernacular to the back-of-a-napkin doodles of the towers lining the Thames – are quite clearly designed by architects who have no eye for formal relationships, no sense of composition, no awareness of proportion, no feeling for architectural form – by architects, in other words, who are not architects.

And above all, by architects with no interest in the social dimension of architecture. I said an appreciation of the formal relationships of the Seagram Building would be the first lesson, not the last. ASH is not a modernist architectural practice but an avant-garde collective. No doubt the designers of parametric blancmanges, high-tech emporia and amusingly nicknamed towers will think us arrogant if we say that ASH, to our knowledge, is the only avant-garde architectural collective in the U.K. But before its innovations in form were turned into the formalism of the post-war neo-avant-garde, whose proponents lived largely in the United States, the avant-garde was first and foremost a response to changing social circumstances. Dada, which rose in rebellion against the insanity of the Great War, was exemplary in this respect, and has much to tell us about our own epoch of violent absurdity. The Seagram Building, completed in 1958 and designed by a leading member of the European avant-garde who moved to the U.S., is a prime example of the decadence into which modernism fell. Perfect in its formal relationships, its formal purity is utterly corrupted by its social use – its International Style having become the perfect expression of the international capitalism of its tenants. Originally designed as the headquarters for the Canadian distillers Joseph E. Seagram’s & Sons, today the building is occupied by the following companies:

  • Quadrangle Group, a private investment firm that has raised $3 billion of equity capital;
  • Trilantic Capital Partners, a global private equity firm with aggregate capital commitments of approximately $6 billion;
  • Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, a private equity investment firm managing $17 billion of assets in 52 businesses with an aggregate transaction value in excess of $80 billion;
  • Centerbridge Partners, a multi-strategy private investment firm managing over $25 billion of assets;
  • Winton Capital Management, a British investment management firm managing $25 billion of assets;
  • Wells Fargo & Company, an American international banking and financial services holding company with $1.849 trillion of assets. In 2015 it became the world’s largest bank by market capitalisation before slipping behind JP Morgan Chase in September 2016 in the wake of a scandal involving the alleged creation of over 2 million fake bank accounts by thousands of Wells Fargo employees. Has since become the third-largest U.S. bank by assets, and the second largest by deposits, home mortgage servicing and debit cards, and was ranked 7th on the Forbes Magazine Global 2000 list of the largest public companies in the world.

Perhaps the U.S. flag that flutters in the plaza stands for all this horror. So even if you are one of those architects who can see and feel and appreciate the formal purity of the Seagram Building (to which these photographs only approximate), don’t start patting yourself on the back just yet, because if you can’t also see and feel and get angry about – and more importantly want to do something about – its social and political dimension, then you don’t belong with ASH.

And whatever you feel, before you presume to put yourself forward to be an architect, ask yourself first what the final and ultimately determining relationship of this building is – which is the social relationship between its perfection of form and corruption of content. Because only when you understand that the separation of form from content, of the appearance of a building from its social and economic use, is an abstract division that serves the ideology of the abstract markets of capitalism, where profit is divorced from the labour from which it is extracted, and the value of housing is measured by other criteria than its use as a home, will you be ready to become an architect for social housing.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

15 Truths About London’s Housing Crisis

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ASH Presentation to the Architectural League of New York (Part One)

London is experiencing a housing crisis, unprecedented in its severity, whose solution demands taking tough decisions. An already densely populated island is predicted to see a major increase in population, and nowhere more so than in its capital. An influx of migrants and refugees will push Greater London’s population up from its current peak of 8.6 million to approaching 10 million by 2020. Land in London is scarce and correspondingly some of the most expensive in the world. The building industry is ready to take up the challenge and build the homes that Londoners need. But they need land.

Although large in expanse, London housing is low in density. Following the population decline in the 1950s and 60s, poorly designed Brutalist council estates were hastily erected across the city, replacing London’s traditional terraces with high-rise but low-density tower blocks. However, intrinsic design flaws and poor build standards have inevitably given rise to crime, anti-social behaviour, drug culture and even rioting.

But there is a solution. Independent think-tanks have all arrived at the same conclusion: that here, on these sink estates, lies the brownfield land developers need to meet London’s housing demands. In place of housing estates come to the end of their life span we need to build new ‘city villages’. In place of high-rise and low-density we need to build medium-rise high-density on London’s traditional street plan. In place of hastily erected, pre-fabricated concrete blocks we need to build high-quality, low-energy homes that will last for generations.

Under central government cuts necessitated by a program of fiscal austerity, local authorities are working to get the best deal for existing residents, while at the same time building the homes that that will enable a new generation of Londoners to get onto the city’s property ladder. In close consultation with estate communities, the architectural profession is already designing homes to the highest standard. And the architectural press, vigilant to the ethical dimension of the profession, is reporting on London’s transition to a fairer, more inclusive, less segregated, more multicultural city of mixed communities, while celebrating the emergence of a new London vernacular in architecture.

According to the National Centre for Social Research, 86 per cent of the British population wants to own their own home. To this end, the Government has promised a multi-billion pound investment programme to build a proportion of affordable housing on every new development; and the London Mayor has committed to building 50,000 new homes a year for the next five years, doubling the current rate of completion. Backed by the foreign investment a post-Brexit UK needs to be competitive, the private sector will create the new communities London needs to thrive in the Twenty-first Century. By cutting through the red tape of bureaucratic planning requirements, the Government’s Housing and Planning Act is the first step towards this vision of a new London. In this historic undertaking, the architectural profession is ready to take a leading role.

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This – more or less – is the narrative to which every politician, councillor, consultant, builder, property developer, housing association, real estate agent, academic, journalist and architect in London has subscribed and repeats pretty much verbatim and certainly ad infinitum. The truth, however, is something very different. Here are fifteen truths about London’s so-called housing crisis.

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1. London is experiencing a boom in the housing market. According to figures released last month, London house prices have risen 86 per cent since 2009. In May of this year, the average price of a home in Greater London passed £600,000 (about $760,000), and is currently over £970,000 ($1,230,000) in Inner London. The housing crisis in London is not one of supply but of affordability, with 56 per cent of homes failing to meet this criterion in the new Living Home Standard.

FACTS. In the two years up to December 2015 property wealth in the UK increased by nearly £400 billion, more than twice the GDP of Finland, and now constitutes an economy in itself. During this time, the wealth of the richest 10 per cent of UK households increased by 21 per cent by doing little more than owning their own homes.

2. The UK is anything but crowded. Twice as much land, nearly 2 per cent of England, is given over to golf courses than to housing. 10 per cent of England’s land is classified as urban, with most of that taken up by gardens, parks, roads and lakes. Just 2.27 per cent of that land is built upon, and only 1.1 per cent is used for homes. As for all those foreigners coming over and stealing our homes, the entire UK accepted a net migration of just 333,000 in 2015, well short of the predicted population increase in London alone.

FACTS. During the worse refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War, the UK granted asylum status to just 13,905 people in 2015, with the promise to accept another 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.

3. At the end of 2015, the top nine house builders in the UK were sitting on land sufficient to build 600,000 new homes. Land, not materials or labour, determines the value of real estate, and the less there is of it the more it costs. London, consequently, has some of the most expensive land prices of any major city in the world – more expensive than New York, comparable to Singapore and Hong Kong – and therefore the most expensive house prices in the world.

FACTS. The Berkeley Group, which owns land for 43,200 homes, built a mere 3,350 properties in the UK in 2016, yet its profit margins are the highest of any builder in Britain, rising from 27 per cent in 2010 to 34 per cent in 2015. The pre-tax profits of Barratt Homes, currently sitting on land for 142,100 homes, rose from £42.7 million in 2011 to £565 million this year; those of Persimmon Homes, sitting on land for 92,400 homes, rose from £144 million to £638 million.

4. While Inner London doesn’t have the population densities of the overcrowded slums of its pre-war peak, the areas the developers have their claws into – the traditionally working-class boroughs of Islington, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Lambeth – are the most densely populated in London. What identifies the Inner London boroughs chosen for ‘densification’ is not their insufficiency of population, but their plenitude of council estates.

FACTS. Islington has a population density of 14,735 residents per km², the highest in London; Tower Hamlets has 14,201, Hackney 13,850, and Lambeth 11,358. Only the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea comes between them with 13,016 residents per km². The City of Westminster, at the very centre of London, has a far lower population density (11,109 residents per km²) than these boroughs, and is only slightly higher than that of Camden (10,675) and Southwark (10,432). Westminster, moreover, has 11,457 properties registered to off-shore companies, and therefore presumably standing empty. Yet we don’t hear calls for them to be bought by compulsory purchase order and demolished to make way for new housing at greater densities. Both these boroughs are, of course, the only Inner London boroughs run by a Conservative Council.

5. Because of this, a concerted campaign has been waged against the design and build of council estates and the communities they house as broken, come to the end of their life, as architecturally flawed, a socialist dream turned nightmare, as full of immigrants and benefit scroungers, as valueless and vacant voids from which wealth can and should be extracted. In reality, crime rates on council estates are consistently lower than in the surrounding area, and their managed decline is easily reversible with the maintenance that has been withheld for decades. But to prepare the British public for the land grab that is driving the demolition of our estates, this image of the 5 million homes in which 17 per cent of UK households still live is propagated and repeated in every news report, reality TV show, government announcement, mayoral manifesto, council meeting, builder’s publication, developer’s conference and architectural presentation.

6. And where the press has led, the think tanks have followed – not in independent pursuit of solutions to the housing crisis, but under the patronage of the public and private bodies that have most to gain from it. London’s housing policy is being written by a real estate firm, think tanks are funded by housing associations, academic reports commissioned by building companies, government housing commissions chaired by property developers. It is hardly surprising, then, that all are agreed on a common aim, from which their sponsors, funders and backers will make the greatest financial profit and political capital.

FACTS. Peabody housing association, which owns and manages around 27,000 homes in London, funded and helped write the Institute for Public Policy Research report ‘City Villages’, to which politicians of all political stripes regularly refer when repeating the discourse of London’s housing crisis. The Berkeley Group recently commissioned the London School of Economics to write another supposedly independent report arguing why it, and not our local authorities, should be tasked with building not just our homes but our communities. The London Housing Commission, which was set up by the IPPR, is chaired by the Chairman of Peabody and sponsored by real estate firm Savills, whose report, ‘Completing London’s Streets’, is the source of the Mayor’s housing policy. And Policy Exchange, another so-called independent think-tank, whose report ‘Create Streets’ has had a huge influence on identifying the objectives of The London Plan, is funded and supported by the Conservative Party.

7. In place of the demolished estates, high-quality, high-value housing is universally recommended as the answer to London’s housing crisis, replacing the only homes to have escaped the city’s rocketing rental prices with financial assets for non-domicile real estate investors, buy-to-let landlords and property speculators. The more council homes are demolished, the more luxury apartments get built, and the worse the housing crisis gets. This leads to louder calls to build more high-value housing, resulting in more social housing being destroyed. And so it goes, like a dog chasing its own tail. And far from being high quality, the new builds are often of shoddy standard. To take one example, a block of flats built by Wandle Housing, a housing association supported by the London Mayor, is being pulled down after only six years due to water damage. And under private building companies, space standards have gone out the window.

8. While local authorities have suffered huge cuts to their budgets by Central Government, this in no way justifies the estate demolition programme being pursued by London councils. The refurbishment and infill of existing estates, which can increase their housing capacity by up to 50 per cent, has consistently been shown to cost a fraction of their demolition and redevelopment. The motivation behind estate demolition is not the re-housing of more Londoners at higher densities in better homes, but the enormous profits to be gained from building high-value real estate on sought-after land. The resulting demographic shift is driving London further and further towards a Parisian model of the city, with a centre for the international rich surrounded by a suburban ring of service industry workers drawn from a largely migrant population. And we saw in 2016 how that social contract is working out.

9. Far from being consulted, estate communities are fed disinformation, made false promises and lied to. From the moment they are informed their estate is being considered for ‘regeneration’, to the moment the decision to demolish their homes is publically declared to be the only financially viable option, they are repeatedly told that nothing has been decided. In fact, the decision to demolish an estate is made long before the so-called consultation with its residents begins. Those who subsequently offer resistance are branded as troublemakers, banned from council meetings, removed from engagement panels, and even threatened with the law; and the architectural and financial alternatives they offer to the demolition of their homes are dismissed out of hand by local authorities, many of whom are hand in glove with the building industry.

10. If the architectural press is vigilant, it is not to the ethical dimension of the profession, but rather to the shrinking of the remit of architects to little more than technicians. Whether debating the ethics of building a sports stadium in Qatar or demolishing a council estate in London, article after editorial informs us that such concerns lie ‘outside’ the concerns of architecture. The social – and often socialist – vision of the post-war estates being demolished to make way for the anodyne homogeneity of the new London vernacular is almost entirely lacking from contemporary practitioners. As Woody Allen might say, not since the Nuremberg Trials has the defence of ‘I’m just doing my job’ been so quoted by architects when confronted with the social realities of estates demolition.

11. As for an Englishman’s apparently innate desire to ‘own his own home’ – rents on the private market in Greater London have risen by 9.6 per cent in the past two years alone to an average of £1,540 per month (nearly $2,000). Over the next quarter of a century rents are predicted to rise at twice the rate of incomes, and renters will be twice as likely to live in poverty. Confronted with such uncertainty, who wouldn’t want to own their own home? But at the prices for which new builds in London are selling, home ownership in the capital has steadily fallen since 2003. Yet builders keep building more homes for sale at prices only the very wealthy can afford.

FACTS. Under the promise of home ownership millions of council homes were lost to tenants’ Right to Buy their council house at a state funded discount; but 25 per cent of the homes so purchased are now being rented out for higher rents by private landlords. A report released in January 2013 showed that in London 36 per cent of homes bought under Right to Buy, 52,000 former council properties, were being rented back from private landlords by local authorities trying to house their ever increasing numbers of homeless constituents. In 2015, property developers in London sold 5,300 two-bedroom homes costing between £650,000 and £1 million, but only 2,000 for around £300,000. 

12. In defiance of this housing need, the Government has promised £2.3 billion in state subsidies for 200,000 so-called ‘starter homes’, which now supplant previous provisions for social housing. Purchased at a 20 per cent discount on market rate, investors can sell these properties for the full price five years after purchase. It’s hard to imagine a greater incentive to property speculation. Not to be outdone, the London Mayor has just reduced his campaign promise to build 50 per cent affordable housing on all new developments down to 35 per cent; and his much awaited definition of a London Living Rent turns out to be yet another incentive to get on the property ladder. Even if he manages to oversee the 90,000 so-called ‘affordable’ homes he has promised in the next five years, at up to 80 per cent of market rate few of these will house the 250,000 London households currently on housing waiting lists, or the 240,000 London households with 320,000 children living in overcrowded accommodation, or the 50,000 London households with 78,000 children that are currently homeless and living in temporary accommodation.

13. Far from providing the much needed injection of capital required to build the homes Londoners need, the 25 per cent return on their investment builders are now receiving is assuring that the proportion of even affordable housing on new developments is being driven further and further down. Not a single London borough met its affordable housing quotas last year, with just 13 per cent of new homes approved as such – a 24-year low. By contrast, the five largest building companies made pre-tax profits of £2 billion, up from £354 million in 2010, and have promised an extra £6.6 billion in dividends to shareholders by 2021.

FACTS. In Elephant Park, a 2,535 apartment development in London’s Zone 1, international developer Lendlease, with the help of a viability assessment by real estate firm Savills, has managed to convince Southwark Labour Council they can only afford to replace the 1,200 council homes demolished to make way for the new development with 82 homes for social rent. On the 1 billion Bankside Quarter development being built on London’s Southbank, the same council has accepted that the developer, Native Land, which is backed by an international consortium of Singapore and Malaysian property developers, cannot afford a single affordable home in its 490 luxury apartments. The fact they offered the council £65 million to build them elsewhere may have helped. And on the Ferrier Estate in south-east London, the Berkeley Group is replacing 1,906 demolished council homes with 4,398 luxury apartments ranging from £412,500 for a one-bedroom apartment to £900,000 for a four-bedroom townhouse, not one of which is for social rent.

14. Worse, even, than its extension of the Right to Buy to housing associations, its introduction of market rents for households in social housing earning just over the minimum wage, its enforced sale of council homes that become vacant, its phasing out of secure council tenancies, and its removal of the obligation to build any new homes for social rent, the Housing and Planning Act has all but deregulated planning. Planning permission in principle will now be granted to any new housing development on the newly defined category of ‘brownfield land’. Previously used to refer to ex-industrial or commercial land that required clearing up before redevelopment, this now includes existing housing estates. It’s on the back of this legislation that the Government has announced its plans to ‘blitz’ 100 so-called sink estates, many of which will be located on London’s prime land. All that requires clearing up are the residents whose homes stand in the way.

15. Finally, in this vast programme of social cleansing, which will see the greatest change to the demographic of London in generations, architects are playing a role that future generations – if we should ever come out the other side of this historical moment – will look back at in shame, and wonder, much as we do now about the 1930s, how we could ever have let it happen.

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Architects are good at solving problems. But to come up with solutions to the current housing crisis we first have to recognise what that crisis is and what is causing it. Architects for Social Housing, which we set up two years ago in order to offer architectural alternatives to estate demolition, has being pursuing the following practical solutions.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

2 or 3 Solutions to London’s Housing Crisis

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ASH Presentation to the Architectural League of New York (Part Two)

One of the key ways in which ASH is responding to this threat to our social housing is through the production of architectural alternatives to estate demolition through designs for infill, roof extensions and refurbishment that increase the housing capacity on the estates and renovate the existing homes while leaving the communities they house intact.

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Residents from West Ken and Gibbs Green estates in West London have been fighting for 7 years against the demolition of their homes by the developer CAPCO as part of their £1.2billion earls court development. In September of last year, ASH was approached by the residents of the estates to do a feasibility study for additional homes and community facilities, and refurbishment to the existing homes and improvements to the existing landscape. This feasibility study is the basis of the residents’ current application for the right to transfer the estates from the local council into their own ownership and management.

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West Kensington And Gibbs Green is comprised of two neighbouring estates of 730 homes for around 2000 residents. Architecturally they are composed of a diverse range of building types from 4 bed family houses with gardens, to medium rise two-storey maisonettes around communal courtyards and one and two bed flats in 10-12-storey towers.

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Over the following months, ASH conducted a series of six design workshops attended by around 200 residents overall. These were set up in order to get to know the residents and the estate, and to understand what the residents wanted to see happen there.

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As the consultation progressed, these workshops also allowed us to use a diverse range of media to draw and test ideas with the residents. We also communicated issues like planning and other constraints, as well as our own design ideas, so that they could get an understanding of the process, and a genuine picture of the options available to them.

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ASH took all the information we obtained during the course of these workshops and located the comments on a giant map that was to grow and grow as our knowledge increased, and the project unfolded: green for things they liked, red for things they didn’t like, and blue for solutions and opportunities.

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In addition to these workshops, we also organised a series of evening resident led walks about the estates.

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As part of these walks we arranged to visit inside residents’ homes to get an understanding of each of the typical layouts and how they worked. It was also an opportunity to get to know the residents better, and to hear them talk about what their homes mean to them and how much they love living there. This revealed one of the key issues at the heart of the current problem – namely, that these are people’s homes that are being destroyed.

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Homes that are not simply units for sale or investment.

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Homes that are anything but the generic poverty traps we are presented with in the press.

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Homes that are not simply commodities to be exchanged.

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But well-loved places of memory and experience.

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From the walks and information gathered during the course of the consultation events, ASH started to draw what we were beginning to understand: the routes residents took through the estate.

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And the boundaries we encountered.

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Finally we produced a map that located all the places which the residents and ASH had identified as locations for improvements, infill or roof extensions.

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Our final design proposes around 250-330 new homes on the estate. This includes infill housing, shown in yellow, and roof extensions, shown in pink. In addition to new flats we designed new community facilities, single-storey disabled or elderly housing, and new townhouses for larger families. We also designed improvements to the landscape, such as new and improved play areas, and an increased biodiversity across the whole site. Refurbishments to the existing blocks included winter gardens to the towers (with an increase of around 15 square metres on existing studio flats) as well as improved insulation and ventilation strategies, plus renewable energy sources.

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ASH produced specific designs for each site we identified, and we exhibited these designs last December to a room of around 60 residents who both helped present and commented on the proposals. Here we can see proposals for infill housing and two floors of roof extensions in Gibbs Green.

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And here we can see the designs for the winter gardens and roof extensions to the tower blocks and to the existing lower maisonettes (to the right) with new west-facing roof gardens.

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Beside a renovated playground, ASH proposed new single-storey housing for elderly and disabled residents who are either downsizing or in need of supported accommodation. This could in turn free up the larger homes for families that are currently living in overcrowded accommodation elsewhere on the estate. ASH proposed that some of the currently under-used garages could be converted to workshops that could provide some income for the estate, low cost workspaces for residents, and would also contribute to the social qualities of this outdoor space.

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ASH proposed a new infill block adjacent to an existing tower. This has a new community space on the ground floor that could open up to Franklin Square for community events.

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This is the largest of the new infill sites providing around 60 new flats of a range of sizes built on the site of the previous single-storey community hall – which is relocated. This set of buildings is built around a new public space, and provides a new entrance to the estate from the south.

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The project has been costed, and a viability assessment produced. ASH is confident that the rent or sale of a proportion of these new homes will enable all the existing homes to be refurbished and all the proposed improvements to the landscape to take place.

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ASH’s model of the estate proposals now remains with the residents who use it to describe the project to visitors, in this case Green Party Mayoral candidate Sian Berry, who has been very supportive of the project.

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Residents from Central Hill Estate in the borough of Lambeth, South London, approached us in May 2015, following the announcement by the local authority of their desire to demolish their homes. Although in many cases residents are promised brand new homes at the same rent on the new redevelopment, the reality is that in almost every case, rents increase, and even those lucky enough to be rehoused, or who have survived 10 years on a building site, often find themselves struggling financially as a result. In a recent report, the Joseph Rowntree foundation showed that existing residents are typically worse off as a result of estate regeneration schemes.

slide25In the case of the Heygate Estate, also in south London in the adjoining borough of Southwark, residents were forced out of their homes which had been sold to the developer Lend lease to make way for the demolition and rebuilding of 2704 new homes, of which only 82 are to be for social rent. In the new Trafalgar place development – one of the first developments on the demolished estate – which was in fact nominated for this year’s Stirling Prize (a nomination ASH protested against) – a 2-bedroom flat is now going for £725,000. As you can see from the maps, the residents, both homeowners and tenants alike had to move miles away from their homes to be able to find somewhere they could afford to live.

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The managed decline of these housing estates by local authorities, is cited by those same authorities as proof that is no other alternative to demolition. Their subsequent demonization as places of crime and antisocial behavior by the media, leads to the wider cultural acceptance of their demolition among the general public. Both of these assumptions are fundamentally untrue, and are deliberately masking deeper problems of poverty and austerity, which are in fact only being exacerbated through demolition projects such as this. To the left is an image tweeted by the local councilor and cabinet member for housing, claiming that mold is one of the reasons the estate must be demolished. To the right an image tweeted by PRP, the local authority’s architect, accompanied with the question ‘Would you walk down this alleyway?’ Here is ASH’s alternative narrative confronting the propaganda of estate demolition with the reality of estate living.

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These last few slides were taken at an event ASH organised called Open Garden Estates, in which a dozen estates across London took part this year. This was an event designed to challenge the negative propaganda around council estates, as well as provide residents with an opportunity to organise their campaigns, and make contact with other estates in similar situations.

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Central Hill Estate was designed around the existing trees and landscape, and is made up of pedestrian ‘ways’ off which pairs of stacked maisonettes are arranged over the hillside, with every home having a view of London to the north, and a courtyard to the south.

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Central Hill is an estate of 456 homes, ranging from studios to 6-bedroom houses.

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All of which are currently threatened with total demolition.

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In contrast to this, ASH’s proposal retains and refurbishes all the existing homes, keeps as many of the existing trees as possible, while making improvements to the landscape and community facilities, all paid for by the rent or sale of a proportion of the new homes.

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ASH’s proposal identifies the possibility for over 200 new homes on Central Hill estate. Infill housing in yellow occupies unused and derelict sites around the edges of the estate. Roof extensions, in pink, consists of one or two additional floors on top of some of the existing flats around the edges of the estate where they do not obscure any views. These would be lightweight prefabricated construction, craned into position.

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Site 1 identifies the existing boiler house as a potential site for an infill development, and a new entrance to the estate, where we could build a new 7-storey block of 28 flats above workshops or other commercial spaces below. Architecturally this retains the chimneys, which are a significant part of the history of the site. Thriving cities are built up in layers over time, cultivating memories, and enabling the growth of their communities, not erased every few decades. On Sites 3 and 4 ASH are proposing to demolish the existing single story community centre to free up more green open space, and re-provide the community facilities on the ground floor of a new building forming a new urban edge to the adjacent street.

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All around the edges of the estate, we have added new housing that addresses both the estate, and the neighbouring streets, knitting the estate into the surroundings. Lining the main road at the top of the hill, we propose strips of 2-storey housing which sits above an underused access road, and makes a new façade for the estate. This also provides some disabled access housing and improved access into the estate, which has been identified as a problem by the residents.

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ASH is collaborating with a sustainable energy consultant who is currently doing a calculation for the amount of embodied carbon in the existing homes. We have been told that it would take around 60 years for a new more energy efficient building to pay off the environmental costs of demolition. If this is the case, given the often poor quality of replacement housing, its unlikely that what is going to be built in its place will be there that long. We also explored the refurbishment of the existing homes, in particular the possibilty of extending the homes horizontally on the existing terraces.

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We have had our scheme costed by a quantity surveyor, who calculated that the construction of 220 new homes and new community facilities comes to around £75 million. Lambeth Council’s own surveyor has evaluated the cost of refurbishment of the existing homes as around £12 million, or £18 million if we include internal refurbishments, which has been funded by the government’s Decent Homes programme. This comes to a grand total of £93 million. If we assume a similar cost per square metre, not taking into account the highly complex site conditions, which necessitated one of the most expensive estate projects of its time, or the costs of demolition, the notional cost of simply rebuilding the existing 456 homes would come to over £100 million. And that’s before a single new home has been built.

ASH believes that our proposal is the most socially, environmentally and financially viable future for Central Hill Estate, respecting the existing environment, homes, and community. slide47The city is a palimpsest of its making, and the erasure of its history is always an ideological act. Architects are happy to talk about how to build our way out of the housing crisis, but we are less willing to engage with the fact that estate demolition – and our own role in it – is one of the forces driving this so-called crisis. If architects are going to have a meaningful role to play in the future of our cities, we have to start establishing our priorities, challenging the rhetoric about the housing crisis, questioning our own role in current housing policy, and, like our forbears, contributing to a vision of the social housing of the future. Architecture is always political.

Geraldine Dening
Architects for Social Housing