Why do our practices get no bad press … when we’re carrying out Schumacher’s vision for London?

WHO ARE WE?

We are not … Patrik Schumacher

                      …  Starchitects

                      … “Social housing stars!

WHAT ARE WE RESPONDING TO?

We’ve watched closely, these past few weeks, as the media-storm around Patrik Schumacher’s keynote address at 2016’s World Architecture Festival has hit the mainstream press. Much of the public anger has been directed at Schumacher as an isolated individual. The predominant response from the architectural establishment has been to frame his views as an aberration, carefully distanced from the profession’s official line. Phineas Harper of the Architectural Foundation, writing in Dezeen, described Schumacher’s views as a ‘fantasy’, and urged – ‘[i]t is time to stop listening’. This disguises the fact that, far from being a fantasy, Schumacher’s super-capitalist capital is already being designed by London-based architects. Architects for Social Housing has been an outspoken and active critic, proposing alternatives to demolition projects; whilst the architectural profession in general has been complacent and complicit in the wholesale privatisation of public land and the social cleansing of our cities. At least Schumacher is honest.

The architects who seize and capitalise upon the complete annihilation of so-called ‘sink estates’ are not decried, as Schumacher has rightfully been, but instead awarded the ultimate commendation for their ‘outstanding’ design work.

The offices we work for operate in the practice of estate regeneration, generating huge revenues from their services to both Labour and Tory councils in increasing land value and displacing the undesirables. Our bosses profit from the rhetoric of a ‘housing crisis’, growing their businesses in the time of a recession; their dubious work done in the name of improvement and progress. They are seen as champions of solutions to a problem rather than the architects of it.

The work we do is disguised as community-led, consultation-driven and contextually-aware. Hand-crafted ‘friendly’-looking timber models and quirky hand drawings, trotted out at community presentations, hide the brutality of demolition and architectural construction that is devoid of context. A sweet PR game is played with the media, from the safety of a plush office interior. Meanwhile, bosses are more than happy to pay their workers less than London Living Wage, whilst we undertake the work that prices us out of our city. The hypocrisy of this situation points to the utter corruption of the system as it stands.

WHAT DO WE SUGGEST?

Schumacher – who admits he has little concrete knowledge to back his ‘solutions’ to the ‘housing crisis’, and has no involvement with public housing projects in London  – has already agreed to a public debate with ASH.

We now challenge the heads of leading regeneration practices, as housing “specialists”, to counter our insights, and participate in an open debate about the gentrification they are enabling.

dRMM – Alex De Rijke, Sadie Morgan, Philip Marsh, Jonas Lencer

Haworth Tompkins – Graham Haworth, Steve Tompkins

HTA Design – Ben Derbyshire (President-Elect of RIBA)

Karakusevic Carson Architects – Paul Karakusevic

Mae – Alex Ely

PRP – Anne-Marie Nicholson, Neil Griffiths, Brendan Kilpatrick

We are workers of major regeneration practices, and for fear of our jobs we will remain anonymous. We encourage all dissenting voices, who bear witness to the atrocities executed in the name of ‘urban progress’, to come forward and disclose their experiences to architecturalworkers@riseup.net 

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9 thoughts on “Why do our practices get no bad press … when we’re carrying out Schumacher’s vision for London?”

  1. Thank you for your invitation. I would be pleased to join you in a discussion and correct assumptions that you are making about what motivates, me and my practice. Please put forward some dates and I will confirm my availability. As you are keen to have transparency about what motivates me I kindly ask the same in return and wish to know who I am addressing.

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    1. Dear Alex,

      Thank you for your response. We are pleased that you have accepted our invitation to a public debate. We will put forward dates once all practices have confirmed. Like you, we are keen to widen the discussion of regeneration projects currently being pursued. As stated above, we work in London’s leading architectural offices, dealing with the demolition and refurbishment of council housing. As workers, anonymity is essential protection in our vulnerable position, enabling us to continue organising. It also allows us to ask the important questions that we are unable to voice at work, in a space that is safe. Our aim is to provide the public with a necessary interrogation of London’s housing industry and its key actors. We look forward to hearing from you at the debate.

      Architectural Workers

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  2. Anonymity may allow you to ask important questions in a space that is safe but also allows you to make defamatory statements without being held accountable for them.

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  3. Dear Architectural Workers,

    We share your desire to see these complex issues discussed and debated openly and for the RIBA to support this by providing a platform for it. I am aware that the RIBA is actively looking at this, that Jane Duncan has a series of debates starting in the New Year including the issues raised by Patrik Schumacher’s speech and wider issues of regeneration.

    If any of your number actually do work in my practice, as is implied by your correspondence, they cannot have failed to notice that we have already been explicitly clear about our views on this matter. We have set these out in our joint publication ‘Altered Estates’ ( http://www.alteredestates.co.uk/ ) in widely attended presentations on the matter at The London Society, National Housing Federation conference, New London Architecture and so on. An abbreviated version also appears in the current edition of The London Society Journal.

    Your correspondence contains one assertion I feel I must respond to right away, and ahead of the debate we would all like to see. You imply that we are happy to pay at less than The London Living Wage. None of our employees is paid less than the London Living Wage. In fact we benchmark our salary structure carefully to ensure that it is fair and competitive, we are proud to hold ‘Investors in People’ status and to be listed amongst Building Magazine’s top 50 employers.

    So I too look forward to the debates taking place. I quite understand that housing is inescapably political and that there are wide ranging views about it, as we have seen. The debates should serve to inform opinion in what threatens to become a ‘post truth’ age; they should be open, measured and meaningful. In that context, we are more than happy to participate and to present our long history of regeneration projects, of which we are extremely proud, for public scrutiny.

    Yours sincerely,

    Ben Derbyshire.

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  4. Dear Ben,

    Many thanks for your enthusiastic response. We welcome your future participation in what we hope will be a key debate on London regeneration for all.

    The explicit centering of the topic of regeneration in Altered Estates is applaudable. In practice, we’ve experienced a dissonance between what our offices say and what they do. Within the document, there’s a problematic reliance on the language of crisis, by which increasingly extreme actions are justified. Also troubling is the core assumption that gentrification is an inevitable fact of life; diminishing the role of architects, planners, politicians and developers alongside the real estate market. The proclaimed goal of ‘mixed neighbourhoods’, to be achieved through regeneration, paints council estates as places of ‘concentrated social deprivation’. Some of us grew up on London estates, and know from first hand experience that they can be the most socially diverse neighbourhoods to be found. We will be publishing a detailed response to Altered Estates, alongside other key publications, in the coming weeks.

    What measures are you using to calculate the London Living Wage? As we are sure you are aware, this is £9.75/hour, with overtime paid at the same rate. By our calculations, staff across all of the practices we have engaged with have been systematically underpaid, in contradiction to RIBA’s criteria for chartered practices.

    We look forward to further discussion.

    Architectural Workers.

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