“2.1 The objects of the Royal Institute are the advancement of Architecture and the promotion of the acquirement of the knowledge of the Arts and Sciences connected therewith” – II Objects and Powers, RIBA Charter and Byelaws, 1971.
The Royal Institute of British Architects is not a union, nor an ethical regulator. It represents the concerns of its wealthiest members, whilst avoiding directly addressing the real issues that face our cities today. In the public document ‘Housing Matters: #20ways to tackle the housing crisis’, RIBA recommends that local government should act as private developer, through Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs). More and more councils are trying to pass off high-risk SPVs as a easy solution to their ‘housing crises’. To take one example, ‘Homes for Lambeth‘ is the entity that is, as only one of its major regeneration projects, driving the demolition of 6 major estates – Central Hill (PRP Architects), Cressingham Gardens, Fenwick (Karakusevic Carson Architects), Knight’s Walk (Mae Architects), South Lambeth (PTE Architects) and Westbury (Metropolitan Workshop with Maccreanor Lavington Architects) – under the tagline of “More and Better Homes”.
RIBA doesn’t protect Workers’ Rights
Above: The RIBA stipulate in their Chartered Practice Criteria that practices must pay the appropriate Living Wage. If you work full-time (40 hours a week) in London you are therefore entitled to a minimum £20,280 per annum, and must be paid or compensated by time in lieu for any overtime worked.
The information provided by RIBA to employees and employers about pay and regulation of hours is scattered between documents and unclear.
On the RIBA Appointments Salary guide 2017 the recommended salary for a Part-I architectural assistant is between £18,000 – £22,000 . This range falls below the London Living Wage if you work 40 hours a week. A typical contract will stipulate a 37.5 – 40 hour week, but most employers and RIBA’s pay-scale do not recognise the industry’s reliance on regular unpaid overtime. The Living Wage Foundation advises that in order to qualify as a Living Wage Employer, as RIBA state all practices must be to be Chartered, then overtime must be properly reimbursed.
RIBA: Podium for Destruction
The RIBA repeatably ignore the context to the designs that they so enthusiastically reward. Their latest exhibition, Social Housing: Definitions and Exemplars is representative of RIBA’s default stance – to produce superficial gestures towards social awareness and engagement, without serious engagement with current issues that affect both people who work in architecture and people who are impacted by architectural work.
Historic Complaints Still Relevant
The Architects Revolutionary Council was a group of students fighting the same RIBA in the 1970s. What has changed in 40 years? Many of the criticisms made by ARC are sadly still relevant today.
We want to form a union of architectural workers that can work together to fight for both better working conditions and a better architectural industry.
We have three immediate concrete demands:
- Regulation of working hours, pay and treatment: Paid overtime; the Living Wage for anyone working in an architectural office, from the cleaner to the director; a fair distribution of tasks; and a rejection of work-horse culture.
- No discrimination based on class, gender, ability or race: Meaningful representation in and across positions of power; no tokenism; no wage-gap based on nationality, residency-status or gender; and no university-snobbery. Not only must we abolish the discrimination of employees, but the discrimination of the people who are affected by our work.
- No demolition: Refusal of engagement when demolition has been preordained by the client. We must be vocal in arguing for an architecture which is not destructive; which means not submitting to the colonial, capitalist mindset of viewing estates as ‘brownfield’ sites.
Followed by our wider vision for the architectural profession:
- Transparency: No labelling of projects as ‘community-led’ when they are developer-driven; being honest about who has financed, and who has controlled, the project; publishing of viability studies; and publishing of company salary and fee structures.
- Long-term thinking: No building for future demolition, empty neighbourhoods and systemic pollution; and viability calculations and urban analysis that factors in social and environmental factors.
- A united professional conscience that abides by an ethical charter: We need to create safe workplaces in order to have a productive dialogue about what we are doing, and for who. As an industry we have more strength to face up to other pressures on development; if we organise we can say no to developers, planners, and profiteers.
- Design for people over profit: The profession should be centred on those who are most affected by what we build, rather than an imagined bottom line.
At work we observe firsthand how London’s “housing crisis” has been constructed with policy that insidiously aims to exacerbate land values – ultimately, through the transfer of public housing stock to private developers (including Special Purpose Vehicles set up by councils themselves).
The GLA has created a step-by-step guide for local authorities to undertake quick-and-easy estate regeneration – as a demonstration of the Mayor’s commitment to “Homes for Londoners” – in the form of the Mayor’s (Draft) Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration. In a similar fashion to the way that residents are consulted on the demolition of their homes, the 40-page document has been available to view and comment on since mid-December.
Despite our views on the the illusion of democracy, it is important that the public make their voices heard. You have until Tuesday, March 14th to send your comments, here. To ease the process, we have gone through the document to make a few points clearer.
A critical breakdown from the 35% Campaign ( – set up by the Elephant Amenity Network in response to Southwark Council’s failure to ensure that housing developments provided a minimum of 35% affordable housing, as required by the local plan).
The ASH Good Practice Guide to Resisting Estate Demolition, produced by Architects for Social Housing.
Sian Berry says it is useless – ripping up the Mayor’s manifesto promise that ‘estate regeneration only takes place where there is resident support’, and doing nothing to ensure residents on estates can block the demolition of their homes.
The residents of Cressingham Gardens “feel that the document fell far short from its lofty title”, and submitted strong recommendations to the Mayor.
Demolition Watch: “As it stands the Draft Guide will allow local authorities, housing associations and their private developer partners to continue demolishing estates, destroying communities and reducing social rented housing. By only offering recommendations without a rigorous set of commitments and conditions, the Guide will not improve the chances of schemes offering the real benefits of good quality, ‘genuinely affordable’ new homes for London.”
Just Space‘s response is strongly critical, and proposes a co-production approach to writing a better version.
This collective response (also archived by Just Space) is from “a cross-section of academics, policy-makers, regeneration specialists, housing activists, community groups, council tenants and leaseholders, social housing providers, and other organizations who have researched and/or worked with council tenants/leaseholders, social/affordable housing, across London, or have experienced first – hand the effects of ‘estate regeneration’”.
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.
This is a working document. The answers below cover our ambition and ethos, in response to frequently asked questions. For more information please see our Manifesto.
01. How can I get involved?
¬ You can report your practice to the RIBA for not paying the [London] Living Wage, as per RIBA requirements. Email them at email@example.com with the subject line :’[London] Living Wage – breach of Chartered Practice Criteria’.
¬ Pass on information to us about company malpractice and how your office has been instrumental in gentrification. Disclose close relationships between developers, planning authorities and architects. Tell us about how your work has contributed to furthering the privatisation of London. Email us privately (see FAQ .02)
¬ Print out a poster and put up in your workplace, local area or university, or share online.
¬ Contribute to our survey of architectural practices. Your anonymous answers will help us to build a strong case against the work done by our offices, safeguarding the interests of workers and residents alike.
¬ Submit your questions for the debate we’re hosting this year with the heads of London’s leading regeneration firms. You may be a resident of our city or worker in one of our practices. You may be wondering what went wrong with your consultation process, or why your concerns haven’t been listened to. Together we’ll hold those with power to steer London development to account.
¬ Contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and become involved in the longer struggle. We are looking for input on graphics, research, social media, filmography. Your help will be invaluable to communicating to a wide audience effectively, making our arguments clear and bold.
02. How do I send Architectural Workers an anonymous email?
For a back and forth exchange we recommend creating an email account using credentials that can’t be linked to your real identity. This should only take a few minutes. For a single email you can use a disposable email address using www.guerrillamail.com. Write to us at email@example.com
03. Who can join Architectural Workers?
We are particularly interested in architectural workers who work within the 6 regeneration practices we named in our Open Letter in December 2016. These are dRMM, Howarth Thompkins, HTA Design, Karakusevic Carson, MAE, PRP. Currently we are gathering information for our debate later this year. We want to know about staff treatment, ‘unspoken’ office rules, operating procedures and specific instances where residents interests have been intentionally de-prioritised.
Those working in regeneration practices not named above, or other architect’s offices are welcome to join us. You are necessary to illustrate the breadth of the industry’s failures. You may be a chartered architect unhappy with the course of your professional career in financialized home-destruction. You may be an office administrative worker who can provide key insights into company accounts and pay discrepancies.
If you don’t work in or around architecture, you are very welcome to join us. We are looking for input on graphics, research, social media, filmography. Your help will be invaluable to communicating to a wide audience effectively, making our arguments clear and bold.
We meet weekly and commit some evenings and weekends to Architectural Workers. We welcome anyone who can contribute their time and skills, on an ad hoc or more routine basis.
We welcome people from all academic and professional backgrounds. We value the input of people across gender, race, class and religious backgrounds. If you think there’s a problem with the nature of regeneration in London today, help us change it.
04. How will Architectural Workers benefit me?
We can provide advice on how to successfully talk to your employers about pay and other workers’ rights. We can help you draft emails that accurately and effectively communicate your demands. We can provide a support network of experienced practioners in the same field.
05. Why do you work for the practices you criticize?
We work at our respective practices for a number of reasons. In a pressurized industry, where housing is seen as unglamourous and formulaic, housing practices attract a mix of employees. For some, access to the job market is difficult and protracted, and housing offices have been the only work going. For others, housing represented a last bastion of state-led architecture, a mirage of socially conscious and ethical practice. The offices we work for maintain a very careful media presence, and it’s often only on working on projects within them that we’ve been able to see through the spin.
06. Why are you anonymous?
Staying anonymous allows us to voice real concerns to a public audience. We’re enabled to discuss openly what we can’t talk about in the office. Anonymity allows us to continue organising and gain knowledge within the industry we want to reform. Lastly, safeguarding our identities is key to protect our livelihoods and income.
07. Doesn’t regeneration improve ‘run-down’ estates?
Having spent years working across leading ‘regeneration’ practices, we’ve grown to be wary of the socially-led claims made by our bosses, journalists and local councils alike.
In many cases, it’s difficult to portray to a wider public the many effects of regeneration beyond the project statistics: how many homes created, or the offsetting proposed by delivering a new play facility. Such descriptions deliberately obscure the cumulative effect of gentrification, as well as the sticky processes and intentions behind ‘regeneration’ projects. Even statistics, which might declare that a scheme is ‘100% social housing’, can be deployed in ways that disguise the real implications of the development. The purely affordable development is in fact a decant site for estate demolition, replacing homes at a rate less than 1 for 1 so that new luxury dwellings can take over the prime land.
08. What’s the alternative then?
We believe in architecture that puts the needs of people who live in our buildings front and centre. We believe that architecture shouldn’t be used as a tool of capital, making profit at the cost of the city’s residents. At the very least, architects working in estate regeneration should be doing their upmost to put the needs of people before finance.
09. What’s the long term vision for Architectural Workers?
We’re working towards unionisation of all architectural workers and shifting the public perception and architectural practice of the industry. Find our core demands in our manifesto (coming soon).