“We are in pursuits of an idea, a new vernacular, something to stand alongside the space capsules, computers and throw-away packages of an atomic/electronic age,” Warren Chalk, member of former British architecture studio Archigram once said. Chalk's quote epitomized Archigram's outlook and approach—daring, brave, looking firmly into the future, and slightly tongue-in-cheek. Archigram and its contemporaries of similarly brilliant names (Ant Farm, Superstudio and Archizoom) have since been canonized as being part of an elite group of supposedly Avant-Garde architects. But if that was the crème-de-la-crème of 50 years ago, what is the equivalent today? Re-imagining the Avant-Garde, on show at Betts Project in East London, might have the answer. If you want to see some good drawings, this is the place to go—not surprising given the star-studded exhibitor list: Ant Farm, Pablo Bronstein, Peter Eisenman, Sam Jacob, OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, Jimenez Lai/Bureau Spectacular, and Aldo Rossi, to name a few, are all on show and none disappoint. Neither do the smaller studios: UrbanLab, WAI Think Tank, Warehouse of Architecture and Research (WAR), and Office Kovacs. Those exhibited are either mentioned in or have contributed to a special edition of AD Magazine which takes the same name as the exhibition at Betts Project. British duo Matthew Butcher and Luke Pearson, both academics, writers, and designers guest co-edited the magazine and co-curated this exhibition. "Avant-Garde" used in relation to architecture today brings to mind the work of Archigram et al., all of who sprouted from the fervent experimental ground of the 1960s and ’70s. It's through this moment in architectural history which Re-Imagining the Avant-Garde attempts to frame contemporary architectural practice and thought. So how does the historical and contemporary sit next to each other? Rather comfortably, it turns out. As images and models, all arguably fall under the umbrella of Pop Architecture; British critic Reyner Banham's definition holding true. Take Belgium firm Office Kersten Geers' Border Wall, for example. The studio helped popularize the collage style of architectural representation a few years ago and it's a useful medium for Border Wall. Here it is employed to highlight tensions between territories—in this case, a walled forest in the middle of a desert divided by a fence. The desert landscape is a blurry image, while the tree trunks are conveniently hidden, all of which consequently obfuscates any sense of scale, adding a layer of ambiguity to the piece. Other exhibitors reference the Avant-Garde architectural canon explicitly, like WAR for example, who projects its architecture through a comic strip akin to the drawings of Archigram. L.A.-based Office Kovacs, run by Andrew Kovacs, meanwhile provides a palimpsest of readymade architectural artifacts in Miniature maze, a work that draws on the archive of affinities found in Kovacs' blog of architectural b-sides. As these works are displayed next to photos of Ant Farm's famous touring truck, and with other ’60s radicals in mind, it's evident that the contemporary practices on show are producing work that is just as visually arresting as their predecessors. But what's the difference between then and now? "Yes, ’70s utopian groups have influenced us—it's obvious, no? The difference is that we work out there in reality," Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius of the Berlin-based raumlabor told AN editor-in-chief William Menking in his article for the issue of AD Magazine. Like all good exhibitions, Re-imagining the Avant-Garde provokes more questions. Is this the Avant-Garde reimagined? Why are we being asked to re-imagine the Avant-Garde in the first place, is it the hope of stumbling upon another wave of Avant-Garde architects? Very few, if any, realize they are part of an Avant-Garde, even if they have Avant-Gardist ambitions (see Chalk's quote). The term is, for the most part, applied through a historical lens. We only realize there was an Avant-Garde once it has been and, sadly, gone. We might even find that the more we search for an Avant-Garde, the more it will evade us. When Abbot Suger worked with his Master Masons on the Basilica of Saint-Denis in 12th-Century France, he probably didn't expect the Gothic-style church he commissioned to end up defining the built landscape of Medieval Europe. Far less did Suger realize that he was part of an architectural Avant-Garde (or equivalent seeing as the phrase emerged some 700 years after). Defining a historical Avant-Garde imposes restrictions on a supposed contemporary Avant-Garde. Also writing in the same issue of AD Magazine, critic Mimi Zeiger argues that "The work of Italian radicals Superstudio [and others] provides endless fodder for appropriation," which is the case with much the work on show at Betts Project. Furthermore, the elite Avant-Garde club which Butcher and Pearson refer to is essentially an all-white gentleman's club. "Re-imagining the avant-garde might seem celebratory at first but unless radically re-contextualized and critiqued, it can be a trap. Old biases and omissions are reinforced: canons crystallized, hierarchies hardened, patriarchal practices protected," adds Zeiger. In light of this, instead of aspiring to be part of an Avant-Garde, today's architects should forget about the term altogether and strive to make a more sustainable planet. Much as how Chalk imagined building for an "atomic/electronic age," a similarly forward-thinking vision will surely prove to be Avant-Garde in time. Re-imagining the Avant-Garde runs through December 21.
Posts tagged with "London":
To planet Earth, the city of Venice being a designated UNESCO World Heritage site is meaningless. It can, and will, treat the city with abject indifference as was demonstrated earlier this month. In more recent climate chaos news, floods have devastated other parts of Italy, causing a viaduct to collapse near the city of Savona; meanwhile, across the other side of the world, fires are raging across the Amazon and Australia. Bizarrely, and tragically, many governments lack the impetus to make any meaningful change in this regard. We find ourselves in a dire situation, crying out for radical approaches that will galvanize the human race into action, something that Eco-Visionaries, which opened last weekend at London's Royal Academy of Arts (RA), strives to do. First of all, what an exciting name: "Eco-Visionaries," does it get more enticing than that? Upon entering the exhibition, audiences are greeted with a rotating model globe shrouded in green, murky dust. Playing through speakers in the background meanwhile, is Clara Rockmore's ominous rendition of Camille Saint-Saëns' Le Cygne (The Swan). This is Domestic Catastrophies nº3: La Planète en Laboratoire by French artist collective HeHe and it sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition, which is a sobering affair; but the vision of what, exactly, is as about as clear as HeHe's installation, despite being populated with visionaries. But that's not to say it's all doom and gloom either, despite the fact that the second installation you see features a giraffe being graphically shot, with blood spewing rapidly from its neck. A journey has been crafted by in-house RA curator Gonzalo Herrero Delicado (who worked with Pedro Gadanho and Mariana Pestana to curate the original show for Lisbon's MAAT) taking patrons through installations that highlight the climate crisis we find ourselves in and propositions that attempt to mitigate it. This seems like a natural progression one should take when addressing the issue of saving the planet: here's a problem and here's how we might solve it. However, Eco-Visionaries jumps between art as commentary and architecture as proposition, and struggles to get a strong grip on either. The architecture that does hint at radical change has to build upon the success of others—New York firm WORKac developed The Dolphin Embassy from Ant Farm, while Paris-based Studio Malka Architecture's Green Machine riffs on Archigram's Walking City. Both fall short, and architects don't come off as potential planetary saviors by any stretch. The strongest installations, meanwhile, are presented as art. An imaginative proposition comes from Turkish designer-artist-researcher Pinar Yoldas, whose Ecosystem of Excess envisages plastic-gobbling pelagic insects populating a post-human planet and cleaning it up in the process. On a similar strand, working alongside DeepMind artificial intelligence, artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg's recreation of a white rhinoceros is powerful. The now-extinct creature comes to life at a 1:1 scale, developing from a wandering cluster of pixels into a great beast that seems confused by the white box it finds itself in. Here we question, besides humanity, what lies ahead for the animals of this Earth. Extinction? Digital archival? That's certainly not the case for jellyfish, who, as it turns out, are seemingly the harbinger of the end times. The pulsating creatures thrive in the conditions created by climate change. "More warm water," says a narrator in the exhibition's final, and best, exhibit, "is a disaster for anything that breathes and a dream come true for anything that doesn’t breathe much, like jellyfish.” Titled win > < win, the installation is by Berlin-based artist group Rimini Protokoll and occupies a room in the third and last gallery of the exhibition. win > < win splits audiences in two with a circular tank filled with jellyfish—something the RA had to obtain a zoological license to host. With clever lighting, the two audiences are revealed and hidden from each other, the tank acting as both a mirror and portal for the divided audiences. Through headphones, we learn about the ascendance of jellyfish, a species that benefits from humans killing their predators with overfishing and pollution as plastic bags kill turtles and other animals. The influx of jellyfish has direct consequences for humans too, as they clog up nuclear power and desalination plants across the world. "Jellyfish will be the only survivors when everything else has fallen apart," the narrator ominously intones. Despite this sombre note, win > < win is fun, engaging and informative all at the same time and makes the $15 exhibition fee is worth it. It also represents a success for Delicado, who told AN that he wanted the exhibition "to talk a younger audience," hence the inclusion of more familiar names like Virgil Abloh and Olafur Eliasson, whose installations—a gold, supposedly sunken chair and pictures of melting ice, respectively—do little to inspire. And that's what we need, inspiration. In his book, The is no Planet B, author Mike Berners-Lee writes: "Whilst the idea of limiting climate change seems like essential damage limitation, in itself, it spectacularly fails to excite most of us. More often than not, it gets framed primarily as the need to forego things we enjoy. And since humans–all of us–hate thinking about anything unpleasant, the temptation to switch off is hard to resist."
Eco-Visionaries, as its title tantalizingly suggested, might change that. This was a great chance to show the world that we might, by the skin of our teeth, be able to claw ourselves out from climate change-induced catastrophe. In this regard, Eco-Visionaries falls short. Perhaps this was because the RA only allowed the exhibition to have three rooms, preventing it from going further. However, while filled with insight and inquisitive introspection into how humanity lives on this earth, the feeling of future inspiration is sadly lacking. Eco-Visionaries runs through 23 February 2020.
Last Sunday, a sinking house in London’s River Thames became a trending meme-of-the-day, specially manufactured by sculptor and fabricator activists from Extinction Rebellion U.K. to imitate conditions under a global climate emergency. The stunt worked particularly well in the U.K. as it happened to fall on the same day as flooding in Derbyshire and Yorkshire in Northern England, a coincidence—like the Venice City Council voting against climate legislation as high tides bathed Louis Vuitton shoppers on St. Mark’s Square—likely to become increasingly more common. The image was that of a traditional peak-roofed brick-and-vinyl-sided house with a smokestack, half-submerged and heeling, as it floated down the river past the Tower Bridge. The actual prop was carefully constructed—a facsimile of a home made semi-real. Its brainchildren, sculptor Katey Burak and fabricator Rob Higgs, had been given a budget of $3,500 from Extinction Rebellion U.K.'s savvy arts group to make it a week before the early October week of global disobedience against the climate crisis, but it took a month to carefully craft the flooded house. Burak and Higgs constructed the likeness by hanging fiberglass panels on a metal frame, hooked onto a scaffolding attached to a life raft. It was carefully crafted ruse, with the aim of producing an image, Higgs said, of “our society drifting downstream one after the other.” After assembling the parts in Cornwall that morning—a peninsula on the southwest tip of Britain experiencing increasingly severe winter storms—they dropped the raft onto the edge of the river at Hermitage Wharf Community Moorings in Wapping, Londo, during low tide, lowering down parts and painstakingly assembling them so the facade hung six inches below the water level. Working periodically as boat builders, they wanted to nail the corner of the house to perfection to sustain the illusion. Then, with the life raft's outboard motor, the team headed downstream to get the shot in front of the Tower Bridge. They were looking for a bit more of a close-up than the one that ended up being the project’s signature, which shows skyscrapers rising on either side. The message is, in the end, is fairly self-explanatory. “To raise public awareness of the imminence of the rising sea level issue,” Higgs said. “Just because it’s a few millimeters now or 1.5 degrees, people don’t realize its imminent severity. We’re building up sea defenses rather than a deeper form of adaptation.”
Artist duo Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe have conjured a science-fiction fantasy of decrepit staged dioramas stashed with junk. Like an ode to their lust for illicit substances, traces of crystal meth that regularly show up in their previous projects become sublime again. The substance acts as the underlying central theme where "rock" motifs reoccur (i.e. the cactus sculptures growing out of geodes on metal tables in the lab and the arcade room's case of black market prizes). With eleven rooms that seem to have been abandoned by their junkie inhabitants, the exhibition fabricated by Wolfgang & Hite swallowed two floors of the Marlborough Gallery in London from September through October. Named Colony Sound, the exhibit is the pair's most recent work which offers up a speculative take on American history. Rooted in an obscure fantasy of their own, the premise is a past where a technological communication system made from a bacterial petri dish in California during the Cold War, "The Smile," brainwashes people. Set in present-day, the installation conjectures about how this technology could be adopted by new generations. After passing through what looks like a bullet-proof door abandoned by ticket counter clerks, one enters a mundane hallway lined with mailboxes and clocks arranged in a haphazard framework of four arbitrary time zones. The liar reveals itself with as a crack den living room, outfitted in 1970s mustard wallpaper, stalactite-like ceilings, and brown sofas. Read the full show breakdown on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
An 856-page document of a government-led inquiry into London’s Grenfell Tower fire states that the materials used on the building, including those from a 2016 renovation by Studio E Architects, failed to meet regulations and accelerated the fire which killed 72 people in June 2017. The news follows a 2018 report by fire specialists BRE Global which claimed that the fire wouldn’t have spread so readily in the 43-year-old concrete tower block before it was renovated. The latest report released last Wednesday stated that the aluminum composite cladding added in 2016 was the “principal reason” for the blaze rapidly consuming the building, going on to say that it acted as a “source of fuel” and was further assisted by flammable insulation and materials around windows. In addition, Architect’s Journal reported that “the ‘decorative’ architectural crown of the tower also played a ‘significant role in enabling the fire to spread around the building.'” The cladding was made by the U.S. company Arconic and the fire is believed to have been sparked by a faulty Whirlpool refrigerator. The inquiry’s report also criticizes the “gravely inadequate” response by the fire brigade. However, Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, disputed this characterization to the BBC: “The truth is that the fire spread the way it did because it was wrapped in flammable cladding," he said. "The firefighters turned up after that had happened, after the building had already been turned, in reality, into a death trap." Wrack went on to explain that while "nobody is trying to avoid scrutiny...we think that the ordering of the inquiry is completely back to front.” Following last week's report, lawyers suspect the chances of criminal charges being brought in relation to the fire have increased significantly, according to The Guardian. The second phase of the inquiry will investigate how the inadequate design and construction, which was in violation of existing regulations, was allowed to have happened. Former judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick who led the inquiry stated that he will also look into "what was and should have been known" about the particular dangers posed by thermoplastic polymers within the construction industry and those responsible for setting fire safety standards in the central government. Following this initial report, Moore-Bick has issued a series of proposals to shore up fire safety for towers in the U.K.
The first union for architects has been founded in London. The Section of Architectural Workers (SAW) aims to improve the toxic design culture of overwork and address issues like stagnating wages, discrimination, and industry-wide attitudes towards mental health. SAW operates within the United Voices of the World (UVM), a relatively young but influential union based in London with 3,000 members. According to the Architects' Journal, a SAW spokesperson said some of its members had been working 60 hours of overtime per week, while others hadn't taken a weekend break for four months. The union is supported by many architects and administrators in the field, including notable alumni of the University College London Bartlett School of Architecture Thandi Loewenson, Jane Rendell, and David Roberts. They describe the unionization as a "landmark moment in the ethical production of the built environment." The industry has steadily felt the pressure to take on big-ticket, ground-up built projects with low-risk profiles to compensate for tight competition over projects and wages. Kate Macintosh, a London-based architect and union member, told AJ that the "toxic system" has penetrated the profession since 1979. "Those rights have been steadily eroded to the point where one in three of the workforce are on zero-hours contracts and typically work 25 hours a week.” The culture of overwork trickles down even to unpaid interns, who often work from 9 a.m. to well into the evening—sometimes past midnight—consistently. This year’s Serpentine Pavilion, designed by Junya Ishigama, made headlines after the press discovered the architect solicited unpaid interns to assist in its fabrication. Subsequently, it was revealed just how widespread the practice was. Not only was the inquiry illuminating of the lack of pay but also the degree of overwork even the youngest in the profession are expected to take on. An internship job posting for Lot-Ek also announced this in plain language last March:
While architectural workers have attempted to unionize before and other varieties of unions like the construction-sector UCATT have tried to attract architects to join them, no effort has ever come to fruition quite like SAW. The breadth of professionals enveloped and supported by SAW, from architects to BIM technicians and cleaners, are using this platform to help support each other and therefore support their industry from top to bottom. “It will transform the environment in which we work, encouraging and empowering us all to step up and speak out to confront systemic social injustices and inequality, climate breakdown and biodiversity loss,” said SAW, asserting that unionization will allow architects and their firms to focus on the projects that really matter, rather than who stays at their desk the latest.
Generally speaking, no two people work the same way. Given that, global blockchain solutions company ConcenSys consensually chose an open, flexible working environment for its new London headquarters. Tasked with its refurbishment, local firm Neiheiser Argyros, creating a unique office identity and spaces for a range of different working styles. Taking form in the shell of a five-story office building, a number of workspaces and meeting rooms orbit around a central area swathed in plywood. While the office provides flexibility, partners Xristina Argyros and Ryan Neiheiser were skeptical of a floor plan that was too open-ended. Weary of seemingly endless rows of open desking, they opted instead for specific environments differentiated without partitions. On each floor, a central meeting space, or, if you will, "object," contains a kitchen, cluster of meeting rooms, and phone booths. This neutral space acts as a transition between a variety of distinct spaces, an arm that subdivides micro working environs that can be passed through without going having to open a door. Surrounding the central "objects" are an assemblage of working environments, each unique with their own material palette. Separated by theoretical boundaries, each space metaphorically alludes to a location that has an established identity for how work should be carried out—be that a study fo individual contemplation or group space to gather. In what Neiheiser Argyros call "The Laboratory," light grey flooring, white furniture, and sanitized fluorescent lights prescribe a quiet space for uninterrupted work. Meanwhile, "The Library" is outfitted with cork flooring and dark wood furniture, alluding to a medieval study that fosters personal reflection. Then, in "The Living Room" bright orange carpeting and custom built-in soft furnishings invite informal working and casual conversation. Read the full profile on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
We have a lot to thank computers for; the laptop I typed this article on can execute millions of instructions every second. This is a number us humans can’t comprehend, but thankfully, computers can. Computers have changed the way we see and interact with the world around us: able to connect people across the globe and able to optimize oil extraction from prime sites decided through digital derivation. Those most grateful for our microprocessor-driven overlords should be architects: they may romanticize the analog medium of sketching, but the truth is every building constructed today is “drawn” up using a computer at some point and the computer allows them to conceive every shape and size imaginable. Depending on who you ask, this has either saved or ruined architecture, and this friction is acknowledged in Drawing Attention, currently on show at the Roca Gallery in West London, where drawings from 70 participants are on display. Drawing digitally is now part of the process of design, something historian Mario Carpo describes as the digital turn in architecture. Drawing Attention, curated by Jeremy Ficca, Amy Kulper, and Grace La, professors at Carnegie Mellon University, Rhode Island School of Design, and Harvard GSD respectively, attempts to unpack the manifestations of this and asks questions such as: Where does the advent of BIM (Building Information Modeling) leave 2D digital drawing? As evidenced in this exhibition, the second dimension is far from obsolete. In a post-digital age, and as digital representation techniques allow architects to obfuscate renderings and reality, we find these 2D drawings to be evermore abstract as they take on more artistic qualities, representing architectural ideas more so than buildings themselves. The 70 drawings are thematically displayed in the following categories: Drawing limits; Drawing omniscience; Drawing instrument; Drawing environments, and Drawing as world-making. In Drawing limits, architects like Zachary Tate Porter play with scale: his Topographic survey of two Sidewalk Holes in Downtown Los Angeles (see gallery above) is wonderfully ambiguous; the holes could easily be moon craters. “The digital model presents a crisis of scale,” he argued, and the scroll of a mouse facilitates a “seamless” and “disquieting” transition between scales. Architect Achim Menges, meanwhile, achieves ambiguity in a different way. An abstract view of his Bundesgartenschau Wood Pavilion celebrates the structure's parametric qualities, something which is fitting for the exhibition’s venue (the Roca Gallery was designed by Zaha Hadid). However, this view is a reminder of how alienating parametricism can be. Where Porter’s scale subversion was playful and called upon the viewer to interrogate a terrain they see every day but probably ignore, Menges’s drawing is devoid of any scalar reference; it could be any size—a daunting and maybe exciting prospect, but one thanks to Hadid, we’ve already experienced. Rightfully so, parametricism doesn't get much more of a look-in; but still many works on show exhibit the digital tropes from this period (fractals and excessive iteration) which is odd considering, by the exhibition's own definition, this is an examination of the contemporary. ‘Drawing as world-making’ showcases the industry’s biggest names. Jimenez Lai of Bureau Spectacular; Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen (KGDVS); Mark Smout, Laura Allan, Geoff Manaugh, and Tom de Paor are all on show. All exhibit interesting works though only KGDVS’s OFFICE 171 Crematorium from 2014 stands out, a hallmark of the post-digital ‘style’ pursued by other offices such as Point Supreme, Hesselbrand, and Fala Atelier, among others which aren’t part of the exhibition. Drawing Attention also partially highlights how architects are representing the environment. C. J. Lim of Studio8 Architects goes against the grain of using endless amounts of data to inform a drawing, instead opting for a tongue-in-cheek cartoonish depiction of the ocean littered with plastic bags with phrases like “recycle or die” written on them. Lim’s Ocean Cleaning falls under the ‘Drawing Environments’ section of the exhibition, which arguably misses a trick by omitting architects who are aggressively pursuing a more sustainable planet. As the academic Peter Buchanan argues, without the computer we could not grasp the complexities of climate change nor be able to design the built environment to ameliorate it. Where are the drawings that exhibit this way of thinking? We are in a climate crisis after all. That aside, there are some outstanding drawings on show: Sarah Wigglesworth’s The Disorder of the Dining Table is a classic—dating back to 1997—but always a joy to see and still relevant, as evidenced by James Michael Tate's development of this drawing for an architecture office showcased adjacent. Meanwhile, Maj Plemenitas’s MSFM — Territorial Printing with Ocean Currents riffs off graphic designer Peter Saville’s timeless work on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover. That work was informed by radio signals from a neutron star, whereas Plemenitas’ piece is derived from a simulation of the autonomous “production” of islands, seamounts and resilient shorelines. “Drawing is taking a line for a walk,” said artist Paul Klee in 1961. When he said this, he was invariably inferring a pen, pencil, or paintbrush being guided across a page by a human hand. Through drawing, architects conceive spaces and places; stage sets for the theater of life. British anthropologist Tim Ingold takes it a step further, proposing that life is carried out on such lines, not just within them. Today, however, algorithms, scripts, and strings of code are used to represent architecture, serving as more than architecture’s final form before the hand-over to contractors and builders—the people that make architecture manifest in physical, tangible reality. However, contractors and builders will never use the drawings exhibited in Drawing Attention, for drawing digitally is not just a means to an end, like it was before Carpo’s “digital turn”, defined by him as a period between 1992–2012. We’re now well beyond that and Drawing Attention gives us a glimpse of our post-digital trajectory.
The U.K. has released a National Design Guide to help “create beautiful, enduring and successful places.” The guide was published at the start of the month and unveiled by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, however, for all the “good design" the guide preaches, it is at odds with Jenrick’s actual policies. To architects and designers, the principles outlined in the document will seem run-of-the-mill, even perhaps a little patronizing. But the guide is not for them; rather, it intends to ensure that all those involved in a project are on the same page. The focus of this design guide is on good design in the planning system, so it is primarily for:
- Local authority planning officers, who prepare local planning policy and guidance and assess the quality of planning applications;
- Councilors who make planning decisions;
- Applicants and their design teams, who prepare applications for planning permission; and
- People in local communities and their representatives.
Context – Enhances the surroundings. Identity – Attractive and distinctive. Built form – A coherent pattern of development. Movement – Accessible and easy to move around. Nature – Enhanced and optimised. Public spaces – Safe, social and inclusive. Uses – Mixed and integrated. Homes and buildings – Functional, healthy and sustainable. Resources – Efficient and resilient. Lifespan – Made to last.The guide also takes into account the contemporary context we find ourselves in and looks to the future: “We expect continuing change as a consequence of climate change, changing homeownership models and technological changes. It is likely to emerge and embed in society rapidly.” Furthermore, there is an added focus on inclusion and community cohesion, defined respectfully as: “Making sure that all individuals have equal access, opportunity and dignity in the use of the built environment;” and “A sense of belonging for all communities, with connections and trust between them. Diversity is valued and people of different backgrounds have the opportunity to develop positive relationships with one another.” However, for all this positive rhetoric—which will hopefully make some impact—the guide is undermined by Jenrick’s latest policy to allow homeowners to add up to two stories to their house without having to get planning permission. This is part of the Conservative party’s push to "build up not out," and essentially allows homeowners to do what they want irrespective of their neighbors' objections, provided the building meets council guidelines and building regulations. Subsequently, it seems bizarre for the guide to talk about scale, height, relation to surroundings, and design quality, the latter of which will be most lacking as a result of such a policy. The guide also appears to feature mostly low-rise schemes and genuine examples of suburban sprawl with a straight face, the antithesis of building "up." “Publishing new design guidance alongside plans to extend permitted development rules, which allow projects to sidestep vital quality and environmental standards, just doesn’t make sense,” remarked RIBA President Alan Jones. “Although increasing permitted development rights is a step in the right direction, they will still be subject to heritage and conservation areas and viewing corridor type constraints,” Vaughn Horsman, design director at the British practice Farrells told AN. “And whilst it supports wider densification, by the time the tangle of other constraints get overlaid, there is still very little available land and air space available for growth in London. Meaning more still needs to be done.” Moreover, the design guide also seems to focus solely on housing. It has admittedly come from the Housing Secretary, but alternative typologies could at least be acknowledged, particularly as the industry moves towards adaptive re-use. Despite this, the guide has been for the most part warmly received by the profession. Teresa Borsuk, a senior adviser at the London-based Pollard Thomas Edwards, told the Architects’ Journal:
[The guide] is a sound piece of work aimed at planning officers, councillors, applicants and local communities. And a lot of it is not new. But what a difficult time for its launch – with everything else going on just now; climate change, affordability, targets, undersupply, Brexit…Speaking in the same article, Richard Dudzicki, director of Richard Dudzicki Associates, meanwhile called for an “anarchic version of the National Design Guide”:
I started reading the National Design Guide thinking to myself this is not a bad idea, but I quickly thought of the successful places I love; Farringdon in the 90s or Peckham now. They do not fit in the government’s ‘10 simple rules to good design’. The truth is very little good design or successful placemaking will fit in this dull, grey, pragmatic framework. It is about interventions. Predefining spaces will lead to failure; failure of design, failure of place and failure to create a society. Architecture as a profession should be calling out for more. In this profession, we read the brief, rip it up and throw it out of the window and try to come up with a new idea. Let’s have an anarchic version of the National Design Guide.Finally, the guide concludes by saying that it could be altered after the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission publishes its final report in December this year. This could likely cause groans in the profession: the Commission’s re-appointed cochair, Roger Scruton, has previously voiced his distaste of modernism, and in particular, architects Norman Foster and Mies van der Rohe. "The words 'beautiful' and 'ugly' are dangerous when referring to architecture — they expose personal bias, when our industry is more restricted than ever, by budgets, political and technical constraints," Horsman added. "Urban homes at the scale we need today will struggle to fit everyone’s view of ‘pretty’ –having our work, almost degraded, to such terms is frustrating. "How would ministers feel about a public vote on whether they’re too ugly for the job?” The report can be found in full online, here.
The Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA) in London has finally been given taught-degree awarding powers (TDAP), allowing the influential school to grant degrees for the first time in its 170-year history. While the school is the oldest independent architecture school in the U.K. and internationally renowned as a pioneering educational institution, graduates of the AA could not, until now, receive academic degrees backed by the U.K. government. Nonetheless, the illustrious alumni list of the institution includes Pritzker Prize winners Rem Koolhaas, Richard Rogers, and Zaha Hadid among other big names. The victory is a turning point for the AA, whose financial insecurity and an uncertain future was a major factor in pursuing accreditation earlier this year. The institution, which does not receive government funding, is reliant on student tuition dollars, particularly from foreign students whose visa status would remain on shaky ground as long as the school was unaccredited. While the road to gaining TDAP was years in the making, the school successfully petitioned the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education for the right this year. "Without TDAP, the AA Diploma–widely known and internationally acclaimed – is not an academic award recognised by the UK government, and AA graduates regularly encounter challenges when returning home or to other overseas countries for the purposes of professional development or further academic study," explained Eva Franch i Gilabert, directors of the school, in an interview with Dezeen last year. Franch i Gilabert was elected to the directorial position in March 2018 after receiving the largest majority of any candidate in almost three decades. Balancing the school’s finances and securing TDAP status was a major point of Franch i Gilabert’s administration. The decision to give degree-granting power is a much needed boon for the AA after the international architecture community protested staff cuts at the AA Files, the school’s journal, under the previous interim director. Their acceptance into the circle of official higher education institutions is also a sharp turn for the AA, which maintains a reputation for its cutting-edge and radical educational style.
It's September, which in the U.K. means it's time for the London Design Festival (LDF). Now in its 17th year, there is once again a feast of shows, talks, walks, exhibitions, and installations to gorge upon. The Architect's Newspaper has surveyed what's on view firsthand and rounded up what to catch this year. Sea Things, Sam Jacob Studio As always, the LDF is heavily connected to the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A). At the museum's entrance, visitors can find a 13-foot-on-each-side glass cube hanging from the ceiling. Stand underneath it and look up, and you will find pieces of plastic floating by as if being carried by a current through space. It's only a film, but the mirrored edges of the cube create the impression of it being limitless through a simple, yet effective, trick. Titled Sea Things, the work from Sam Jacob Studio aims to raise awareness of plastic in our oceans. "The V&A is full of things and our relationship to things," Jacob told AN, who cited a hand-drawn pattern of sea creatures by the Eames's (in the V&A collection) as part of his inspiration. That pattern was drawn at a time when there was tangible hope of saving our oceans from pollution. Jacob's installation omits such optimism: by 2050, if current pollution levels remain on track, the world's oceans will be 50 percent plastic and 50 percent marine life, the end of his studio's film predicts. Black Masking Culture, Big Chief Demond Melancon with Assemble A surprise hit at the V&A comes from the New Orleans-based artist and educator, Big Chief Demond Melancon of the Young Seminole Hunters. Working with London studio Assemble, two of Melancon's giant, full-body Mardi Gras Indian suits (I can't imagine how hot they must get) have been installed. The suits have been hand-sewn; fitting then, that they have been placed in the V&A's Tapestries Gallery. They are truly a sight to behold: joyously flamboyant, bursting with life, ornate and infinitely intricate, they are works of art in their own right. A fascinating film tracing the making of the suits in the run-up to Mardi Gras accompanies the suits and it's well worth a watch. More LDF at the V&A Many other installations part of LDF can be found at the V&A too. Studiomama has designed a wooden postbox, for example, and Korean artist Do Ho Suh has had his forensic video survey of Robin Hood Gardens displayed via a 100-foot-wide projection. For Smithson buffs, the model of the ill-fated housing estate made for the 1970 film, The Smithsons on Housing, is also on display. Paddington Pyramid, Adam Nathaniel Furman Beyond the V&A more color abounds, as LDF has always featured in recent years. Welcome returners to the fray Adam Nathaniel Furman and Camille Walala have once again done a marvelous job sprucing up the vicinities they've occupied. In Paddington, Furman has erected a fluttering pyramid next to where he was born, drawing on the towering, ephemeral structures that populate fairs and festivals. Walala Lound, Camille Walala Furman's 2017 project, Gateways, was supposedly the most photographed LDF installation ever, however, this year, Camille Walala appears to be giving him a run for his money. Wander down South Molton Street just a stone's throw away and you'll find a host of street furniture: planters, benches, and bunting all emphatically stamped with Walala's hallmark, vibrant geometric style, all being snapped and papped by hashtag-happy passersby. Please Be Seated, Paul Cocksedge There are more moments to sit at this year's LDF, too. London designer Paul Cocksedge has designed an undulating trio of concentric timber circles in Broadgate, East London. Aptly named Please Be Seated, the work reuses scaffolding planks to create a sculpture that acts as both a pedestrian thoroughfare and place of rest. "There's a motorway of people [around here]," Cocksedge told AN. "I looked at where people were going to and from, the arches are oriented in the general direction of that flow, so it works for everyone." So far, Please Be Seated has been an instant success, with LDF-ers and bankers working nearby making the most of it. "It's nice to see people using something in the way that it's meant to," added Cocksedge. Life Labyrinth, PATTERNITY Sticking to the same theme, Life Labyrinth, riffs on Daniel Buren's Les Deux Plateaux (The Two Levels) in Paris. London studio PATTERNITY's black-and white seating arrangement, mini-maze, and garden is a welcome addition to the entrance of Westminster Cathedral where visitors can rest and children can play with the garden bells and labyrinth itself. Buren's work has been a hit since 1986 and, while being somewhat paired down, Life Labyrinth looks to emulate that success, if only for a week. Day of Design 22 September, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. To mark the end of LDF 2019 there will be a "Day of Design" along Exhibition Road. Closed off to cars for the day, the V&A, alongside the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Imperial College, and the Royal College of Art will fill the street with installations and events centered around solutions to climate change. Don't miss out on the Plastic Pavilion from London designer Seyi Adelekun. The parametric structure is comprised of string, steel mesh and 1,600 plastic bottles—some of which, according to Adelekun, were collected by "raiding neighbors bins." Adelekun told AN she hopes to raise awareness about single-use plastics and how to use them in construction.
As of yesterday, $250 Million is available to private owners of tower blocks in the U.K. to replace cladding at risk of catching fire. The government fund is for towers that use the aluminum composite material (ACM) cladding—the same facade material employed by the Grenfell tower which caught fire in June 2017, claiming the lives of 72 people. Those who do not use the money will reportedly be "named and shamed" according to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) in a statement released to the press. "Government funds are available for private building owners to remove and replace unsafe ACM cladding, and let me be clear, inaction will have consequences and I will name and shame those who do not act during the course of the autumn." "There is no excuse for further delay—and for building owners to fail to take action now would be frankly disgraceful." A national safety review of tower blocks was issued in the wake of the Grenfell fire in 2017. In May 2018, the government pledged $532 Million for state-owned blocks to remove any cladding deemed potentially dangerous. Private owners, meanwhile, were encouraged not to pass on the recladding costs to occupants. That, however, did not happen, and the most notable example occurred in Croydon, South London, where multimillionaire owner Vincent Tchenguiz refused to pay the $665,000 re-cladding fee. A tribunal following the debacle ruled that leaseholders should stump up the fee, leading to a deadlock between landlords and tenants. As a result, some had to start 24-hour patrols of their buildings to monitor for any fires while other homes have become unsellable. The government estimates that 170 privately-owned blocks currently use ACM cladding. In addition to the aforementioned funds, a further $5 million has been issued to collect data on cladding used for state-owned buildings. Motions to facilitate action to reduce fire risk due to ACM cladding have been slow in coming. Since the fire in 2017—24 months ago—there have been three different Secretaries of the HCLG, and four Ministers of State for Housing amid multiple cabinet shake-ups in the wake of Brexit. In his statement, incumbent Secretary of State Jenrick also unveiled a new Protection Board which has been set up by the Home Office with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) to give assurance to those in tower blocks listed as high-risk that fire risks will be identified and acted upon. The board will have access to $12.5 Million each year until 2021. "The new Protection Board will make sure building owners don’t flout the rules, as well as ensuring fire safety risks in other buildings are being addressed," said Jenrick. In addition to investigating cladding, a commission has been set up to review when sprinklers are to be employed. Currently, sprinklers have to be used for buildings taller than 98 feet or roughly ten stories, but ministers are considering lowering this to 60 feet — roughly six stories. As reported by the Architects' Journal, this was a measure the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) called for, however, RIBA wanted all residential buildings above 60 feet to have sprinklers added to them. England lags behind its neighbors in this regard. In Wales, sprinklers are mandatory in all new residential buildings and in Scotland, the same applies to care homes, sheltered housing and schools above 60 feet. The current commission's review only covers housing blocks built since 2007. Grenfell Tower was completed in 1974 and did not have sprinklers added to it when it was refurbished in 2016 at the cost of $10.85 Million. According to the BBC, 96 percent of state-owned tower blocks above 98 feet (32 out of 837) do not have a sprinkler system installed.