The 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize has gone to a collection of 100 houses in Norwich, U.K. The low-energy homes on Goldsmith Street were designed by London-based studio Mikhail Riches and British architect Cathy Hawley for Norwich Council. It seems housing crises are everywhere at the moment and Britain is no exception, and the problems are compounded when you add in a "climate emergency," which the U.K.'s leading practices have formally acknowledged. The 100 homes commissioned by the Norwich Council were designed to PassivHaus standards—the gold standard when it comes to energy efficiency—in an attempt combat both problems. That means a 70 percent reduction in energy bills for residents. Better still, these are genuine council homes and not "affordable housing," able to be rented from the council directly, thus boasting fixed rents and providing tenants with extra security. Beyond this, the homes have been beautifully designed, too. Goldsmith Street takes cues from the nearby Victorian streets of the Golden Triangle district. The architects, though, do not succumb to producing another Poundbury, despite maintaining the same Victorian street widths and heavy use of brick, which has been wonderfully detailed to create a series of balconies. Garbage stores have been neatly tucked away behind bronze screens, and homes, despite being priced at social rent, aren't tight on space and provide lobby room for prams and bikes. Rooftops angle to ensure sunlight is able to enter houses in the row behind each other, and every home has its own front door and separate letterbox. Two-story houses are aligned in rows, with three-story flats situated either side. In addition to this, central terraces share a landscaped, communal walkway, meanwhile, parking facilities have been pushed to the site's periphery. Together, the homes form seven terraced blocks and compose a calm, pedestrian-friendly, low-rise estate. Mikhail Riches and Hawley were awarded the project after winning a competition back in 2008. The original plan was to sell the site to a local housing provider; however the financial crisis stalled the project and forced municipal authorities to press ahead on the development themselves. Unlike last year, when Foster + Partner's hulking Bloomberg HQ won, this year's winner is likely to be welcome, perhaps unexpected news to those in the profession. Goldsmith Street is a far cry from a glitzy office for a multinational corporation in central London, and its claim for being the best new work of architecture in Britain will hopefully spur on other councils to emulate Norwich's accomplishments. In winning the 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize, Goldsmith Street fended off competition from five other projects: Cork House: in Berkshire by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton; London Bridge Station by Grimshaw; Nevill Holt Opera in Leicestershire by Witherford Watson Mann Architects; The Macallan Distillery and Visitor Experience in Moray, Scotland, by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, and The Weston in Yorkshire Sculpture Park by Feilden Fowles Architects. In a press release, The 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize judges, chaired by Julia Barfield, said: “Goldsmith Street is a modest masterpiece. It is high-quality architecture in its purest most environmentally and socially-conscious form. Behind restrained creamy facades are impeccably-detailed, highly sustainable homes – an incredible achievement for a development of this scale. This is proper social housing, over ten years in the making, delivered by an ambitious and thoughtful council. These desirable, spacious, low-energy properties should be the norm for all council housing." David Mikhail of Mikhail Riches added: “Goldsmith Street’s success is a testimony to the vision and leadership of Norwich City Council. We thank them for their commitment and support. They believe that council housing tenants deserve great design. It is not often we are appointed to work on a project so closely aligned with what we believe matters; buildings people love which are low impact. We hope other Local Authorities will be inspired to deliver beautiful homes for people who need them the most, and at an affordable price. To all the residents – thank you for sharing your enthusiasm, and your homes, with everyone who has visited.”
Posts tagged with "social housing":
The spectacular demolition of the high-rise Pruitt-Igoe public housing project in 1972 has been described as "the day Modernism died," but a very different dynamic played out across the Atlantic. As documented in a beautiful new book by architect and historian Mark Swenarton, in the mid-1960s and early 1970s, London saw the creation of a wide variety of low-rise, high-density public housing projects by young architects who adapted Modernist design idioms to the era's intense need for low-cost housing. Focusing on the architectural output of single north London borough, the richly detailed and lushly produced new book, called Cook's Camden: The Making of Modern Housing, documents in vivid detail the design and construction of thousands of affordable homes in Camden, one of London's wealthiest and most historic neighborhoods. Created between 1965 and 1980 under the direction of Camden's visionary chief architect Sydney Cook, the projects described in Mark Swenarton's magisterial book constitute what he describes as "not just the last great output of social housing... but also arguably the most concentrated architectural investigation into urban housing undertaken in the last 50 years." In the foreword to the book, Columbia University historian Kenneth Frampton concurs, describing Cook's Camden as "an exceptionally thorough documentation and analysis of British achievements in the field of low-rise, high-density housing.... part and parcel of this international movement towards achieving denser, anti-suburban, proto-ecological patterns of land settlement." At the heart of Cook's Camden is the work of New York-born architect Neave Brown, whose social housing projects range in scale and ambition, starting with a small terrace of five raw concrete row houses and ending with Alexandra Road, perhaps the most celebrated architectural scheme in England. Alexandra Road turns its back on the adjacent train tracks to form a protected interior street, with front doors facing out onto a pedestrian-friendly, car-free environment from a ziggurat of stepped apartments, each with its own balcony garden. All of the projects Neave Brown designed for Camden have been protected as national landmarks, and last year, his work earned him even greater honor: a much-belated RIBA Gold Medal, bestowed just before his death at age 88, in large part, thanks to the appreciative attention garnered for him by the author Mark Swenarton, who has been conducting the research for Cook's Camden for more than 12 years. Another designer featured in Cook's Camden is Peter Tabori, whose Highgate New Town complex, located between a large hospital and a Victorian-era cemetery, took inspiration from the dense urbanism of a Tuscan hill town. Like many of the housing schemes described in Cook's Camden, Highgate New Town was first celebrated, then allowed to decline, and in recent years has been revived as one of London's most valuable public-private council estates. A final project described in Cook's Camden, Branch Hill became known as "the country's most expensive council houses." Built on a difficult hillside site in the heart of Hampstead, one of London's most exclusive and expensive residential districts, Branch Hill was designed by architects Gordon Benson and Alan Forsyth, who went on to design the acclaimed Museum of Scotland. In keeping with the goal of maximizing green space, the architects took full advantage of the sloping site to create extensive private roof gardens. For present-day architects or developers looking to "solve" the affordable housing crisis, perhaps the most valuable chapter covers the smaller-scale infill schemes that Swenarton calls "urban dentistry." The projects described and illustrated in this section include Neave Brown's first small-scale effort, on which he joined with fellow early 1960s student architects Michael and Patty Hopkins, to develop, design and build a five-unit terrace of supremely detailed modern homes on a tight urban site. Another commission went to Edward "Ted" Cullinan, who designed a five-story mix of family duplexes and smaller one-bedroom apartments, composed with contextualist flourishes that put it among London's first postmodern buildings. Along with lush production quality, hundreds of vintage and contemporary photographs and carefully catalogued references, one of the many valuable features of Cook's Camden is a gazetteer and map of all the properties and projects studied in the book, which may well inspire readers to take a trip to London to see these fine designs and inspiring examples of municipal success. In a final section of Cook's Camden, the author digests the era's seismic changes and draws three important lessons for today's designers, planners and builders: one, recognize that the street is the basis for urban housing; two, understand that designing urban housing demands attention not only to physical form but also to the social relationships these forms may engender; finally, and perhaps most importantly, that designers must use all their abilities–"analytical and visionary, rational and imaginative, practical and poetic, to provide something better than what is currently being built around us." Based in London and New York, Jamie Jensen is a writer and advocate for public space and urban sustainability. Cook's Camden: The Making of Modern Housing Lund Humphries $69.51 (hardcover)
In the wake of a horrific fire that killed dozens, a team of six London architecture firms are reimagining Grenfell tower as a public housing development for the 21st century. The 24-story apartment building, a social housing estate in west London, was consumed by fire in June 2017. A subsequent investigation revealed that the tower's new cladding fueled the destructive blaze, which killed 71 people and left many others homeless. After the tragedy, residents and public officials came together to improve the rest of the development. They selected Levitt Bernstein and Penoyre & Prasad to lead a re-design team that includes MaccreanorLavington, Murray John Architects, Cullinan Studio, and Adjaye Associates. The firms divided the Lancaster West Estate into nine areas, and the teams created a "Book of Ideas" (PDF) based on residents' feedback from workshops earlier this year. The estate includes more than 1,000 households. In some of the nine areas, residents would like to see private front-yard gardens, new balconies and elevators, rooftop solar panels, and community gathering space. Residents voiced support for security cameras and better lighting, as well as an updated assessment of fire risk, in all areas of the estate, the Architect's Journal reported. Along with these and other stakeholders, landscape architects at Andy Sturgeon Design and consultants at Twinn Sustainability Innovation are working with the six firms on the proposals. The government is putting £15 million (around $20.7 million) towards the redesign, a figure the council has pledged to match. The next phase of the project asks residents to chose which designers will bring these ideas into reality.
An investigation by fire specialists BRE Global into the Grenfell Tower disaster was leaked exclusively to the Evening Standard, and their findings singled out the building's recent renovation as a major cause of the fire’s disastrous impact. Compiled as a part of the police investigation into the June 2017 fire in London that killed 71, the 212-page report, dated January 31, 2018, claims that the poor quality of materials used and substandard installation practices during the 2014-2016 renovation turned the tower into a tragedy waiting to happen. Built in 1974, the original Clifford Wearden and Associates-designed concrete tower block had been designed to passively contain potential fires. But the BRE report claims that the refurbishment failed to meet fire safety standards, and that cost-cutting led to serious mistakes throughout. It further states that, pre-renovation, the building's original concrete facade would not have allowed the fire to spread beyond its fourth-floor starting point in Flat 16. BRE identified several damning pieces of evidence of serious incompetence in the renovation. Besides the well-publicized use of a combustible polyethylene (combustible plastic) core in the aluminum-clad facade, the report also identified alleged incompetence by the contractors. Cavity barriers, which should have expanded when exposed to heat and sealed off the gap between the new cladding and original facade, were either too small, installed upside down or back-to-back. Instead of sealing the gap off, they instead created a “chimney effect” and funneled flames higher up the structure. BRE also attributed the fire's rapid spread to the installation of window frames that were approximately six inches shorter than the span of the concrete columns they had been installed between, and the use of a rubber membrane, foam insulation, and lightweight plastic panels to fill the gap. None of these materials would have provided over 30 minutes of fire resistance. Instead of restraining the fire, these materials allegedly fueled it, and allowed the fire to re-enter the building from the facade cavity. Further compounding the issue is BRE’s finding that only 17 percent of apartments had automatic door closers that worked, which would have kept the fire from spreading to the building’s hallways and core. Other than the building’s total lack of sprinklers (a fact that caused an outcry in Britain when it was revealed), the BRE reports: “A building of Grenfell’s height ought to have been fitted with a wet rising main [which contains water at all times] as part of the refurbishment; instead the existing dry rising main [which has to be supplied from a fire engine] was extended and modified.” Because the surrounding landscaping only allowed a single fire engine at the base of the tower, firefighters were unable to create an adequate amount of water pressure to reach the building’s upper floors. While the investigation into the Grenfell fire is still ongoing, plans for the site’s remains have been moving full speed ahead. Once the forensic analysis of the building is complete at the end of this year, the tower will be razed and the site handed over to survivors of the fire, with plans to convert the site into a memorial.
Adjaye Associates and five other firms have been tapped to provide ideas for the high-profile renovation of London's Lancaster West Estate, which contained the now-destroyed Grenfell Tower. With funding from the local council and government, Adjaye Associates, Levitt Bernstein, Maccreanor Lavington, Murray John Architects, Cullinan Studio and Penoyre Prasad will put together a design vision for the future of the municipal housing estate. Lancaster West was originally master planned and realized by Clifford Weardon Architects in 1964, and has been in dire need of an update. As part of the renovation, the architectural team has been working in concert with the Lancaster West Residents Association, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and the government to focus on resident-driven suggestions. At a public meeting earlier in the month, residents of the public housing complex gave the designers feedback on what they felt were the most pressing concerns. Improving accessibility, repairing leaks and improving ventilation all had the broadest support, as did increasing the openness of the common areas in response to safety issues. The team also raised the possibility of securing the entrances to the estate’s street, as well as installing communal and private gardens for residents. Once completed, the council wants the revitalized Lancaster West to be an example for the renovations of the area’s other estates. Of note is the exclusion of Grenfell Tower in the redevelopment plan. As a response to the fire that killed 72 in June of last year, the local council and UK government will be razing the site and likely dedicating the land for a memorial to the victims. Most important to the redevelopment has been the promise that any changes to the estate would be done without demolition of homes or displacement. Funding for the project has already been secured, with both the council and central government having pledged approximately $21 million. Landscape architects Andy Sturgeon Design and consultants Twinn Sustainability will be working alongside the architectural team as well. A brief will be prepared using the collected ideas and followed by a detailed work plan. If everything moves smoothly, work should begin by summer of 2019. No architects had been chosen to realize the plans at the time of writing.
“About time!” was perhaps the most common refrain on social media when it was announced that the 2018 Pritzker Prize had been awarded to the architect, B.V. Doshi, the grand old man of architecture from the Indian subcontinent. He is the first Indian to win the prize and its oldest recipient. It would be impossible to write a history of the modern architecture of India or, for that matter, of the non-western world, without acknowledging Balkrishna Doshi’s seminal contributions. His career spans nearly seven decades as an educator, urbanist and an architect, and his legacy undoubtedly transcends the Global South. Yet for all the tributes that poured in, there was a eagerness to fit the contribution of the man and the significance of the award into a neat box. Robin Pogrebin’s piece in The New York Times, “Top Architecture Prize Goes to Low-Cost Housing Pioneer From India,” was particularly reductive, if not offensive, to those more familiar with the work. It is not unlike calling Beethoven, “a pioneer in concerto writing from Germany.” While both statements might be true, they betray an incredible myopia toward the breadth of their legacies. When Doshi founded his office in Ahmedabad in 1955, the Indian state was not even a decade old. Mahatma Gandhi and his ashram in Ahmedabad had served as the epicenter of a great struggle against British imperialism. Doshi arrived in this city from Chandigarh, where Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, had commissioned Le Corbusier to design a new capital for the state of Punjab. Inevitably, the landmarks of the new nation liberated from European imperialism would now be built according to the doctrines of high modernism. Doshi himself was a product of this movement, having worked for four years in the atelier of Le Corbusier in Paris prior to his arrival in Chandigarh. Even in India, modernism was seen as a tour de force that promised a new egalitarian social order, removed from the shackles of tradition. To be modern meant to embrace an architecture of European modernism and its associated dogmas of rationalist thinking, objectivism and tabula rasa planning, with an unfettered belief in progress and technology. For a nation recovering from colonialism, with great and diverse traditions in art, architecture and city form, reconciling these dogmas of modernist thinking took several decades. Doshi’s work and legacy is a search for this reconciliation, between universalism and place, rationalism and what philosopher Paul Ricoeur calls ‘the mythical nucleus of humankind.” The quest embodied in Doshi’s oeuvre has also been the quest of his peers Charles Correa, Achyut Kanvinde, Anant Raje and Raj Rewal, to name a few. It has been a quest of not one, but several generations of architects from the subcontinent and the Global South at large, to create an ontological and literal framework for an architecture that is modern and yet rooted in place. This involved acknowledging and reinterpreting elements from the rich traditions of Indian architecture –the courtyard, the jali (screen), a layered notion of enclosure, ornament and, very significantly, the plinth or the occupied ground. The treatment of the ground as a receptacle for the celebration of life is a critical aspect of Doshi’s work. It marks a clear break from the piloti and the grid–tools of Cartesian planning that favor the automobile’s hegemony over the ground. Doshi’s School of Architecture (1972), Sangath (1980), and The Gufa (1990) reveal an evolution of an autochthonous architecture of the ground, which becomes one of the most significant attributes of these buildings. The School of Architecture presents an activated ground, a constantly changing datum with tactile inhabitation. This is already a distinct shift from the Institute of Indology (1956), one of Doshi's earliest projects, or The Mill Owners Association building by Le Corbusier (1954) (a building that Doshi worked on as a project architect), which establish a strong single datum against the ground plane below. Sangath (which roughly translates as ‘working together through participation’) marks a true departure from the architectural tropes of Corbusier and Louis Kahn–the coming into being of a distinct architecture which is both modern and deeply rooted in place. The ground and the building are now inseparable and symbiotic. Landscape becomes the primary architectural mediator. The building is perceived as a rich topography of occupiable plinths culminating in vaulted porcelain mosaic roof forms that frame the sky. It is an architecture of multiplicity, tactility, ornament and myth. When the project was under construction, Doshi encouraged local craftsmen to leave their own creations in the landscape of the building, giving agency to the artisans. The waste of chiseled stone chips becomes an incredibly beautiful embellishment within the landscape. Upon entering the premises, you enter a haven–a world within a world. Programmatically, the building works not just as a studio but as a real celebration of life–a living ground for exhibitions, performances and festivities. In reflecting on Doshi’s work on housing, the French philosopher Paul Ricœur comes to mind. In History and Truth (1961), Ricoeur says, “The phenomenon of universalization… constitutes a sort of subtle destruction...of the creative nucleus of great cultures…the ethical and mythical nucleus of mankind. Everywhere throughout the world one finds the same bad movie, the same slot machines, the same plastic or aluminum atrocities, the same twisting of language by propaganda.” It is striking how prescient Ricœur is today in an era of fake news and climate change. Everywhere one finds the same twisted architectural forms, the same placelessness, the same erosion of public space and public life, the same universal crisis of housing, and the replacement of housing by speculative real estate in global cities from London and New York to Shanghai, Lagos and Mumbai. It is in this light that Doshi’s low-income housing in Aranya should be considered. The Aranya project is a highly sophisticated design for over 6,500 dwellings. For a site and services project, it breaks from typical gridded layouts that maximize rationalization and efficiency. Instead, the project provides an urban armature where a range of open spaces and pedestrian pathways intersect and connect residential clusters to a central spine. Incrementality is the defining attribute of the project. Users are encouraged to add rooms to the service core of their house over time. Eight demonstration houses were designed by Doshi to illustrate the array of available options, from one-room shelters to more elaborate homes. Cross-subsidies and financial structures were put into place to encourage people to build their homes incrementally. This they did, and Aranya today is a thriving city of over 80,000 people. The project has created common spaces where people from varied castes and diverse religions mix and cooperate. Social cohesion is fostered through the very framework of the project–a crucial aspect that is easily overlooked in its descriptions. That architecture can and should have a socially progressive agenda was, after all, a defining attribute of the modernism–to bring design to the masses, to produce not only a new aesthetic, but also a new egalitarian order. Form thus became an instrument of reducing social inequity. The canonical architects of the time engaged in feats of social housing, such as Weisenhoff Seidlung, the Unité de Habitation, Byker Wall and PREVI Lima. Aranya belongs to this lineage of architectural agency. Today, an architecture of social cohesion has given way to the architect as a celebrity superstar, complicit with neoliberal agendas, designing condominiums for the one percent. Form has utterly lost its social agency and become the perverse weapon of increased social inequity. Never before has the architect seemed more impotent in the face of global crisis–ecological, political and social. It is clear that architecture today needs less autonomy and greater spatial agency. This means a deeper engagement with forms and practices that offer modes of resistance to neoliberal orders, and less collusion with the forces of capital. For an architect who has completed over one hundred projects in nearly seven decades of practice, Doshi has yet to design a luxury condominium or a glass skyscraper! In belatedly acknowledging Doshi’s legacy, the Pritzker Prize finally brings attention to a great body of work. It also exposes a certain state of contemporary culture where practices of resistance are few and far between. Finally, in an age of toxic work cultures and the erosion of family life, the life of B.V Doshi also has something to teach us. This is reflected in his belief that great architecture is attainable not in spite of family life but because of it. Speaking at the Royal Academy of Arts last year, Doshi said that living together within an extended family remained one of the greatest influences of his life, where he "learnt about cooperation, tolerance, togetherness, humility, generosity, and interdependence." While much is made about Doshi’s associations with the masters, it is the women in his life who need to be celebrated–his three daughters, wife and mother-in-law. He is surely the only Pritzker Prize winner to have lived with his mother-in-law for 38 years. "I learnt so many things from her simplicity, humility... She was fantastic!" Doshi’s life and work are imbued with an ethos that integrates the quintessential qualities of architecture–form, space and light–with the quintessential attributes that make us human, to create institutions and places of lasting meaning and value; an architecture of place in an age of placelessness. This, in the end, is perhaps what makes Doshi so relevant to contemporary culture today, both in the east and the west. Sarosh Anklesaria is a Brooklyn based architect and Visiting Assistant Professor at the Pratt Institute. Sarosh spent eight years at CEPT University, which was founded by Doshi, and has worked as an architect at Sangath, the office of B.V. Doshi.
Few buildings are as quintessentially British and Brutalist as Robin Hood Gardens, a London housing estate designed by Alison and Peter Smithson in the late 1960s. And now, remnants of the complex are heading to Italy, where the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) will present a facade section of the demolished icon as part of the Venice Biennale. (It's actually a return to Venice for the late architects, who displayed billboard-sized images of the under-construction buildings at the Biennale in 1976.) The Robin Hood Gardens housing block has never been far from the center of the debate of social housing since the Smithsons first unveiled plans for a concrete mass of residences linked by "streets in the sky." And now that it's being demolished to make way for a new development—all while cities around the globe struggle to house growing populations—that controversy is more in the news than ever. Though Peter Smithson himself expressed his regrets about the failures of the design, Robin Hood Gardens found a legion of supporters, if not strictly for its Brutalist design, then for its place within the conversation about urbanism. In fact, an all-star lineup of contemporary architects including Richard Rogers, Robert Venturi, Toyo Ito, and the late Zaha Hadid, came together to protest the buildings' demolition. When it became clear that plans would move forward, the V&A stepped in—on the urging of London firm Muf architecture/art—to acquire a nearly 29-foot high by 18-foot-wide by 26-foot-deep cross-section of the housing complex. The museum will be presenting a fragment from the estate at the Pavilion of Applied Arts in the Sale d’Armi in the Arsenale, from May 26 to November 25, 2018. The segment will be displayed on a scaffolding system designed by Arup, the firm that engineered the original Robin Hood Gardens, while a film by artist Do Ho Suh will document the structure. Additional documents and interviews will give context to the social history of the complex. ‘The case of Robin Hood Gardens is arresting because it embodied such a bold vision for housing provision yet less than 50 years after its completion, it is being torn down," said pavilion curators Christopher Turner and Olivia Horsfall Turner in a joint statement. "Out of the ruins of Robin Hood Gardens, we want to look again at the Smithsons’ original ideals and ask how they can inform and inspire current thinking about social housing."
Social housing in Europe is as varied in form as the countries that contain it. Towers, low-slung row houses, and standalone homes are all valid social housing typologies throughout the world, and all of them can be seen at Social Housing – New European Projects, now on display at the Center for Architecture in Manhattan. Of course, no definition of “social housing” can be universal, but the main thrust of Social Housing is to expose American architects, planners, developers and politicians to the myriad of different types. Twenty different firms from across Europe have assembled 25 case studies of social housing projects, most of them realized, ranging from refurbishment to experimental building typologies. What links them together is that they present a vision for an alternative to market-driven housing construction. Models and renderings of each project are on display, grouped by building type, as well as diagrams comparing social housing statistics across countries, and video pieces. The studios contributing work to Social Housing include: Adam Khan Architects (UK), Assemble (UK), Avenier & Cornejo Architectes (France), Chartier Dalix (France), Hans van der Heijden (The Netherlands), einszueins architektur(Austria), Hawkins\Brown (UK), Haworth Tompkins Architects (UK), Karakusevic Carson Architects (UK), Lacaton & Vassal (France), LAN architecture (France), Mae (UK), Mecanoo(The Netherlands), Mikhail Riches Architects (UK), Mole (UK), muf architecture/art (UK), Niall McLaughlin Architects (UK), s333 architecture + Urbanism (UK), Sergison Bates architects (UK and CH), TVK (France), Witherford Watson Mann (UK), and zanderroth architeckten (Germany). Curated by Karakusevic Carson Architects, Social Housing the exhibit pulls exemplary projects from the similarly titled book released late last year, Social Housing: Definitions and Design Exemplars. Interviews with each of the firms are included, providing contrasting roadmaps for designers in the states who are looking towards Europe for guidance. Social Housing – New European Projects is open now at the Center for Architecture and will run until May 19, 2018.
Today the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) announced Neave Brown as the recipient of the 2018 Royal Gold Medal. The medal, approved personally by Queen Elizabeth II, recognizes a lifetime of achievement in the field of architecture, and is considered to be the highest honor an architect can receive in the U.K. Past recipients have included Zaha Hadid, Oscar Niemeyer, Rem Koolhaas, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Upon learning he would receive the lauded prize, Brown remarked, "All my work! I got it just by flying blind, I seem to have been flying all my life." Such a prolific career as Brown's might seem a blur in retrospect, but his achievements are numerous. The New York–born architect, now 88 years old, is best known for his housing complexes in the UK. His most famous structure, the Alexandra Road Estate near London's Abbey Road (completed in 1978), features a Brutalist ziggurat of concrete, tiered apartment buildings obscuring the sound and vibrations of an adjacent railway. The lush grounds of the estate, which contains 520 residential units, are also home to a large park, community center, and school. Another, earlier project at Winscombe Street (completed in 1963), took its inspiration from housing structures by modernists like Le Corbusier as well as traditional London terraces. It is a set of five houses built of concrete and brick with a communal garden attached. In signing on to live there, residents are obliged to sign an agreement Brown himself wrote up: They must participate in the garden's maintenance as well as occasional events hosted at the houses. As Brown wrote in the rules, the garden was meant to be a shared space whose "combination of freedom, community, and privacy is valuable and vulnerable," a social resource he took very seriously as a design element. The houses at Winscombe Street and the Alexandra Road Estate have been listed (landmarked) in the U.K, as well as a third housing project on Fleet Road (also a split-level structure with inward-facing terraces), completed in 1977. This makes Brown the only architect to have all his projects listed in the U.K. Explaining his nomination of Brown for the Royal Gold Medal, architectural historian Mark Swenarton said: "Brown has provided a model of an architecture that is not just outstanding in its form but is thoroughly rooted both in the social relationships that it supports and in the urban tissue that it reinforces." At the ripe age of 73, Brown retired from architectural work to pursue a Bachelors in fine art, a passion he put aside at 20 years old for a career in design. With this medal, the entire architectural world has a reminder of his contributions to the field, and to thinking about social housing writ large.
Alejandro Aravena of ELEMENTAL is having a banner year. The Chilean architect—and director of the upcoming 2016 Venice Biennale—has been named the winner of the 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize. He is best known for his socially-minded approach to architecture—namely housing and disaster relief. Aravena has a number of completed projects that range from “chairs” for sitting on the ground (commissioned by Vitra) to a master plan for Santiago, Chile in the aftermath of a 2010 magnitude 8.8 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. ELEMENTAL’s work with social housing includes a series of “half-finished homes,” a new model for housing designed for the poorest members of society. By leaving the units spaced, the architects allow future users to add-on and personalize their housing, which makes social housing an investment rather than simply a front-end cost. It was first tested at Quinta Monroy (completed 2003) in Iquique, Tarapacá, Chile, and was then replicated at Villa Verde (2010) in Constitución, Maule Region, Chile and their Monterrey Housing (2010) in Monterrey, Mexico. In June 2011, in an interview with AN West Coast Editor Mimi Zeiger, Aravena said: "Social housing is a question with intellectual merit. It is a tough question—a challenge, a professional challenge. We had to acccept the constraints in the market. Follow all the constraints, then your solution may be replicated. Prove the point that you can do better, then the market can imitate you. It is not about building one unit, but about building 100, because the market operates at that scale. We went for the real thing. Once you decompose the constraints—that is the good thing about being an outsider—you ask the stupid questions. When you are in a given field you are overwhelmed by the problem.” Aravena’s 2016 Biennale opens in May and will be themed "Reporting From the Front.” It aims to explore how architecture is battling in the real world to confronting the social and political issues that we are faced with today. It should pick up—to some extent— where the Chicago Biennial left off last fall. According to the Pritzker committee: Alejandro Aravena has delivered works of architectural excellence in the fields of private, public and educational commissions both in his home country and abroad.... He has undertaken projects of different scales from single-family houses to large institutional buildings.... He understands materials and construction, but also the importance of poetry and the power of architecture to communicate on many levels."