HOUSING LONDON: Quantity vs. Quality & Urban vs. Suburban Review

by Lionel Eid, AADipl2013 and Vere van Gool, AADipl(Hons)2014
28 April 2015 Architectural Association, London   Lionel Eid and Vere van Gool met in 2012 at the Architectural Association whilst both studying London in Diploma 10. Endlessly agreeing to disagree with each other, both were invited to participate in the Housing London debates at the AA. As the conversation on housing never ends, they continued to discuss the intricacies and complexities of London’s Housing Crisis via text messages - where they could finally say (or text) the things they couldn't say on stage.   08/03/2015 13:18:32: Lionel: I'll go first - How do you feel about the way the Netherlands keeps coming up in the context of exemplary urban planning - is there truth in this?   08/03/2015 13:45:11: Vere: Yes, but the success of our urban planning is due to its economic structure rather than design. On Borneo Island (one of the famous Dutch examples), the local council proposed a system of shared ownership between residents, which operated as an urban incentive to develop the entire island, while in London it's more likely that one large property developer proposes 10,000 homes. That said, the political conviction of the Netherlands lies in a post-war socialist welfare state opposed to the UK’s neoliberal heart. I believe housing is inseparable from ownership and a more egalitarian system of ownership, results in more egalitarian (urban) design. It's that simple.   08/03/2015 13:50:04: Vere: But for you as a young urban designer / architect living and working in London, how do you see the difference between 'housing' and ‘homes'? As you mention <in your Housing London session: Urban vs. Suburban> including 'local communities' in the urban design process to maintain quality, how do you do that from the drawing board? Doesn't that imply that housing is a job for politics rather than designers - and if so, designers should just stick to designing homes?   11/03/2015 00:07:21: Lionel: I agree that housing is inherently political. As soon as you take the idea of the home (the private, domestic realm) and extrapolate it to meet the needs of society it becomes more complex than a design issue. In the UK, it also becomes part of a 'democratic' planning process of which public consultation is a crucial yet controversial part. The reality you confront when speaking to local communities is an embedded mistrust they have in the process itself. For me this is an incentive to engage rather than withdraw to the studio. What is architecture if not projecting a vision of what the world may look like? A vision that with politicians and planners we may be capable of delivering.   11/03/2015 00:07:25: Lionel: How do you see the role of engagement? Dear London's (your graduation project/ questions used in your Housing London Lecture: Quantity vs. Quality) open letter to the mayor suggests that you see design as something shaped by greater forces of ownership, control etc. Did your contact with developers in the project suggest the meaningful role architecture can play within an industry dictated by powerful stakeholders?   19/03/2015 15:00:27: Vere: Architecture has a meaningful role! What my contact with developers showed is how the current separation between architects, government and financial stakeholders (developers) is more a matter of format than intent. Developers want to perform and so do architects and council. My conversations illustrated how everybody wants to create a better city - we just need to propose a financial incentive in which quality and content gets rewarded rather than quantity and growth. During my graduation year (Dear London) I took that as my job, but it's actually that of the GLA. It's a real shame how architects see developers as dirty bastards and developers see architects as unrealistic artists whilst fighting a battle that should be fought in Parliament. In my session of the Housing London series everybody (Allies and Morrison, Studio Egret West & the Greater London Authority) was talking about producing numbers and how 'London is a great project' until the GLA representative had to confess that his 23 year old was still living at home due to housing being unaffordable. In that sense, who do you think is responsible for relieving London from this housing crisis? And what are your thoughts on appointing a Chief Government Architect for London?
20/03/2015 00:42:01: Lionel: Without meaning to sound naïve, I believe the responsibility lies with 'us' (anyone) to step up and present new strategies for delivering housing growth. While high profile champions of the built environment like Richard Rogers (during New Labour), Peter Bishop (through Design for London) or more recently Terry Farrell (via the coalition's Farrell Review) certainly elevate the quality of discourse, the reality is only large scale developers have the resources to address the housing crisis. It is for architects to engage the imagination of these stakeholders and offer new models. Lord Foster's self commissioned Thames Estuary airport is testament to the fact that architects can generate investment and political momentum if they put forward coherent visions.   20/03/2015 00:56:31: Lionel: There is something conservatively British in the idea that voluntary individuals, rather than the state, will step up to form a Big Society. In the Netherlands, the Chair of Design as Politics, Wouter Vanstiphout, seems to suggest a more institutionally focused rather than free market led approach to urbanism. In this sense how do you see the role of the university? Can academia offer anything to the debate? Are architecture schools relevant or peripheral?   22/03/2015 20:10:25: Vere: Who exactly is the 'us' you mention? Yes, architects should come up with fantastic ideas, urbanists too, even economists. The problem is that without the implementation of good ideas, they're worth nothing as we've had decades of good ideas and still I don't see them built around me. Aside that, I fail to believe that housing is comparable to a second Thames Airport or fancy developments in Nine Elms, housing isn't a luxury that the free (neoliberal) market can play games with. Also, the 'individuals' you mention, are privileged old men who never had to worry about affording rent in London and with incredible ties to finance and government, so I disagree with your paradigm of 'Conservatively British' discourse, I'd rather call it 'blatant ignorance'. In a neoliberal society like London the 'honest individual' you describe no longer exists. Nor does the divide between public and private or an 'us' and 'them'. It's all a blur, and that's exactly where we need to start rethinking the city. I firmly believe we should redefine London's future with a more diverse set of designers that understand the ‘reality’ of London.   22/03/2015 20:10:29: Vere: What is great about Vanstiphout’s work is that he blames architects for the societal effects of housing and urban design. What would happen if the London Riots were blamed on the architects working at the London Borough of Haringey? Somehow architects walk around saying: it's not me, it's the money, it's not me, it's the government. And in that sense I do support his call for a more institutionalised focus where we systemise a responsibility for the city. However the problem of academia is, that it's adding to the set of good ideas that we don't see realised.   22/03/2015 20:10:32 : Vere: Nonetheless, architecture schools are relevant, they shape the future thinkers of the built world, but architecture schools (and mainly housing departments) need to start integrating economic and societal discourse into the curriculum; how to make a good idea profitable, how to negotiate between developers, councils and residents.. etc. Now that you're working as urban designer and are an expert on housing, what would you have wanted to learn at architecture school and didn't? And where do you see a solution to the London Housing crisis?   22/03/2015 23:20:29: Lionel: Just to clarify, by 'conservatively British' I was referring to the Conservative Party's notion of The Big Society; an idea that progress should be delivered by visionary, philanthropic individuals (and architects fall in this category) rather than relying on state institutions to solve problems (like the housing crisis). Hence my question about different national tendencies. Of course I don't like to polarize the issue one way or another as, like you say, the lines between the public sector are (and should remain) blurred.
22/03/2015 23:25:50: Lionel: Vanstiphout raises a valid point. If architects have historically claimed credit for the improvement of society (and lives) through planning and urban design then they should also accept responsibility when their projects fail to live up to their promise. This discrepancy between intention and consequence, or hypothesis and reality is one that I believe is felt most strongly between academia and practice.   22/03/2015 23:37:33: Lionel: Personally, I wouldn't advocate that architecture schools introduce business development or negotiation modules. I believe it should be flexible enough to allow students to define and pursue their own agendas within the profession. However, like yours, my own tendency (and role today) is to extend that agenda beyond the studio and use it to define the way in which I engage the public/developers/local authorities/etc   22/03/2015 23:52:17: Lionel: The skill set and critical tools required for this kind of engagement is rare to find at universities but I think we were both lucky to be trained in this form of urbanism at the AA. In this sense, my retrospective appreciation or desire to have furthered developed these skills is precisely thanks to, rather than in spite of, the education I received.   23/03/2015 08:21:55: Vere: Lets teach a unit on housing together!   [caption id="attachment_4173" align="alignnone" width="360"]Housing London Lecture 3: Urban vs. Suburban: Where will we build? Image credit: Eduardo Andreu Gonzalez Housing London Lecture 3: Urban vs. Suburban: Where will we build?
Image credit: Eduardo Andreu Gonzalez[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4174" align="alignnone" width="360"]London_Housing_Eduardo_Andreu_Gonzalez_2015_02_11_JPG-5 Housing London Lecture 2: Quantity vs. Quality: Can we deliver and make great places?
Image credit: Eduardo Andreu Gonzalez[/caption] For more information:   Lionel Eid works as an urban designer and architect at Allies & Morrison Architects and teaches History and Theory at the AA. Vere van Gool is building a house in Shadwell with her own practice Plateau and is the cofounder of MISS for which she curates conversations and exhibitions.   Quantity vs. Quality: Can we deliver and make great places? lecture video Urban vs. Suburban: Where will we build? lecture video HOUSING LONDON: Quantified Quality Vere van Gool on Projects Review 2014 Lionel Eid on AA Conversations Vere van Gool on AA Conversations Allies and Morrison MISS