Ruminations on architecture, from Ken Allinson
Summer in the city …
May 27, 2012Posted by on
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head…“
It’s weird in London at the moment. I’ve just finished reading a Sunday newspaper whose news ranges from ‘toxic conditions’ on UK high streets to more UK politicians up to their necks in corruption (‘Whoops – apologies: it was merely an oversight …’) to how truly bad the economy is, the imminence of another bout of ‘quantitative easing,’ anti-monarchist protests regarding next week’s Jubilee celebrations, the Greek issue and thousands of Germans not going there this year for their holidays … and, of course, endless Olympics hype …etc….
And then there is this week’s trade papers telling us that the average UK architectural practice is making a profit of 23%. Pretty good, eh? Not 3%, but 23%. Average. However, talk to architects and you’ll probably find them universally sobbing into their proscecco. Mutter about ‘design and build,’ and they roll their eyes, tears rolling down their cheeks at the humiliation and lost opportunities …
Whatever … the sun is shining and it’s hot and Hampstead Heath has been packed this weekend. So, we did our bit out there and, as it headed for late afternoon, got guilty about the sun cancer and climbed into our car in order to whip down to south London and see some housing.
Housing. Yes, London has an enormous shortage. Developers who can get their hands on the capital are it it wherever they can. Those who can’t are still cobbling together sufficient funds enabling them to employ architects to get planning permission. They moan about fees levels, but one can;t feel sorry for them with profits at an average of over 20%.
Where to? Two schemes: one by a firm I hadn’t heard of until recently and another by a firm that is a quite familiar name: respectively, Metaphorm and Egret West.
Metaphorm’s housing scheme is located in the Elephant & Castle area, as a feature of a broad programme that includes the demolition of something called the Heygate Estate. If you’ve got social problems then the answer is simple: ship them out, demolish the bugger’s housing (all 1260 units), replace it … with 3.330 new homes, of which (only) a quarter will be ‘affordable.’ Their site is at the end of a block and has given the opportunity to extend the existing typology of standard Victorian terrace houses with twinned, five-storey apartment blocks. And they’ve done it well.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this standard budget, design ‘n’ build scheme is that the architects have managed to introduce some unorthodox features , notably a wavy street edge that enables some some trees and the provision of some concrete sitting for the locals. Simple but nice.
Not only that, but they have faced this facade in hexagonal tiles that grade across a sunny colour spectrum.
It’s all rather nice, if perhaps a little excited and overworked.
What is also refreshing is to see that the plans provide only two apartments per floor in each block, accessed from a central ‘cleavage’ that leads to the lifts and stairs. One wishes that more London developments were of this scale – relatively dense, yes, but still of a size that fits relatively comfortably into the existing urban fabric (unlike the Heygate Estate).
Refreshing, on a hot day in the summer in the city …
(It’s hot. I need a drink. I’ll deal with the Egret West Library building in another blog!)