Saturday 30 January 2016

Because It’s Not The Bricks And Mortar, It’s The People…

Colin Wiles fails to understand this simple truth:
Last month I cycled the four miles between two of London’s most iconic brutalist housing estates, the Barbican and Robin Hood Gardens. Both were designed by eminent architects around 40 years ago. Both have been praised and condemned in equal measure. One is a private estate and one is social housing. One is thriving, the other facing demolition.
I doubt it’ll take a genius to guess which.
Their contrasting fortunes say a great deal about British housing policy over the past 40 years.
The Barbican, with more than 2,000 homes, is a frequent winner of London’s ugliest building award. Yet its homes are very desirable, with penthouses going for more than £4m. Designed by Le Corbusier devotees Chamberlin, Powell and Bon it features raised walkways, gardens and lush greenery. The estate has an army of caretakers and porters, and service charges range from £1,700 to £16,000 a year. Robin Hood Gardens, a stone’s throw from Canary Wharf, was designed by Alison and Peter Smithson for the Greater London Council (GLC). There is a wonderful film online made by cult novelist BS Johnson which catches their rather snooty attitude. Two massive slab blocks enclose a large open space and a two-storey high hill. It was modelled on the “little pool of calm” at Gray’s Inn and it is astonishingly peaceful, given that the site is surrounded by major roads. The estate is innovative, with deflecting acoustic walls, “streets in the sky” and innovative internal layouts.
Right, so clearly, the failing estate isn’t down to poor design, poor location, or anything else.

Can we get a clue about what might be the cause?
I visited on a bleak December day with London-based British artist Jessie Brennan. She has worked on the estate for the past two years and has published a book, Regeneration!, about the experience. Her drawings depicting the metaphorical crumpling of the estate were commissioned by the Foundling Museum for Progress in 2014. We met on the hill in between the two blocks, like spies in a cold war film.The windows and concrete mullions are crumbling and the blocks have none of the greenery that softens the concrete facades of the Barbican. Many residents have fitted security grilles to their flats, suggesting a fear of other residents or outsiders, or both.
Aha! There’s a clue!
Abdul Kalam, a former resident who participated in Brennan’s project, summarised how many resident feel: “They are basically driving the poor people out”.
Yes. Because for most of these places, it’s the people inside them that are the problem.

Not all of them, of course, but once the percentage of bad apples gets above 5%, the place is doomed.


The Blocked Dwarf said...

Last month I cycled

that's where any normal person would've stopped reading.

Trevor said...

An interesting quote from one of the architects (who have a 'rather snooty attitude', according to Colin Wiles): 'The week it opened, people would shit in the lifts, which is an act of social aggression.' Presumably Wiles is quite happy for people to leave steaming piles around his gaff.

Will said...

Hi, but disputing but is this more widely held?

once the percentage of bad apples gets above 5%, the place is doomed.

Northish said...

There are dozens of examples of this. Up here, there were streets of perfectly good brick built semi-detached houses with two gardens and off street parking that were demolished by a developer "partner" of the council, and new shoe boxes were built in their place. Unfortunately the chavscum who were relocated during this process went on to wreck the estate of they were moved to, while terrorising the mainly elderly existing residents in the process, thus confirming that it was the occupants, not the houses, that were the problem.

MayTrumpTrump said...

No-one ever built a slum, for that you need a sprinkling of the magic ingredient - lowlife.

Anonymous said...


We seem to be developing more lowlife than necessary. The State providing for all seems to encourage its existence, that along with the charities who wouldn't exist if the 'lowlife' were an independent working class.

I have developed the theory that the charities, Labour and the social services actually want chavscum estates and the unemployed as it gives them something to feel virtuous about and try to save.

Years ago at work I would give a difficult sub-contractor enough rope to bring an account to pre-dispute level and then I would sort it out to the correct amount and get an agreement, mainly because I was bored and it added a bit of excitement to life. These bastards are doing it with large parts of the population, the only difference is that my buggering about didn't harm anyone or cost my employer any money. These bastards haven't the ability to put it right, harm people and have created a massive expensive bureaucracy which requires vast sums of money to feed.

Thud said...

Even 5% seems generous as one bad family can blight hundreds of others.

JuliaM said...

"that's where any normal person would've stopped reading."


"Presumably Wiles is quite happy for people to leave steaming piles around his gaff."

I guess he's an advocate of the 'even bad publicity is still good publicity' outlook!

"... thus confirming that it was the occupants, not the houses, that were the problem."

Yes indeed... :/

"We seem to be developing more lowlife than necessary. "

And importing the rest...